Heathkit Rock-Band Hardware c. 1969

Download a five-page scan of the various guitar amps, guitars, effects, and other Rock-combo-flotsam available from Heathkit in 1969:

DOWNLOAD: Heathkit_guitar_amps_1969

Products on offer include: Heathkit Starmaker TA-16 amplifier; AKG and Shure mics and Atlas stands; TA-27 guitar amp; Harmony ‘Silhouette’ H17 electric guitar; Heathkit TA-28 “Fuzz” Booster and TA-58 headphone amp; TA-17 amplifier head and TA-17-1 speaker system; TA-38 bass amplifer (130 lbs!); and a kit version of the famous Vox Jaguar organ.

M. and I were digging through some local pawn shops last week and we spotted the above-depicted ‘Starmaker’ amplifer buried under some radial arm saws.  Coincidentally enough, the price they were asking was the same $119 that it would have cost you to buy as a kit in 1969.  “…in about 8-10 hours and you’ll have the best value around in a solid-state amp.  Order yours now.”

Kit-built electronics were a fascinating and vital part of consumer-culture in America through the 1970s. It’s kind of liberating when you think about it: a product which parses out some (but certainly not all) of the labor from the physical materials of the product; you, the consumer, can then create the finished product from a combination of your capital (money) and your raw labor/time.  I am about to do the same thing with a shed; we need someplace to put our lawnmower, and the right balance of capital/labor for my particular circumstances is a shed-kit.  I have neither the money to pay someone to build a shed for me nor the free time to build a shed from a blueprint and a pile of uncut lumber; the shed kit seems like the right choice for me.   At some point in America, the value of the labor required to complete a piece of consumer-electronics equipment fell below a certain point, thanks to a combination automation (robots) and cheap foreign labor.  This made the Heathkit a fairly indefensible option.   This affordability of foreign labor (and transportation costs…) can’t last forever though.  So I have to wonder:  as foreign labor prices continue to rise, will we ever see a return of the kit-option for consumer electronics in America?

Do you ever come across a Vox Jaguar and wonder why it does not work quite right?  Well now we know: it could have originated as one of these kits; 91 lbs of cold solder joints and sloppy lead dress.  Heathkit makes a  bold claim about the capability of the above Jaguar when used in league with their TA-38 bass amp:  “Here’s a combination that will produce the most mind-bending, soul-grabbing sound around.”  266 lbs, $499.00.


8 thoughts on “Heathkit Rock-Band Hardware c. 1969”

  1. Heathkit did not go out of business because of anything to do with the cost of labor, here, there, or anywhere. They were bought out by corporate interests and were not making 20% ROI, so they had to go. The purchase was a bad decision in the first place, and then it was just simpler for the corporation to effectively shut it down than try to find any other buyer.

    This is quite common. Ask any Arctic operator about Spilsbury SSB radios, for example.

    But none of their combo music products were any good, to be honest. They didn’t understand the business and could not have had. They did well with Schober organs, with simple test equipment-VTVMs, grid dip meters, and so forth-and with ham radio stuff, again particularly with simple designs. They were electronically as good as a Collins (well, almost) but their mechanicals were a little hinky.

    Heathkit claims to be back in the kit business, but it’s apparent they still just don’t get it. You might go to their web site and let them know what you would buy….maybe a tube mic pre… or a tweed Fender clone amp…

  2. Hi Roger,

    I agree with almost everything you said in your post, but when you say, “none of their combo music products were any good, to be honest,” what is your factual or experiential basis for making this broad assertion? I only ask because I’ve worked on tube and solid state music equipment since 1977 and personally have not found the TA series to be any more or less well-designed than other SS amps of the period.


    1. You summed it up there: “any more or less well-designed than other SS amps of the period. ”

      Most solid state MI products from that period were crap: only a small number were any good for their intended purpose. They were designed by electronics people who had never played in bands and were isolated from the world of popular music. Engineers who listened to Mantovani, or in Benton Harbor, Michigan, probably Myron Floren.

      A bunch of uff-da’s from Michigan-and not Motor City rebels like Ted Nugent, but small town and rural people. Ham radio, they knew. TV-service grade scopes and color bar generators, you bet. Rock and roll, not so much, eh.

      Hartley Peavey’s stuff worked well in churches and for country players, because he knew those people and markets. Mike Matthews, the old horndog notorious for harassing women at NAMM shows and his two-BandAids-and-a-cork-clothed models extolling Freedom Amps, knew East Coast rockers because he was one. The solid state combo amps with the 15″ Altecs that were 604s without the center horn made for pedal steel vendors…worked great for pedal steel. But the rest of the stuff was designed by engineers for engineers and was just not what worked in the world of rock music, especially not in those days of Zep/Rush/Floyd, fusion, and Lynyrd Skynyrd southern boogie.

      When Devo and Blondie and whoever it was that did “The Safety Dance” came around, some of that stuff fit in, but by then it was too late.

  3. Just picked up a Heathkit/Vox Jaguar at a hamfest yesterday. What are the ODDS?? Looks like a mess inside, will need a lot of skilled rework.

  4. I owned two TA-17 amplifiers and four TA-17-1 speaker cabs. It was my first guitar rig so I figure might as well LOOK like I know what I’m doing. Actually, they sounded really good when cranked to 10. However, it was constantly plagued with power transistor failures and the cabs, equipped with two 12″ speakers and a horn, sounded good but blew the horns really easily. I still liked them if/ when they ever worked. Overall, I feel like, while cheap, I would’ve been much better off with a Fender combo or some other kind of tube amp.

  5. I had this rig in 1970 and used it for PA only. Worked OK but FET’s kept blowing. I was still in highschool and in small town Oklahoma, it was pretty good for our garage band. Removed the hokey aluminum grill and sparkly grill cloth and added expanded metal. Looked much more like a rock band PA I thought. Dragged it all over western Oklahoma. I took it to Nevada when I got married and some dirtbag stole it.

  6. Hmmm.SS amps are crap, eh? Look for a resurgence in SS equipment from the e1970s – like the Ampeg GT-100 Amp, the ole Acoustic amps, and the Heath amps, too.
    If you want a straight, clean sound, SS amps are very well matched to that kind of tone. BTW, I love tube amps best, but don’t disrespect good-sounding SS equipment.

  7. I had one. The only way it really (Kept from blowing) worked was if it was kept cold by putting it in a freezer while playing. We never played out much.

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