HISTORY

Lectrolab was the primary brand name for amplifiers made by Sound Projects Company  in Chicago Illinois, Cicero Illinois and/or Venice Florida.  For the purposes of this website, “Lectrolab” and “Sound Projects Company” can be used interchangeably.  Identical amps have been found with both names on them, and many Lectrolab  amps have a Sound Projects Co. logo as well.

See cool 1960’s catalog advertising here: Branding and Andvertising

Sound Projects Company began making electric musical instruments and amplifiers in the 1930’s at the latest.  We do not know when the business began.  The earliest evidence of their existence is:

  • A few Sound Projects Co. Troubadour lap steels which have similarities to the well-known Rickenbacker “Frying Pan”.  The shiny tail plate says “Sound Projects Company/Chicago, Illinois”.  “Troubadour” is inked on the front under the strings. Lap steel collector Robert Lurvey estimates this guitar as “probably mid-thirties, maybe late-thirties” in this video.

 

  • The Troubadour Lap Steel was sold with a matching amplifier, also marked “Troubadour”.  This sad example is the only one found to date, and almost certainly is from the mid-1930’s:
  • The bad boy below was found in a barn, and is probably the oldest amp with the Lectrolab brand you will find on this website, or anywhere else.  Probably built in the 1940’s, maybe earlier.

————————————————————————————-

Lectrolab/Sound Projects produced a wide range of amplifiers over the years.  Twenty-four amplifier models have been identified as of this writing, and there are surely more.  The amps range from 3 watt combos with a 6” speaker and one volume control, to 25 watt heads with two channels, reverb, tremolo, and matching 2 x 12” speaker cabinets.  See a summary of these on the AMP MODELS page.  Lectrolab also made a Fuzz pedal, PA cabinets, and guitar or steel pickups, there are photos of those items on this site.

Lectrolab produced products that were attractively priced.  They were sold to consumers through department store mail order catalogs. This site displays example catalog pages from the Aldens catalog and the Bennet Brothers Blue Book of Quality catalog.  They may have been sold within department stores (Aldens operated stores), and/or music stores, but there is no information yet to support this.

The people who started, owned, and managed the Sound Projects/Lectrolab business are unknown.  1960-era amps often have handwritten initials inside the chassis, probably from an assembler or inspector.  This is as close as we’ve come to knowing the people affiliated with the company!

Lectrolab amps are typically labeled with the location of the company on the control panel, usually Chicago, Il. or Cicero, Il.  Cicero is a suburb of Chicago.  At one point in its history Chicago “annexed” part of Cicero, so Lectrolab may have changed their address but not their location!  Sometime in the mid to late 1960’s, Lectrolab amps began to display both Chicago IL and Venice FL on their labeling. Nothing else is known about this additional location.  Perhaps they outsourced some production to a company in Venice, or opened a facility there. 

After their beginning in the 1930’s or 1940’s Lectrolab made amps up to and into the 1960’s, but it is unlikely they survived beyond that decade.

It is probable that transistors and the rise of Japan Inc. killed the Lectrolab.  Before 1965 transistor musical instrument amps were rare.  By the end of the 1960’s transistor amps dominated the guitar amp market, especially at the lower price points.  Even Fender was making transistor amps.  There was one reason for this: Cost.  Transistor amps used lower cost materials than tube amps, weighed significantly less and were thus cheaper to ship.   Also, by the mid 1960’s Japanese companies which had honed their solid-state production skills on transistor radios were able to take advantage if that experience, leveraging lower labor cost and improved business processes.  Not incidentally, they had also created distribution channels into the United States.  Many smaller American tube amp manufacturers went down in this “Teisco Tsunami” which reshaped the American musical instrument business landscape.  Lectrolab was probably one of the casualties.  Too bad Detroit didn’t notice…

In recent years, someone in the Midwest attempted to market and manufacture reissues of a few Lectrolab amp models.  That endeavor ended in litigation with customers, and the shuttering of the business.  There is currently a company called Sound Projects located in the Netherlands which has no connection to the American company discussed here.

