GEARHEAD: PEPCO Amplifiers

“Gearhead” will be my semi-regular feature on the instruments and technology that have helped shaped music. For my first instalment, I am focusing on the Pine Electronic Products Company, Ltd, and one of their awesome amps.

Amplifiers are the key element in any guitarist’s sound, and any player will tell you that the right amp makes the difference in finding great tone. The rise in demand for electric guitar amps in the early 60s gave birth to all kinds of smaller companies making their own branded amps at lower costs. In Canada, many of our home-grown amp brands came from the one source- a small electronics store in downtown Montreal called PEPCO (Pine Electronics Product Company).

PEPCO began its existence as a run-of-the-mill electronics store, selling TVs and other home appliances. By the early 60s they had begun building their own guitar amps out of spare parts, using whatever materials were available to slap together inexpensive units, which fanned out to garage bands across Canada. They were also loose about their branding. Companies would contract PEPCO to build the amps, then they’d simply slap on a name tag indicating which ‘company’ had produced the amp. For this reason, you see these amps under many different names: Marlin (a name later copyrighted by Marshall themselves), Rivera, Paul, Pine, Lark, Cobra, and several others. Regardless of the name, all of them were made by the same electronics store in Montreal: Pine Electronic Product Company, of Craig St East in Montreal. Little is known about PEPCO and the products they made; the company left virtually no records and their catalogues have not survived. Their designs were simple and varied according to customer demand and the parts they had available. For this reason, these amps have become rare a desirable collectibles for certain group of vintage Canadian equipment geeks. The company disappeared sometime in the 1970s.

Purely by chance, I came to own two of these units. When I was first beginning to play guitar, my father came home with two PEPCO amps. He was the superintendent of a correctional facility, and apparently he came across these units while cleaning out an old storage space. Apparently the jail purchased these amps in the early 1970s, so that inmates could form prison bands and entertain the other incarcerated dudes (how cool is that?).  They had sat unused in some attic until he brought them home to me. I felt like I had won the lottery- not one, but TWO vintage tube amps delivered to my eager hands for free! I used them for years without understanding where they came from or how old they were (this was in the beginning of the internet).

PEPCO made tons of different amp designs and configurations. Most of the surviving ones are of the Riviera and Paul brands; a friend of mine owns a Riviera and that will be the subject of a future post. The two that I own are of a model that I have never seen anywhere else. I don’t even know if there are any other surviving examples, although I’m sure there must be.

Behold, the Pine Electronics Product Company Ltd., Model 211:

PEPCO Model 211 Guitar Amplifier

PEPCO Model 211- control panel

PEPCO Model 211- speakers

This amp is a two-speaker combo design, meaning that the entire amp is one unit, as opposed to a separate amplifier ‘head’ and a speaker cabinet. Many of the other PEPCOs I’ve seen are of the head/cabinet variety- it’s somewhat rare to see an intact combo amp. This design has two 6-inch speakers, and built-in tremolo and reverb. A lot of amplifiers had built-in tremolo back then, since it was one of the only guitar effects available at time. In terms of power, it seems to be in the 20-30 watt range. Once I actually started looking at the make-up of this unit, the reason a lot of PEPCOs haven’t survived became obvious: cheap building materials. Despite the fact that this amp is over a foot wide and probably three feet high, it weighs next to nothing. That’s because it’s primarily made of super-cheap plywood and old-style fiber board (which is kind of like really thick cardboard). The outside covering is vinyl adhesive applied in sheets, sometimes called ‘Tolex’, which was also in inexpensive way to make lousy wood look like imitation snake-skin or something. They used it on speakers and stuff back in the day. There are several cigarette burns and nicotine stains on the back side of the control panel, no doubt from some inmate putting down his smoke down to fire off riffs during ‘House of The Rising Sun’.

PEPCO Model 211- nameplate: note the cigarette burns on the bottom...

Although it says Model 211 on the control panel, there is no brand name other than PEPCO anywhere on the amp. It’s possible that they sold this model under their own name, but that would be unusual according to what I’ve read. I have another identical unit with the Marlin brand name on it, and slightly different building materials, including a control panel with a different look and different knobs (this amp is no working at the moment, and its restoration will also be a future post).

