ALBERT LEE and Supro’s UK invasion

“I got the first Supro amplifier in all of England.”1

The year was 1960, and a 16-year-old Albert Lee had left school to tour in the backup band for singers Dickie Pride and Sally Kelly—after playing guitar for only two years. He’d been sharing a Selmer Truvoice amp with the group’s bass player. “It’s easy to imagine how bad it sounded, but it was new to us and totally uncharted ground. I soon realised that one amp wasn’t making it—so with my money from the tour, I made a deposit on a Supro amp in Selmer’s music store in Charing Cross Road,”2 says Lee. Selmer was one of the largest and oldest music shops in London, having opened in 1937. It was there that many of the UK’s guitar heroes first tried out and bought much of their gear—among them, Jeff Beck, Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page.

Selmer’s Music Store at 114-116 Charing Cross Road, London

“This was at a time when no stores were able to import US instruments due to a luxury goods embargo left over from the war,” Lee explains. “The store was full of Höfner guitars and brass instruments. One of the salesmen showed me a catalogue of Supro amps and told me that they were expecting a delivery soon. I was unaware of any US amps being available at that time, so I thought that, being American, it had to be good. I chose a model with a 15” Jensen speaker, probably because it was within my price range. I believe it was somewhere in the region of ₤60. I had to wait for a few weeks before it arrived and I was thrilled with the sound—it was so much better than any UK amps of the time.”2

The Supro amp Albert Lee purchased was a 1695T Rhythm Master. In the 1959 Supro catalog, it’s described as being “custom designed for the discriminating guitar artist. Special attention has been given to the selection of a premium 15” wide range speaker. Response is solid and concise to fit the exact needs of the Spanish and Hawaiian guitar. There are special treble channels for extra sharp “lead” and “take-off” when desired. Size: 18”x20 ½” x 8 ¾” – weight 34 ½ lbs – output 24 Watts.”3

What happened to Lee’s Supro Rhythm Master? “Someone blew up the Jensen in my amp and I had to replace it with an English Goodman,” he recalls. Then later, “I took my amp to Germany sometime in 62/63 and someone spilled beer into it. It never worked properly after that, so I sold it there.”2 Lee then purchased a Fender piggyback Bassman.

Although Lee didn’t end up using his Supro amp for long, he secured eternal VIP-status in the Supro story as the one who advised a young Jimmy Page to buy a Supro amp. “He really liked the sound of my Les Paul Custom and my Supro amp, to the extent that he went out and bought the same setup,” Lee explains. “This would have been 1962, maybe ’63. He went to Selmer’s, and they still had a couple of these Les Pauls. Not on the wall, but they had a couple in their warehouse. They weren’t that popular at the time. He bought that and a smaller Supro amp like mine.”4

Albert Lee went on to become one of the all-time top “guitarist’s guitarists”. Among his many achievements, he wrote the blazing country guitar classic “Country Boy”, setting a standard for a generation of Telecaster-picking country guitarists. In 1974 he moved to Los Angeles, and soon after joined Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, replacing famed Elvis Presley guitarist James Burton. In 1978 he started working with Eric Clapton, playing with him for five years including the recording of the 1980 double live album Just One Night. Lee was musical director for the 1983 reunion concert by the Everly Brothers and performed with them for over twenty years. He earned a Grammy in 2002 and won Guitar Player magazine’s “Best Country Guitarist” award for five years in a row. He’s still active as a touring musician, and you can check out his latest news at http://albertleeofficial.com/

Albert Lee with Supro president David Koltai and Supro artist Matt Smith at the NAMM Show in January, 2014
Albert Lee trying out Supro reissue amps at the NAMM Show, January 2016

Albert’s Supro amp has been reborn as the 1675RT Rhythm Master, which is based on a later 1960s version: https://suprousa.com/amplifiers/1675rt-rhythm-master/

rmaster edit

More articles and videos that include Albert Lee’s Supro story:
Albert Lee interview video for reverb.com: https://youtu.be/vpvNZJ4izrc
Ultimate Guitar article: https://bit.ly/2rhGIL0
Vintage Guitar: https://www.vintageguitar.com/2807/albert-lee/
Acoustic Magazine: http://www.acousticmagazine.com/interviews/albert-lee/
Music Illuminati: http://music-illuminati.com/interview-albert-lee/

Footnotes
1 – Albert Lee conversation with Supro president David Koltai, Fall 2013
2 – Albert Lee quoted from an email sent to Supro, November 6, 2013
3 – Supro 1959 catalog (https://suprousa.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Supro-Premium-Line.pdf)
4 – Reverb.com story, Selmer: The London Music Shop Where Clapton, Page, Beck, and More Bought Their Guitars  https://reverb.com/ca/news/selmer-the-london-music-shop-where-clapton-page-beck-and-more-bought-their-guitars)