THE RETURN OF ORANGE AMPS
UK Oranges Amplifiers ~ the tiny terror, hits 40 years!
by Todd K Smith
There was a time in the late sixties, early seventies that the orange amps were some kind of status symbol. Orange amps, or “crate amps” as they we called back in 1968 were the choice of a lot of struggling musicians because they were cheap and young band could afford them. The original box was black with a mesh grill and a psychedelic “Orange” logo. The concept was original designed by Cliff Cooper, an electrical engineer with an entrepreneurial flare. This was long before words like “brand identity” and “corporate structure” were coined. Basically Cliff was going on “gut reaction” and “common sense.” Even when the so-called smart money strongly advised him not to take on the established musical equipment retailers and manufacturers. But this only served to bolster Cliff’s ambition.
Central to the amplifier design was a quote popularized by guitar designer Les Paul. Les always maintained that “people hear with their eyes” - in other words, styling was crucial. A brilliant orange-colored vynide covering; robust picture-frame amp sleeves and cabs; and the 1950s retro sci-fi amplifier controls, together marked out Orange as totally unique. The first Orange amps were supplied by a small north of England company called Radio Craft and later that year placed an order with the larger Huddersfield-based Matamp.
Cliff was also friendly with what was then a premier blues band called Fleetwood Mac. Mac became the first chart group to go Orange in late-1968. When they toured America that year they took the very first half dozen Orange 100-watters ever made. Sportingly, Cliff included the name Matamp below the psychedelic Orange logo engraved on amplifier front-plates. The sound was appropriate for smaller halls but proved thin in larger venues. Orange introduced a 200-watt head in time for Fleetwood Mac’s spring 1969 tour with BB King. Mac guitarist, Peter Green remarked that the sound was too clean so Cliff’s engineers voiced the amps deliberately to produce more distortion.
The Orange Matamp caught on quickly as stars as big and wide-ranging as Stevie Wonder, BB King, Jimmy Page, John Mayall, Ike and Tina Turner, and James Brown joined the client list and helped to establish the brand. Orders worldwide soon far outstripped the production capacity of the Huddersfield factory that Cliff had bankrolled in early 1970. The 1972 introduction of the 120-watt and 80-watt Orange Graphic Amplifier OR series marked the start of an era in which Orange truly became The Voice of The World - even outselling Marshall at one point. With manufacturing now mostly in Bexleyheath, the Graphic’s front-plate used eye-catching graphic icons taken from a computer industry, which was then in its infancy. The mid-1970s saw the launch of the first Orange amp with master volume overdrive the OD 120 model. Cliff was now known in the business as ‘Mr Orange’ or ‘Monsieur Orange’ in France where Orange drum kits were made.
Drum kits were only a part of the Orange brand’s development. Other products included electric guitars aimed at the market gap between Japanese copies and American originals; guitar strings; Hypercondenser microphones, and disco. A fleet of Orange trucks cruised around the country during the summer rock festival season transporting a 4,000-watt PA system to the next open-air event. In London an Orange beach-buggy could be seen brightening up the streets. This was brand-building on the move. The Orange Records was established in late-1969 as well as an Orange Agency and Orange Design. John Miles would be the record label’s biggest-selling artist in the mid-1970s.
In 1975 Orange launched two additional brands - OMEC (Orange Musical and Electronic Corporation) and JIMMY BEAN. The OMEC Digital was the world’s first patented digitally programmable amplifier that enabled musicians to key in four different pre-set instantly recallable sounds. JIMMY BEAN was a new range of solid state amplifiers whose selling strengths were reliability and stylish presentation amps and cabs were covered in real denim cloth, had leather corners and a hand-engraved brass badge. Sound features included a stereo pre-amp. Through the 80’s, the electronics of music saw the company struggle with bankers, identity and staying power.
In the early 1990s, the music scene went back to the guitar with bands looking to the heavy rock of the ‘70s. After Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Grunge came Oasis, Blur and Brit-pop. As such, the stage was set for the return of Orange Amplification. Cliff licensed the Orange trademark to the Gibson Corporation in America and reissues of 1970s' Orange amp designs were soon back on the world stage; especially so after Oasis's Noel Gallagher went Orange and used the amps to record their first two albums. By the end of the decade the company thrived with new designs to mark its 30th anniversary: namely, the AD series of Class A combos. These amplifiers proved to be so popular, that the series was expanded to include 30 watt and 140 watt twin channel guitar heads and a 200-watt bass amp.
The summer of 2006 saw the launch of the 200-watt Thunderverb representing a new and unique concept in valve amps, being both a bass and lead amp all in one. The design featured ETR (extended tone range) with bass bandwidth going down to 30Hz without distorting. The Thunderverb also featured a revolutionary new transformer design. 2006 also saw the release of the 15-watt Tiny Terror an amp head that combines cool styling, portability, power, and value in one deceptively small package. January 2008 saw the 40th Anniversary Custom Shop Limited Edition and Anniversary OR50 head attracting massive interest when they were launched at last years NAMM 2008.
In March of this year March, Orange also released the Tiny Terror Combo and AD5 Combo. Orange Amp have become and international phenomena not only because of their unique design and vivid look but the outstanding sound quality and attention to detail. Hundreds of bands use the brand from around the globe. Just look for the bright orange box.
Website: Orange Amps (dot) com