22 Responses to HISTORY

  1. john says:

    i have an orig 1930’s troubadour with same pickup. its an original f hole archtop… got pics if you want to see… first time i’ve ever seen anouther guitar(lapsteel) with this pickup. do you know how it works? thanks! john~~~

  2. Thomas Drasiewski says:

    How could I contact Robert Lurvey?I have one of the Troubadour Lap Steels but it has wireing issues. Would like to ask him some questions.
    Thanks,
    TJD

    • alexage1 says:

      I’ve never contacted him, nor have contact data. If you send your questions to me, and photos of the wiring I will post them on the Troubadour Lap Steel page and you may get some answers. Use “Contact Me” at the upper right of each page to send an email.

      George

  3. Mat LeClair says:

    hi there, i own a few harmony H300 series amps and i noiced ythat some of the Lectrolab models are eerily similar to them.

    everything from the shape, to the location in which it was made.. the features.. the speaker etc etc. it’s like the design was sold to two different companies of the design was patented by a certain engineer and he worked at both places?

    like the R500 and the H305A – the only difference is the color, names on them and the knobs.

    • alexage1 says:

      Thanks for your comment! We have fairly definitive evidence that the Lectrolab R600B = Harmony H-306A, and that the Lectrolab R500B = Harmony H-305A . See the R500 and R600 pages of this site for more info about that. Do you know of Harmony models other than the H305A or H306A that look like Lectrolabs? If so, please let us know the specific models.

      Thank you,

      George

    • Patty C. says:

      Mat Leclair:

      I work at the public library in Cicero, IL, where Lectrolabs was once located. We are researching a reference question about the company and we came across this site. I am curious where you got the amps you have, I am going to guess you got them from a family member since our historical records indicate the president of the company was named Mervin Leclair. Maybe he is your grandfather or uncle or distant cousin? Can you shed any light on this?

      Patricia C.
      Cicero Public Library

  4. Mat LeClair says:

    well the H303.. not to be confused with the H303A.. looks alot like the R200… when it comes to size and where the inputs are and how many. the h303 was a tad bit smaller then the h303a, tho the speaker was still an 8″ jensen. it also had only two inputs like i was saying and it had a slightly different tube lineup then the h303a.

    the only real difference visually is that the R200 has a tone knob. and theirs one extra tube too.. probably for that tone circuit.

    and the R204 seems almost the same as the H400. it’s got hte same box! hahaha.

    the R400 looks very similar to the H304a. also if you take a look at the schematic, it looks very close to the same thing, but the R400 seems to be a more efficient design. like if it was redone and refined. also the tube lineup is different. but i find the fact that the way the schematic is laid out is more interesting because everything is practically in the same place.

    http://www.webphix.com/schematic%20heaven/www.schematicheaven.com/bargainbin/harmony_h304a.pdf

    undoubtedly the individual that made the original R series Lectrolab amplifiers and the Harmony 300 series was the same person, or had worked at both places. they’re both in chicago after all. but since the lectrolab amps have evidence of being refined, it gives me the idea that they were made after, maybe during the production of the H400 series of harmony amplifiers.

  5. i have this sound projects company amp,says model no. 100. It has an 8″ rolla speaker (the kind with a transformer)1 volume control w/chicken head knob,tubes l to r are rca bsc7,sj5,6v6,and a cunningham 604 . The tone is like a big amp not the magnavox,harmony kind,breaks up like a marsall and has that pulsing,swirl for lack of better description , i have photos if you want to send me an e-mail, i would like to contribute to your site, the amp is mint,old leather handle is there but dont trust,amp is too old,thanks,brm

  6. Hawkeye Kane says:

    I think I’ve heard somewhere that Lectrolab was marketed pretty heavily to the Canadian market. Any truth to that?

