GEAR: THE SERIOUS SEISMIC SOUNDS OF SUNN AMPLIFIERS

Sunn amplifiers are a brand of musical instrument amplifiers. Sunn was based in Tualatin, Oregon.

Sunn-Solarus-headIn early 1963, the Kingsmen, a band based in the U.S. state of Oregon, became known for the song “Louie, Louie”. After its hit single, the band soon embarked on a 50-state national tour. Because the band was used to playing small hops and school dances, many of the members found themselves ill-equipped with the amplifiers that they were currently using. Bassist Norm Sundholm discovered that his bass amp was not nearly powerful enough to play larger concert halls. Sundholm enlisted the help of his brother Conrad to help solve his problem. By 1964, the Sundholm brothers had designed a high-powered concert bass amplifier. By 1965, the demand for Sundholm’s amplifiers had increased to the point where the family garage could no longer be used as the manufacturing facility. Thus, the Sunn Musical Equipment Company was founded.

The band Sunn O))) was named after the company (to the point of including a typographic representation of the logo) and Gross National Productions who were the East Coast promo band for Sunn amps in 1971.

Sunn was ultimately acquired by Fender, which discontinued production in 2002.

67_sunn100s-gibsonlpBeginning in August 1967 and for the early- to mid-1968 North American tours, Pete (and John) used Sunn amplifiers and cabinets, succeeding the use of U.S. Thomas Organ (Vox) Super Beatles, with Sunn 100S amplifiers and cabinets. The first known use of Sunn amps is 23 Aug. 1967 in Flint, Michigan. It’s possible these Sunn 100S amps were purchased on 15 or 16 August 1967, during a two-day break in Nashville.

The Who were first exposed to Sunn amps through the Blues Magoos’ roadie on the July-September 1967 Herman’s Hermits tour, their first of North America.

The Who purchased additional Sunn gear, along with Sunn PA gear, from Manny’s in New York, likely on or around the 25 Nov., 1967, Village Theatre dates in New York. Bobby Pridden had indicated that it was bought a couple days prior to the 29 Nov., 1967, date in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, though footage from the 25 Nov., 1967, Village Theatre gig shows Sunn PA in use. (Pete also purchased Coral Hornet guitars at this time.)

As a part of their use, the Who also provided endorsement for the Sunn gear.

From 8 to 14 July 1968, Pete tried Sunn’s new Orion solid state offering.

The Sunn gear was abandoned at Canadian customs in Toronto on 15 July 1968, at which point Pete began using the Sound City gear previously used only in the UK/Europe.

North America only
HendrixBackline01_zps5526df71The reason for the difference in gear in the 1967 U.S./Canadian shows was that the group could not afford the cost of importing their full gear (Marshall in 1967, and Sound City in 1968) and, instead, hired or borrowed gear once arriving in the U.S. Because of their financial straits, Chris Stamp, the Who’s manager, signed the group to an exclusive agreement with Vox to use their gear in the States. On the first 1967 U.S. tours, including the March/April 1967 “Murray the K – Music in the Fifth Dimension” shows in New York, and the Monterey Pop festival in June, the Who used rented U.S. Thomas Organ (VOX) V1143 ‘Super Beatle’ 120w solid state amplifiers and 4×12 (w/two horns) cabinets. The inferior quality of the gear is evident in the Monterey Pop show, where Jimi Hendrix, who had “learned” his gear setup from Pete and the Who, was able to bring his Marshall 4x12s and 100-watt amps, to great effect.

On the first North American tour, with Herman’s Hermits and the Blues Magoos, which began 13 July 1967, the Who used Super Beatles. However, on the second day of the tour, 14 July 1967, in Portland, Oregon, the Blues Magoos purchased (and became sponsored by) Sunn amplifiers and a Sunn Coliseum PA.

0ef3f6921b9fbcfd7c2cbd4f08748af4Mark “Hoss” Amans, roadie for the Blues Magoos, has written that he purchased Sunn amplifiers and Coliseum PA in Tualatin, Oregon, on 14 July 1967, and secured sponsorship by Sunn for the Blues Magoos. Because the Herman’s Hermits were sponsored by Fender and had matching amps, and the Who were sponsored by Vox and had matching Super Beatles, he thought it appropriate that the Blues Magoos also have a matching backline. So as the tour rolled on, it is possible the Who used some of these Sunn amps as they transitioned away from the Super Beatles. The Who and Hermits did use the Sunn Coliseum PA for the tour.

When we were in Calgary, the Blues Magoos didn’t have matching equipment on stage. Hermans Hermits were sponsored by Fender, and they had all large Fender-dual showman amplifiers. The Who were sponsored by Vox, and had six Super Beatle Vox amplifiers. This was an amplifier I was well familiar with, because when I was with the Raiders, we were sponsored by Vox, as well. I knew Con and Norm Sundholm, because Norm used to play bass with the Kingsmen, and his brother Con started an amplifier company called Sunn, out of Tualatin, OR, just south of Portland.

