Sometime in 1953, Magna established a line of amplifiers with model numbers in the "100"s. They replaced the earlier amplifiers that carried model numbers that began at "M-192" and usually came with circuit updates and adoption of the 12AX7 pre-amp tube.
Amplifiers were finished in both pearloid "mother of pearl" plastic (AKA MOTS: mother of toilet-seat), and a tan "leathette" finish. 1954 models might also have been finished in fabrics, like some of the 1953 models. The MOTS coverings actually continued until 1958 or 1959, although the production numbers of the MOTS amps declined as years went on. They were primarily paired with similarly cover steel guitars.
Above are two amps, a plastic covered 1955 and a brown leatherette covered 1956. Notice the grill cloth emblems are different for each year.
The Starlet was a small student amplifier that provided an output of 5 watts peak (3 watts RMS) via an 8" speaker and three tubes (12AX7 50L6 35Z5). These were "AC/DC" amps which, instead of having a power transformer, the circuit rectified "wall power" 117AC with a 35Z5 half wave rectifier tube to produce B+, and wired the filaments in series. The circuit had been in use by Magna since the late 1940s, but the name "Starlet" first appeared around 1953.
The Varsity was a big step up from the Starlet. The amp has a real power transformer and a tube complement of a 5Y3, 6V6, and 12AX7. An 8" speaker delivers 8 watts peak (5watts RMS). The circuit was based on the M-197-3 and the Model 108 designation change is thought to be coincident with the change from a 6SJ7 to a 12AX7 preamp tube. These 108's were produced from 1954 to around 1959 when it was replaced with the 118. Early examples were covered in plastic pearloid as well as tan vinyl, while later ones were finished in various styles of tolex and vinyl. The name Varsity was used as early at 1948, but wasn't always printed on 108s (that is to say, some 108's don't carry the name "Varsity").
Another running change was the size. The cabinet for the 108 was enlarged in 1955. The 1954 10 cabinet is smaller, like the 1953 M-197's.
Some 108's used a 6X5 rectifier tube instead of a 5Y3. This was probably due to transformer availability. Also see 108/118/218.
schematic for 108 (pictured above is a 1956 Varsity).
The Melodier was made with several different circuits over the years. It output was 15 watts peak (10 watts RMS). Some came with twin 8" speakers and others with a 1x10". Melodiers usually came with two instrument inputs and one or two mic inputs. (5 tubes). The name Melodier was first used with the M-195-4 and M-195-5 circuits of the late forties. Read more about the 109.
The 110 and 112 were very similar to the 109. All three were push-pull 6V6 amps. There were some variations in the phase inverter circuit, and the pre-amp sections between the three models, and form year to year. The biggest differentiator is probably speaker configurations.
This Melodier Model 110 is an early model. The chromed emblem was used only for a short while around 1953.
The Model 112 was very similar to the 109 and 110's. Some used a 12" speaker like the 109, while others used two 8" speakers. The model designation "112" appeared around 1955. In 1955, the 112 was a four tube circuit with twin 8" speakers and 10 watts output, but in 1956 the Troubadour 112 was changed to a 12" speaker with five tubes and 18 watts of output. The name Troubadour was first used with Magnatones in the 1940s, but before Magnatone used it, Oahu used the name for one of their steel guitars.
The Vibra-Amp appeared about 1955 and was probably Magnatone's first tremolo equipped circuit. This was a six tube design with a 12" speaker producing 15 watts of output. The amp has two input channels with separate volume controls, and speed and intensity controls for the tremolo. The cabinet of the Vibra-Amp was similar, if not the same, as the 12" Melodier.
Mike Troiden's non-so-common 113 Vibra-Amp has been in his family at least 50 years. The basis control layout of this early Magna vibrato amp would be carried on through all the 260s and 280s that would later follow.
The Lyric name was used for both a steel guitar and an amplifier (like several Magnatone models). The ampifier received the model number 115 in 1955. This was a six tube amp, with two 6V6s delivering 18 watts to a 12" speaker. There were four controls: two volume (one for each channel), and treble and bass tone controls.
The guitar that was given the name the Lyric was a double neck eight string electric steel guitar. It changed model names a few times: In the early fifties, it was the D8 and D-85-DW, and later in the 1950s, it was the G-1745.
For more info, see 115
Vibroworld's Magnatone Archive has a lot of pictures and descriptions of individual models. If anyone would like to contribution to this page, it certainly could use some more information (feel free to contact me). I know a lot more about the Estey era amps than I do these early amps.
for a complete history of Magnatone..