    • alexage1 says:

      Hello Hawkeye – I don;t know if Lectrolab was marketed into Canada, I have seen a few for sale hailing from there. Where did you hear that?
      – George

      • Hawkeye Kane says:

        Truthfully, I really can’t put my finger on who told me that. I know it was word of mouth though. BTW George, I know this is a Lectrolab page, but do you have any experience with Valcos?

  7. Mat LeClair says:

    i’m from canada and i haven’t seen much from here. but even delivery to our large metropolitan areas would have been easy from Chicago. i wouldn’t be surprised if it was in a lot of music stores in the toronto area and montreal back in the day.

    but also i doubt the production line was anything like the big companies today, who knows how many they pumped out of that factory a in a shift. probably not too much and it was all hand made.

    tho the similar amps, the H300 series Harmony’s had a special part number to indicate a sale in canada. pretty simple, H303a (america or USA) H303c (canada) and don’t ask me what the H303b’s were. H303 alone are the earlier models. very similar to Lectrolab’s R200

  8. Dan Krueger says:

    Hello. I came across this site because I was looking for info about sound projects. Merv LeClair was my uncle, married to my aunt Harriet. He did indeed run sound projects in Cicero Ill. and had a facility in Venice Fl where they developed and manufactured much of the epuipment discussed here. And as Mat suggested, it was a pretty small operation. I believe that Mr LeClair passed in the mid 70’s. Not too long after that my aunt sold the company returned to, and still lives in, Tomahawk, WI. Her home town.

    • Gregory Straessle says:

      Dan are you related to Diane or Mildred?
      I am Eleanor LeClair Straessle’s son Greg and if Harriet is still alive and cognizant, I would love for you to pass on a hello from ages past. We live in Atlanta, GA.

  9. Halogetter says:

    I’m following up on the post from Patty C. of Cicero, IL, above. The library in Cicero was very helpful in finding some information on the origins of Sound Projects Company and Lectrolab. They have confirmed that Sound Projects Company was located on Central Avenue in Cicero, and their president was Merwin Le Clair. Mr. Le Clair was also president of the company after they moved to Venice, FL, where later Lectrolabs were made. Mr. Le Clair was president of Sound Projects Co for 46 years, and he died in 1980.

    We don’t know if Merwin Le Clair was responsible for the designs of the amplifiers or was more of a businessman, or both. But it’s great to know the name of the person who is responsible for these great amplifiers.

    Halogetter

  10. Gregory Straessle says:

    Merwin LeClair was my uncle and I can confirm visiting him at his Sound Projects Lab in Cicero and his subsequent move after many years of wintering at his home in Venice Fl. He designed and produced acoustic and electric guitar pickups as well as amplifiers. He always enjoyed music and enjoyed listening to his wife Harriet playing their organ.

    • Halogetter says:

      Gregory,
      I worked with the library in Cicero, IL, to verify that your uncle Merwin was the owner of Sound Projects Co./Lectrolab, and it’s great to have a confirmation from an actual family member who knew Merwin. Based upon what you have said, Merwin was in fact the designer of Lectrolab amps and pickups. That’s great news. I’m sure Lectrolab fans would appreciate any other information you might have about him, or even a picture?
      Thanks again, Gregory, for your post.

    • Mat LeClair (no relations) says:

      Hello Gregory. would you know anything about him working for Harmony? The IL based musical instrument manufacturer? Some of the earlier Lectrolab amps and Harmony H300 series amps are very, very similar. Their would absolutely have to be a connection there.

  11. Greg Straessle says:

    Mat sorry I can’t confirm an association with Harmony which is not to say it did not exist.

  12. that’s awesome dude !

  13. Arnold Meetsma says:

    Recently saw a Hager Singing Guitar lap steel with matching amp (has Hager Singing Guitar name stenciled on front of amp) made by Sound Projects Company out of Chicago – plate on back says Model 100 on it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s