So when we got to Portland, OR, to play the second gig of the tour, I called up Norm at the plant and told him my situation with the Blues Magoos. Here we were in the beginning of our tour, and I needed amplifiers and PA, bad. The Who, and The Herman Hermits didn’t even carry a PA with them, and in those days, we always carried our own equipment. We very rarely relied on the house to supply amps or PA systems. Keep in mind that this was long before the huge rental systems came into play.

timthumbSo I took Mike Esposito with me and went to the Sunn factory. We went inside and told them exactly what we needed, and the guys really came through for us and sponsored The Blues Magoos with all Sunn equipment. We had all of the amplifiers for all of the instruments that we needed, and I told them that I wanted a Sunn Coliseum PA system which was customized with two horns on top of each speaker cabinet and two bottoms to a side. So that’s four horns to a side, and two bottoms to a side. And to this day, I still love that system.

I got back to The Coliseum with all of the gear in plenty of time to start the show. Even though though The Blues Magoos were better known at the time than The Who, the guys volunteered to open the show, and they let The Who play second, and The Hermits headlined. So I set up all of the Sunn amplifiers and PA, brand new, right out of the cardboard box. Looked very impressive.

The tour manager, Ed McAdams, used to handle a lot of the Dick Clark tours, and he knew me well. He put me in charge of all three of the road crews, because of my past experience. So unloading the truck, we had all of the Super Beatle amps, all of the Fenders, and all of the new Sunn gear from Portland. Also, all three groups used the Sunn Coliseum PA system, and they all liked it a lot. So I had to teach other roadies and cross-train them on all of the gear on stage. I was also in charge of the stage set up, all of the lighting, the sounds, and backstage security.

Sunn HQ402In the middle of the tour, The Who had to break away on a couple of off days and go to Tennessee to record a song called “I Can See For Miles”. They had damaged their amplifiers so bad because on their ending song called “My Generation”, they would kick the drum kits over, jam the guitars into the speaker cabinets of the Vox Super Beatle amps, knock the amps over, and break the guitars and throw them into the audience.

They also played so loud that one night I was I was watching standing off on stage left next to Peter Townsend, and I looked down behind him between him and the amps and I saw a brass screw coming out of the deck. The vibrations from the amps were so strong that it loosened the screw and came all the way out of the stage and fell over.

They asked us if they could use our Sunn amps to record the song, “I Can See For Miles”, and The Blues Magoos said, “Sure, go ahead.” So I can say my Sunn amps are the amps that are on that song.

The WhoPSWhen the tour was over, they left all of their broken gear with the Blues Magoos, and we put it in the garage of our band house. They didn’t want to take it back to England with them. During the tour I had called Warren T. Hampton at Vox, who was the artist relations manager, and told him these guys were destroying their equipment. He didn’t know exactly what to say and I described to him how they were jamming their guitar necks into the grill cloths and speakers and kicking over the amps.

In August 1967, Pete and John began using two Sunn 100S 60-watt amplifiers (featuring KT88 valves) powering two or four JBL-loaded 2×15 cabinets. The first documented use of Sunn amps by Pete is 23 August 1967, where they were used along with the Super Beatles.

It’s possible these Sunn 100S amps were purchased on 15 or 16 August 1967, during a two-day break in Nashville.

Bobby Pridden has indicated the group purchased additional Sunn gear, including a Sunn PA, from Manny’s in New York, around the 25 Nov., 1967, Village Theatre date in New York, and prior to the 29 Nov., 1967, date in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.

Who_SUNNPromoFor the first 1968 North American tour, from February to April 1968, Pete used his Sound City gear for the first time in U.S. and Cananda, and possibly Sunn as well. However, for the second 1968 North American tour, beginning with the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on 28 June, Pete returned to Sunn, using Sunn 100S amps for the Los Angeles dates, then Sunn Orion amps until 14 July 1968, at which point the group abandoned their Sunn gear at Canadian customs in Toronto after Pete and Roger had their passports stolen the night before in Cleveland, and were unable (or unwilling) to satisfy a $20,000 customs bond.

Following Sunn, they began using their Sound City gear in North America, with first known date at The Dome, Virginia Beach, Virginia, 20 July 1968.

Sunn 100S amplifier features:
60 watts
Controls (left to right): two inputs, Volume, Treble, Bass and Contour controls, rocker switches for Power, Standby and Polarity
Two KT88 power valves
Dynaco transformer
GZ34 rectifier
7025 preamp and 6AN8 phase inverter
Speaker cabinets:
Most all photographic evidence indicates both Pete and John used the Sunn 200S 2×15 rear-loaded folded-horn enclosures, which would have two JBL D140 15″ speakers. Pete also appears to have occasionally used the Sunn 100S cabinet, which was the same size but featured one JBL D130 15″ speaker and one JBL LE100S midrange driver with high-frequency acoustic lens/horn. Both the 100s and 200s cabinets were 42″ high x 24″ wide x 15″ deep.

Pete used his setup in two basic configurations:
Traditional piggy-back, with two amplifiers, each sitting on (and powering) one 2×15 speaker cabinet.
Two amplifiers on a chair, powering two side-by-side 2×15 cabinets or two stacks of two 2×15 cabinets, similar to his “definitive” configuration of two amps and two stacks of two 4x12s.