The grill cloth design on the 211 is similar to the Paul brand that they sold in the late 60s, leading me to think that this amp is from the same period. The rest of it has held up well for an amp that’s over 40 years old. Everything on it looks original, other than the power transformer on the inside which is missing some screws, indicating someone may have messed with the guts at some point. All I had to do to get it back to serviceable condition was lubricate and clean the pots (knobs in gear lingo), and clean the hell out of it. 40 years of dust and nicotine residue had left this amp looking shabby. All the photos of the amp here are after the clean-up.

It sounds really amazing! It has a warm vintage tone, and the tremolo is really deep and cool sounding. I love vintage tube amp sounds, and this is a stellar example, especially when you consider that it wasn’t the most expensive amp out there at the time. The reverb seems to only work intermittently, so I’ll need to service that at some point. But otherwise it is a great little amp, and a working piece of Canadian music history.

As I mentioned, there is very little information about these amps out there, and most of what I’ve read has come from this site. So if anyone has one of these beauties, or knows anything about this specific model, any other PEPCOs, or other vintage Canadian amps, drop me a comment below! Let’s preserve the legacy of these awesome devices, and prove that the Americans and Brits aren’t the only ones who helped build the sounds of rock and roll!

For more of the PEPCO story, check out this website: http://www.pepcotubeamp.co.cc/history.htm

PEPCO Model 211- tubes

37 thoughts on “GEARHEAD: PEPCO Amplifiers

  1. Interesting Amp…there is actually this exact model for sale in my area at the moment. ALthough the add seems to point to 12 inch speakers.

    How does it sound in terms of a comparison to another amp?

    The guy is asking 275 dollars for the amp.

    • Thanks for checking out my post! According to the person who posted below (after you) there is indeed a 2×12 model. PEPCO made amps in all kind of configurations. Check out the links below for his photos- he’s the seller of that 2×12 in question, so I assume you’re now the owner of a PEPCO!

      In terms of sound, I would describe it as like a very old, primitive fender amp: lots of top end, nice sparkle, but gets grittier the louder you go. Actually a great blues/garage rock tone, which is probably why they were popular.

    • I also am proud owner of a Paul with chassis 211. Similarly a 2×12 combo with single ended 6v6. Mine was missing a reverb tank , which I’ve since replaced with a fender style, and added the ground . Just lately got a Paul 201 ‘tickler’ and will no longer touch stuff while engaged. It also has that great single ended tone. So glad there’s more info on these surfacing, I’ll be doing an ISO mod for this keeper soon.

  2. I have a collection of PEPCO PINE amps. These are very cool amps that have a nice vintage look and sound. I was the owner of the model 211 mentioned above with 2 12″ speakers. Here are some pictures of the collection. I have a few for sale if anyone is interested.

    [IMG]http://i128.photobucket.com/albums/p195/johnnyangel69/AMPS/IMG_4897.jpg[/IMG]
    [IMG]http://i128.photobucket.com/albums/p195/johnnyangel69/AMPS/IMG_4898.jpg[/IMG]
    [IMG]http://i128.photobucket.com/albums/p195/johnnyangel69/AMPS/IMG_4899.jpg[/IMG]
    [IMG]http://i128.photobucket.com/albums/p195/johnnyangel69/AMPS/IMG_4900.jpg[/IMG]
    [IMG]http://i128.photobucket.com/albums/p195/johnnyangel69/AMPS/IMG_4901.jpg[/IMG]
    [IMG]http://i128.photobucket.com/albums/p195/johnnyangel69/AMPS/IMG_4902.jpg[/IMG]
    [IMG]http://i128.photobucket.com/albums/p195/johnnyangel69/AMPS/IMG_4903.jpg[/IMG]
    [IMG]http://i128.photobucket.com/albums/p195/johnnyangel69/AMPS/IMG_4904.jpg[/IMG]

