Lectrolab produced products that were attractively priced. They were sold to consumers through department store mail order catalogs. They may have been sold within the department stores themselves, or music stores, but there is no information yet to support this. They were competing with other lower-cost amps for the lower-end of the market. However, they were still quite pricey by today’s standards. They were about as expensive as many hand-wired point-to-point amps are today if inflation is taken into account. Still, they were no threat to Fender, whose prices were even higher.
Despite its cool name Lectrolab did not rely on brand reputation. There is no evidence that Lectrolab ever actively marketed its brand to consumers, or to anyone. No magazine ads. No artist endorsements. The only “marketing” materials I have found are pages in mail order catalogs from the late 1950’s and mid 1960’s which display the product, features and price, but do not mention the model number or even the brand name! People bought these amps without knowing who made them. And this was probably the heyday of Lectrolab, such as it was.
The Lectrolab strategy seems to have been to sell moderately priced good-quality product through distributors to mail order catalog businesses. It’s no surprise that few people are aware of Lectrolab today, since few were aware of Lectrolab at the height of its business. Today all that remains of the company are the relatively few products they produced (compared to more successful brands like Fender, Vox et al) that have survived through the decades.
Aldens catalog 1958/1959 – Lectrolab R200 in a package deal. $69.98 then = $532.12 now*:
Bennet Brothers Blue Book catalog, 1965 – From left to right:
- Lectrolab R600B – $149.70 = $1,036.14 today
- Lectrolab R500 – $114.90 = $795.27 today
- Lectrolab R400C – $96.00 = $664.46 today
- Lectrolab R200B – $48.90 = $338.46 today
A few items of interest on this page:
- Note the features used to sell the amps – Tube count was number one, then wattage, speaker size, and number of inputs.
- The use of dual triodes (two tubes in one, like a 12AX7) leads to the use of “tube performance” as a measurement. So an amp with 5 tubes, 2 of which are 12AX7’s, yields “7 tube performance”. This is seen in Fender marketing literature from that period as well.
- This particular page is surprisingly honest in the stated output power (watts). These figures, while perhaps a laboratory ideal, are very close to what these amps should be capable of delivering.
- All the tube amps are “F.O.B. Illinois Factory”, which means when you ordered one it was shipped direct from the Lectrolab factory in Chicago.
- There is a “Four Transistor” amp listed with no picture. This 5 watt wonder weighed almost as much as the 18 watt R600B. It operated on a 12 volt lantern battery, or you could plug it into the cigarette lighter in your car. This isn’t F.O.B. Illinois, so it probably wasn’t a Lectrolab product. It cost as much as the Lectrolab R400C! But hey, “no standby switch necessary – no waiting for warm up”. This was truly the early years for solid-state instrument amps.
The following page from the same catalog as above shows an Lectrolab R700C on the left, labeled as a “Bass Amplifier” for $189.00 ($1,308.15 today). The two amps at right were made by Valco, the big one is a model 6165, they also badged it for Gretsch.
Aldens, 1965 – 4-Tube Amp. Looks like if you buy the guitar you get a Lectrolab R200 for $25 more. Good deal.
Aldens catalog, 1965
- Item 7 is a Lectrolab R700C
- Item 10, “6-TUBE AMPLIFIER” pictured is a Lectrolab R600B or C
- Also listed under Item 10, not pictured – 5-Tube Amplifier = Lectrolab R400B or C; 4-Tube Amplifier = Lectrolab R200; and a 3-Tube Amplifier = Lectrolab R300 (probable)
…and this fine combo, an Lectrolab R700C with a rockin’ bass guitar:
We now take you two years forward to 1967, a Bennet Brothers Blue Book catalog, and a new look for Lectrolabs. On this page we see an unknown “Deluxe Four Tube Tremolo Amplifier” (left) that must have been made by Sound Projects, because it looks just like the non-tremolo “3-Tube Amplifier” (right), which is a Sound Projects R203:
Stepping up in the same catalog we see a “Five-Tube Amplifier” which is a Lectrolab S500. Note the “Deluxe” transistor Teisco amp (right) is upmarket from the S500 sporting reverb and a cabinet built to impress – it has the same 12″ size speaker as the Lectrolab. The transistor is making serious inroads in 1967…
…but if you must have a real man’s amp, you can get that same guitar with a Lectrolab S600, the “Deluxe Six Tube 25 Watt Output” shown below on the left. On the right we have the venerable Lectrolab R700C which is now in black tolex, the style du jour, tweed being tres passe:
By 1968 the good times were ending, as evidenced in the 1968 Aldens catalog below. Solid state transistor amps were taking over. Of the seven amplifiers pictured on this page, only two are tube amps, both of them Lectrolabs. In Item 3, the “6-TUBE AMP”, they picture and describe a Lectrolab S600, but omit amy mention of its tremolo feature. Also under Item 3 is a “5-Tube Amp” which is a Lectrolab S500. Item 7, the “4-Tube Amp” is the elusive Lectrolab R204D.
* Inflation calculations from http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm