The history of Supro Amplifiers is a bizarre success story that saw a defunct British amplifier company become the trademark sound for decades to come. The story begins in 1926 when Supro was being manufactured in Chicago under the formation of The National Resophonic Guitar Company. The soon to be formed Valco amps (from National and Dobro) had placed themselves in the hearts of many iconic blues musicians in the Chicago scene. Bringing to light a signature that would be embedded in the culture forever, Valco offered a different sonic texture in amps and custom speakers that can still be heard today. In particular, Supro-made Valco amps identified a new sound, a new pitch amongst musicians that ran synonymous with gritty blues. Decades on, Supro has made its triumphant re-entry into the modern music landscape, though it wasn’t all smooth sailing in between.
Making their step from Chicago blues to ruthless rock ‘n’ roll music between the 1930s to 1960s, Supro built their own foundation and field when it came to allowing individuality in sound. Straying from the pack and breathing a new standard for players, they appealed to musicians who wanted ‘to make their own mark on music’. They became one of the largest amp manufacturers alongside Fender throughout the ‘50s and mid ‘60s, before fading into obscurity in 1968. Throughout the 1930s, Supro amps carved a signature for blues music. Featuring raw clean-cut tones and pushing gain control to a new level, the Supro combos soon made their presence known to rock ‘n’ roll guitarists who were bred from a blues background in the 1960s.
By that stage rock ‘n’ roll had made an impact like nothing the world had seen, and central to that movement was a blues enthusiast named Jimmy Page, who was just entering the studio to record what would later be known as Led Zeppelin I. Page brought with him a Supro Model 24. Jimmy had a background playing blues and felt inspired by its raw and defined sound. The Supro Model 24 not only built his wall of sound, it generated some of the most iconic riffs in rock history. The cruel twist was, Supro had closed their doors four good months prior to the recording.
Being placed as a vintage manufacturer, many of the greats have noted using Supro as their optimal amplifier. Before Jimi Hendrix rose to fame, living in London, he was known to use a Supro Thunderbolt bass combo as his guitar rig throughout his tour with the Isley Brothers.
Today, Supro amplifiers have been brought back into the limelight after the brand spectacularly re-introduced itself to the music playing public. Their iconic 60s Combo Series are now being manufactured using the same material and technology in their prime, yet giving it a modern kick. Supro’s distinctive sound is as recognisable now as it was when it initially swept the market off its feet, bucking the trends followed by the major brands, even to this day.
In the modern era, artists like Joe Perry are using the Supro to tour with, exposing the class A amplification to new audiences. The classic Supro amps have an earlier set of technology, being described as a bit more squishy, mid-range focussed with very dynamic range. Even back in the glory days, the classic amps held little to no noise, making it still one of the most versatile amps on the market – big or small.
From humble beginning in Chicago, Supro’s resurgence has a lot of hype to live up to. They seemed destined for a long life in the minds of guitarists everywhere, before fizzling out, only to return again once the sonic hole it left was turly felt. I guess sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone.
Supro amplifiers are distributed in Australia via Dynamic Music. For more details, head to dynamicmusic.com.au.