The Rare 1958 25L8 Standel Amplifier

May 30, 2022

Pulled this sucker out to play rhythm guitar with Kyle Eldridge this weekend. I sort of forget what a darn good amp this one is. It’s an odd one, even if you’re all versed up on tube Standel amplifiers.

The first time I went to Front Porch Music In Bakersfield, 1991 I think, I walked out with this amp for a very reasonable price (thanks, Artie). As I was buying the amp, he told me it had at one time been Merle Haggard’s amp, and that he played bass through it (not many people know this, but Merle’s first paying gig after getting out of prison in the early 1960s was playing bass for Wynn Stewart’s band in Las Vegas, at the Nashville-Nevada Club). Artie also said it was originally made as a fiddle amplifier.

This is only “25L8” Standel amplifier I’ve ever seen. It dates from 1958, the crossover period when Bob Crooks went from the early 25L15 amplifiers (used by Joe Maphis, Merle Travis, Speedy West, Chet Atkins, Buddy Emmons, etc.) to his second series of amplifiers, with front-mounted controls. As near as I could figure by looking at the insides, it was originally built with an 8-inch speaker and an 8-inch port hole. An odd configuration, but if it was made for an electric fiddle player, maybe that was a good one. When I got it, it had been modified for a 12-inch speaker and a port hole.

The amplifier chassis is a one-off, totally handmade and different than any other tube Standels I’ve seen. It has a pair of EL84s as power tubes (Vox AC-15, anyone?). I had it rebuilt a few years ago, and it sounds spectacular. That perfect Standel glassy chime, clean but not sterile.

Here’s my guess on the provenance of the amplifier. There was a fiddle player in Bakersfield who played with everybody. His name was Jelly Sanders. Jelly played with Buck and Merle in their early careers, and played on lots of other records recorded in Bakersfield, and many Capitol country records from the 1950s recorded in Los Angeles. Jelly was probably the best-known fiddle player in Bakersfield, and at one time was an early investor in the Mosrite Guitar company; Mosrite’s first “factory” in Bakersfield was an abandoned toolshed on Jelly’s property (Semie Moseley would eventually build Jelly a custom double-neck guitar to pay back the loan). I’m not 100% sure this amp was made for Jelly Sanders, but I’m not sure who else it would have been made for.

As for Merle Haggard, the one time I got to go to his house and meet him face to face (I interviewed him on the phone extensively, but only got one invitation out to the ranch before he passed) I asked him what kind of amp he used to play bass with Wynn Stewart, right after he got out of prison. Without hesitation, Merle said, “It was an old Standel,” but was unable to describe the amp further (and darn it, it was the one time I was unprepared and didn’t bring a photo to show him). I couldn’t say for sure, but maybe a photo will show up some day that shows this odd little 25L8 amplifier being used on stage at the Nashville Nevada Club in Las Vegas.

In the following photo, Jelly Sanders, with doubleneck Mosrite, plays guitar behind Merle Haggard, who is at the microphone, holding a Fender Jazzmaster. There’s another tube Standel amp in the background, but it’s not this one.

I can’t say with 100% certainty, but every time I see the cigarette burn in the original padded naugahyde, I grin and think about a young Merle Haggard letting a cigarette burn on top of the amp during a slow ballad.

I played through it this weekend and it sounded like a brand-new amplifier. It’s a really good amp. I’m surprised that Bob Crooks didn’t make any more with this circuit. It’s a great one.