  3. Hi there
    Very interesting amp you have. I too have a Pine Electronics Model 211. I bought it new from Eatons in Toronto in December 1970. Unlike yours, mine is a head and cabinet. I am currently rebuilding it. Just replaced all the capacitors and will be testing out the tubes next week. Unfortunately, I have changed the speakers and grill cloth several times over the last 40 plus years, it originally had a weird pattern on it that I never liked. I am documenting the amp from day one to the current rebuild and have found all kinds of neat pictures of this thing at various jams and gigs.
    I have used this amp continually since I bought it. It was my first amp and although I replaced it for gigging in 1971 with a Traynor Bassmaster (wish I still had that one) I continued to use it to practise, jam or record.
    I also own a Pine made Rogue amp that I bought for 10 bucks in Ottawa back in the 90’s that I use with my current band.
    Cheers
    Paul

  4. Hi, I have a Pepco Paul combo amp. 3 inputs, spring reverb, tremolo, 15” speaker. 24.5” tall, 18” wide and 14” deep. Can anyone tell me anything about it? Can’t find anything remotely close to this model online.

    Cheers!

    • Hi Pat, I had a Paul with a 15″ speaker, not sure if was the same model, dimensions seem slightly different, and mine had tremolo but no reverb. Great amp, always have my eyes open for one. For some reason your photos here don’t open. Can you send me a photo? Thanks

  5. Oh… forgot pics:

    [IMG]http://i154.photobucket.com/albums/s245/Chimay2/IMG_1565.jpg[/IMG]

    [IMG]http://i154.photobucket.com/albums/s245/Chimay2/IMG_1566.jpg[/IMG]

    [IMG]http://i154.photobucket.com/albums/s245/Chimay2/IMG_1556.jpg[/IMG]

    [IMG]http://i154.photobucket.com/albums/s245/Chimay2/IMG_1557.jpg[/IMG]

    [IMG]http://i154.photobucket.com/albums/s245/Chimay2/IMG_1558.jpg[/IMG]

    [IMG]http://i154.photobucket.com/albums/s245/Chimay2/IMG_1555.jpg[/IMG]

    • It’s definitely the same amp that I’ve written about here. Same tube configuration and everything. My Marlin (another weird Pepco brand name) even has the same grill cloth. All I can tell you is what I’ve written here. Also, check out the link to the Pepco Story at the bottom of the article. They made literally thousands of these amps, all under different brand names, using whatever parts were available at the time. Cool amp Pat!

  6. I have a Pine model 211. I had it for 10 years before I even took a good look at it. I first thought it was a solid state amp until I noticed it was a tube amp with 2-12″ speakers. It had a tall cabinet but I removed the chassis and changed the electrolytics. I built a very small, Fender tweed style cabinet and put in a single 10″ speaker. I covered the cab with blond tolex with oxblood grill cloth. For a single 6V6 amp, it packs some punch. I now have a guy who is interested in buying it but I don’t know what to ask for a price. I really don’t want to sell at present. These are pretty good amps. I’d say on the line with Valco amps.

  7. Hi,
    I actually have a Paul branded combo amp by Pepco. Driver is missing and amp is in a «need some TLC» state. I just put it for sale recently in the local classified and got several inquiries, leading me to think that maybe I have something interresting in my hands. I know a little about it (great info here by the way!) and a little more on canadian amps in general (I own a Traynor YBA head + four ten cab, an early one according to the serial numbers). I don’t feel like I’m going to do something with it in a near future, that’s the reason I considered getting rid of it, but now I’m in doubt.
    Ah yes, it was working when I purchased it (tested it on my cab), but I believe someone messed with the wiring at some point.
    Should I keep it or sell it?
    I’ll try to post more info on it and pics as my contribution to this post.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Hey there! Thanks for your comment. Honestly, if it was me, I’d keep it. I had another one of these Pepco amps when I was younger, and I hocked it and regretted it ever since. These amps are a part of Canadian musical history, and are emblematic of the most exciting time in the history of rock and roll. The Traynor YBA head is also a golden find- I had a YSR head that was stolen from me and it still stings. Bottom line, even though Pepco amps aren’t considered desirable at the moment, I guarantee they will be a few years from now, and the lack of info makes every single specimen unique and important. If you’re going to sell it, price it as a “one of a kind” (ie. exorbitantly ;-), because that’s what it is.

