Discovering the Legend

by David Koltai

The signature sound and distinctive art deco styling of Supro tube amps and electric guitars have become an indelible part of rock & roll history. Picking up a Supro guitar and plugging into one of our tube amplifiers connects you to a musical legacy that begins with the birth of the electric blues during the Great Depression and culminates in the invention of hard rock music in the late 60’s.

The Supro logo with its iconic lightning bolt was first seen adorning tube amplifiers and lap steels as early as 1935. Born of a merger between the famed Dobro and National guitar companies, Supro amplifiers and guitars came to define the sound of the Chicago blues, culminating in a trans-Atlantic love affair whereby Jimmy Page used a Supro amp to record all the guitar parts on Led Zeppelin’s genre defining debut album.  Ironically, in 1968, the same year Zep I was recorded, Supro went out of business. Throughout the forty five year period of dormancy that followed, vintage Supro amplifiers achieved “secret weapon” status amongst top engineers and recording guitarists. Despite the proliferation of digital modeling amp and software plugins, the mystique surrounding authentic Supro analog gear continued to grow and demand for vintage examples finally skyrocketed with the emergence of eBay and then Reverb.com. It was at this point, in 2013 that Absara Audio re-launched the Supro brand, starting with tube amplifiers and subsequently expanding to guitars, all based on the original company’s unique design aesthetics and distinctive vintage tone.

Vintage Supro Catalog

Supro literally pre-dates every other tube amplifier manufacturer in business today. Not only are the Supro amps immediately identifiable from a visual perspective, they have a unique, vintage-correct power amp that is not found in any of the comparable brands (Fender / Vox / Marshall / Orange). The Class-A power amp circuitry in a Supro dates back to the early days of tube amplification, providing noise-free audio performance along with a distinctive sound that carries significant historical resonance. Supro amps have more dynamic range than any other amplifier, offering crystal-clear clean tone right up to raging distortion just by adjusting the volume of your instrument.

Like many aficionados of tone, the unique sound, radical engineering and timeless art deco style of Supro instruments was not lost on former Fender Custom Shop amplifier design guru, Bruce Zinky. Realizing the potential to bring back a seminal American guitar brand, Zinky secured the rights to Supro and began what would become one of the most remarkable brand revival stories of the new millennium. Zinky partnered with Absara Audio to re-launch Supro in the image of the original company, designing a complete line of all-tube amplifiers which immediately caught favor with top-tier performers like Paul Simon, Joe Walsh, Aerosmith, The Cure, The Black Keys and Snarky Puppy.

Mark Lettieri (Snarky Puppy) playing his Supro Hampton Baritone guitar.

Building on the successful reissue of the Supro tube amplifier line, the brand re-launched guitar production in 2017, resurrecting several elegant body shapes that harken back to the golden era of American automotive design and mid-century art-deco aesthetics. In its heyday, Supro was a major player in the guitar and amp business, with significant resources and a complete lineup of guitars, basses and lap steels with various levels of ornamentation and electronics, including an array of coveted magnetic pickups as well as a remarkable bridge-mounted acoustic pickup on some guitar and bass models.

Diagram of the original Ralph Keller Vistatone pickup.
Diagram of the original Ralph Keller Vistatone pickup.

The immediately identifiable style of Supro guitars is augmented by authentic replicas of the vintage pickups designed and manufactured by Supro in the ‘50s and 60’s. These pickups have a sound that is not just “different” from the competition, they are the missing link in the evolutionary chain between the very first guitar pickups and the Gibson PAF Humbucker, which actually cites the Valco made Vistatone pickup used in Supro guitars as “prior art”. Supro pickups are single coil in nature, but with very low noise and a huge sound that immediately invokes vintage blues and rock tones.

There are only a handful of companies that can claim a similar level of musical influence on the origin of electric music. Unlike most of today’s “boutique” brands which have derived their products from the inventions of the Leo Fender, Ted McCarty, Seth Lover and Les Paul, Supro is a true original with a musical legacy that runs parallel to Fender, Vox, Marshall and Gibson.

Supro tube amplifiers are assembled at our workshop in Port Jefferson, NY, USA. Each amp is wired by hand and then run through a series of empirical measurements and audio testing designed to ensure whisper quiet performance even when pushed to maximum gain. Similarly, every Supro guitar and bass is run through a detailed setup and inspection process based on rigorous quality standards. To ensure the utmost quality in all of the gear we ship out of our workshop, every Supro amplifier, guitar and pedal we make is thoroughly audio tested by an expert musician.

– David Koltai

President