WASP amplifiers

Floats like a butterfly, stings like an electrified automatic stinging death machine.

My main amp for most of my guitar playing years has been my faithful blue Marshall 30th Anniversary half stack. I bought that amp when I was 18… it was my first GOOD amp and it served me (very) well for the next 13 or so years. Then one day I went to plug it in and… NOTHING. One of those pesky microchips decided to die, and it’s taken 2 years for Marshall to send me a chip and for the amp to be repaired due to most of the parts now being obsolete. In the interim, I still needed an amp to play. My first purchase was a Jansen 12 Sixty, which is a 1960’s New Zealand-made Fender Bassman clone. It was ok, but didn’t have the clarity and raw power I was used to. I then tried my friend Ben’s 200 watt Ratajczyk all tube bass amp (This thing is an absolute MONSTER and I’m definitely doing a guitarnerd article in the future) but as I don’t like to borrow gear long term, I needed an amp of my own.

It was around this time that Tim from Tym’s was selling a heap of his old amps that he’d been collecting over the years. This included about 6 WASP amps, which I knew a little about but hadn’t really tried. From what I could find out from the fantastic www.ozvalveamps.org site, WASP amps were built by a company called Holden, who were originally from New Zealand. The original amps were actually called ‘Holden’ and the WASP was a particular model as Holden had a range of amps and combo’s including some solid state models.

But when the company moved to Australia, they changed the amp name to WASP. I found some more info on the Sydney Powerhouse Museum website which explains this in more detail, and also happens to have one of Radio Birdman’s WASP cabinets on display: (Check out the site here.)

“Ian Johnstone arrived in Australia in 1967 as a  roadie from New Zealand and stayed to form WASP Industries with Doug  Henderson, making valve amplifiers under the name of ‘Holden’ which was a  New Zealand company owned by Ron Holden. Ian bought Doug out in 1968.  The WASP 200 watt bass amp became an Australian industry standard for  many years, being used by bands such as Sherbet, Hush, Flying Circus,  Blackfeather and Jeff St. John’s Copperwine.”

A further explanation of WASP history can be found at ozvalveamps from the man himself, Ian Johnstone: (click here)

So as mentioned, the initial WASP’s were rebadged Holden amps. Turbo from Brisbane band ‘The Hymies’ had a VERY early WASP half stack which was believed to be the 6th or 7th WASP amp ever made. This amp is now at Tym Guitars and can actually be rented out if you’re in the mood for some vintage Antipodean rawk sounds.

Here’s one of the early WASP’s, with the first logo. As you can see, the difference between the Holden & WASP was pretty much just the badge.

Next up the WASP logo and amp look changed to a more British feel. The silver fabric was replaced with Hiwatt looking black vinyl. Around this time, several different WASP circuits were being using. I’ve seen one with 2 channels that can be blended into each other which, along with the master volume control, make this a lot more easier to handle than the non-master volume type WASP’s.

Finally, WASP evolved into it’s final incarnation. This is the most well known version, and the one that pops up the most. I’ve also seen a version of this which is a monster 200watt slave amp. My friend Steve had one of these and the weight was unbelievable. I never heard it in action, but he’d used it as a bass amp.

There are also versions out there with a fabric front. I think these were later in the WASP timeline…

Most hard rocking Sydney bands in the late 70’s were WASP users, the most famous being Radio Birdman. Here’s some footage of them playing their infamous Town Hall gig with a stack of WASP’s cabinets behind them. Chris Masuak has a WASP head behind him, while Deniz Tek is playing his solid state Phoenix head through WASP cabs.

So… needing an amp, I came across a beautiful looking 100 watt WASP head at Tym Guitars. There was also a 50 watt WASP with KT88’s, but I like the extra power in reserve of a 100 watt head so that’s the one I went for. The amp runs on 4 6550 power tubes and 4 12ax7’s. There are two 12ax7’s in the preamp, 1 for the phase inverter and then the 4th is used as a post phase inverter boost.

Using the channels separately, they have different characteristics. Channel 1 is the more overdriven channel, but you really need to crank it to head exploding levels to break it up. Channel 2 is pure 100 watt clean tone with heaps of head room. Bridge the channels together and you get the classic Aussie overdriven rock sound. It’s part Marshall, part Hiwatt. It’s not a well known fact, but WASP were the amp of choice of AC/DC in their early days. Here’s a pic of Angus in his first band, Kentuckee, with a monster WASP stack towering over him.

I owned this amp for over a year now and like it quite a bit. It’s not perfect… WASP amps are notorious for running hot & blowing fuses. Mine just had all it’s power tubes replaced so it should be right for a while yet. When I (finally) get my beloved blue Marshall back, I think I’ll keep my WASP. It’s a direct line to the golden era of Aussie pub rock. There is no doubt that back in the day, my amp was sweating it out in Sydney & Brisbane pubs week after week. And coupled with my sweet Goldentone 2×12 which I’m fixing up, it’s pretty much the coolest Aussie rock machine ever. (Well, in my opinion.)

***update: I was at Tym Guitars a little while ago and saw something very rare… a WASP combo. 1 of only 4 ever made. I had to plug her in and give it a go. It certainly has that WASP growl, and at 50 watts it sounded a lot more manageable than my 100 watt WASP head, which I’ve sold recently as it was just too goddamn loud!