  8. I’ve a 211 with original 2×12’s and an earlier 201 with an 8″ non original speaker. Both are awesome amps built under the Paul brand. I modded the 201 to add an isolation transformer. For those of you that are capable or curious, I’ve documented the change here.
    http://pepco201.blogspot.ca/2013/02/paul-pepco-201-chassis-isolation.html
    The 201 still needs the canned caps replaced to clear up come hum, but because its usually cranked to get that breakup, I never really think of getting around to it.

  9. Hi
    i recently acquired a Pepco 811 head and matching 2×8 cab. 6 tubes, 3 inputs, reverb and tremelo. Neat sounding amp with a funky retro look. Does anyone have any info on it? Also, all three inputs sound the same. i’m not a techy but pulled the chassis and noticed that the inputs are all configured the same with no caps. Is this normal to have three identical inputs?

    • i wondered if mine was stock but have since found others who state their three inputs are the same. Except for some oxidation on the faceplate, it is very clean. i am really liking it but need to get rid of some equipment so thinking about posting it on Kijiji to see if there is interest. Since these are rare i am not sure what it’s worth. Perhaps we’ll see!

    • I’ve got my eye on a listing for an unnamed vintage canadian amp which I’m pretty sure is a Pepco 811 with 3x 7025s, a 6V6 and and a 5Y3. Three inputs, reverb and tremolo. But this one looks like it’s been screwed (poorly) into a homemade cabinet with a 12″ speaker. It’s supposed to run just fine and he only wants $120. Was the 811 ever available in a combo?

  10. Hi,

    I just been given a Lark 801 tube amp. It’s not working but I would love to restore it. Where can I find info on these amp? It’s still all original looking, fire’s up, make big awful noise and no ”guitar” sound.

    Anything would help. Thanks!

  11. Great post! I’ve been researching these amps for about a year now.

    I came into one, but I have no idea what model it is as there is no badging aside from the face plate that only has the #LR19952, CSA mark, On/Off Volume, Bass/Treble Tone, Tremolo and 60 Cycle printed on it. From what I can tell, it’s an 801.

    It’s a 1 x 8″ speaker in a cheap wood cabinet with crappy tolex and the “jagged” white line grill cloth. There’s a 6V6 power, a 5Y3 rectifier and a 12AX7 for the preamp. The tremolo has been completely bypassed somewhere along the line, but there is a spot for a 12AX7 tube.

    I removed the original speaker as it was in pretty bad shape and replaced it with a Celestion Eight 15. It’s way crunchier and thicker than the farty, tinny thing that was in there.

    I’m guessing it’s somewhere between 5-10 watts. It’s a tiny amp but it’s SUPER loud.

    I’m going to re-house and rewire the thing in a project of undetermined length. Probably a head and cab configuration and maybe make it a 1×12″.

    Here’s what it looks like:
    http://mistergoats.com/post/90680483528/this-is-my-1960s-pepco-tube-guitar-amplifier-im

  12. Crazy! Glad to know there are still so many of these forgotten gems out there! Keep us posted on your re-housing project. I’ve heard about lots of people splitting them up into head/cab and I’m thinking of doing the same with mine.

  13. Hey, I bought a Canadian tube amp 10 years ago in LV. After researching on the internet, I discovered it is a Pine Electronics amp. It has a 6v6 pwr tube, 2 6av6 preamp tubes and 1 12ax7 tube for the tremolo and a 5y3 rec tube. The spkr has beeb changed . [a 10″ Jensen]. The volume goes from a whisper to a roar at 3 on the dial. A few of the capacitors and resistors have been replaced. Aside from a small cigarette burn on the top front, the amp is very clean and original with zero tears or stains. Also I replaced the 2 prong power plug. As good sounding as a Fender Princeton Reverb silverface.

  14. Hey i have what i think is a pepco .after some research im sure of it. But the speakers are larger than six inches.ten inches. Its very light. And in good condition. A good clean will help. Im in love with it..amazeing sound.

  15. Hey everyone! Lots of great info here!
    I have a PEPCO ”Model 203” amp!
    1×12 speaker, 4 inputs, volume, treble/bass. That’s it! No trem, no reverb.
    I had to resolder a few things, but it works good, although I believe it could be cleaned and some parts could benefit to be changed, but I know nothing about all that, so I’ll find someone who does. Anyway, it’s a cool little amp that gets a distorted sound very fast. Tried it with my bass and sounded surprisingly good til it started distortioning (not a fan of distortion on bass). Anyway, I would be very curious to try the bass amp that PEPCO made and that someone who has the big collection has.
    Anyone have an idea of how much they’re worth?
    Thanks!

  16. Hi i have one of these old amps with el84 and 2 speakers it is in ruff shape but looks all original and works
    It has a badge in the front ( the imperial )

  17. I have an ARC and a Ford combo. They sound like the first Led Zeppelin album. The Arc is my favorite. I used to have 2 Arc combos that I ran in stereo. I foolishly sold them for more substantial wattage… stoopid!

    • I had 2 Arcs in the mid ’90s. I also had 4 rare 1960s Celestion 7442 10″ with N1B4 Pulsonic Cones. I loaded one in each Arc and drove it with an OG Tubescreamer. It was fantastic!! But needing money to score a 100 watt Marshall Super Lead plexi—I pulled the celestions and installed the old speakers and sold tboth Arcs. Dumbass!! I later found out the celestion I had put in the Arcs were the same that Jim Marshall put in the Bluesbreaker he made for Clapton—the next evelutiom of the amp saw Clapton ask Jim to put 12s in the amp as well as making it a combo. Hendrix also used the aforementioned model celestions in several Marshall 8×10″ cabs. I’m on the hunt for 2 or 4 Arcs, mint if anyone is holding. I also have a Ford. Zeppelinesque indeed! Would consider trading it for Arcs. Has OG reciepts with it.

  18. Just got 8″ combo one for 80$- It is quiet ( some buzz but also not a lot of volume)but sounds so good- no ground on the AC. Original speaker ..could put a 10″ eminence /jensen in. Advice? The tolex and cab is near immaculate. Sounds like a Fender Champ.

      • I’ve ran my Pepco through an old Marsland (removed from a Garnet Deputy 1) 15 inch alnico that I blew and had reconed and it sounds crazy good. Also sounds fantastic through an old 1960’s Utah 12 inch speaker that I had kicking around. I think these amps sound good through a tighter rather than looser speaker (tight surround) because the amps are so saggy and loose themselves, a tight speaker tends to firm up the sound. As far as a modern speaker goes, I have played mine through a Celestion 30 and a Eminence Legend 15 inch…. these two speakers are more effecient so of course much louder. For pure fun and reasonable sound pressure levels…. I lke the older, innefircient speakers!

    • Sounds like a Champ, agreed! Actually sort of a Vibro Champ clone, with the built-in trem and verb. It is on the quite side, but at 6(ish) watts it’s perfect for most of my gigs (soul music, jazz, etc), and only 30lbs is a lifesaver for an urban-dweller like me. Only when I’m playing a rock gig do I find myself wanting more volume. I had the three prong conversion done on both of mine and honestly haven’t looked back. Bit crunchy but I don’t really use/need clean headroom most of the time. Nice and warm and breaks up perfectly.

  19. I have a Pepco “Paul” combo. It has only three controls, volume, tone, and tremolo. It is a single ended 6v6 amplifier with two 6av6’s and one 12ax7 in the preamp/driver section an d a 5y4 rectifier. I just replaced all of the power supply capacitors and cathode bypass capacitors. I also did an interesting mod in that I set it up with switchable output transformers. I have it so I can switch between the stock paper bobbin output tranny or a new ESE Hammond (much heavier duty) output transformer. For old ragged sound I can use the old tiny paper transformer and for beefier, louder output, I can switch to the Hammond. The amp hums a lot but sounds great when pushing a 12 or 15 inch speaker and the tremolo reeks of the 60’s. Found this guy at a pawn shop about fifteen years ago for about forty bucks…. the guy really didn’t know his stuff as he also sold me a Bryston audio preamp for fifty bucks……. !!!!!

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