A Short Guide to Vintage Traynor Amps

What makes one vintage tube amplifier worth more than another? Is it purely tone, or have some amp makers been favored due to more successful marketing and famous artist associations? While the appeal of a classic Marshall or Fender is undeniable, guitarists and bass players seeking more affordable vintage tones have many other options to consider. Often these “bargains” include offerings from highly respected amp builders.

One such brand is Traynor. The best known and largest Canadian producer of amplifiers since the mid-1960s, Traynor has never drawn the same interest as British imports among U.S. collectors, in part due to limited stateside distribution during the company’s early years. This lack of attention has left the used market with many examples of these hand-wired tube tone monsters priced well below contemporaries.

A Brief History of Traynor

Among Canadian musicians, Pete Traynor is a legend. After beginning his music career as a bass player (including a stint working with Robbie Robertson), Traynor landed a job as a repairman at the Toronto music shop Long & McQuade. Because the shop resided on Yorkville Avenue, the original products Traynor would begin to create shortly after being hired were sold under the Yorkville Sound brand, which continues to this day.

Pete Traynor

According to Jeff Cowling, Yorkville Sound’s current vice president of sales and marketing, “Traynor was something of a mad scientist and repairman of all things musical, who was already modifying existing amplifiers, and convinced Jack Long and Jack McQuade that he could fabricate products from scratch.”

Traynor’s first product was a column-style speaker that would allow bands to bring their own PA system to shows, an innovative concept at the time. Beginning in 1963, the company began producing guitar and bass amplifiers marketed with the Traynor badge. Under Traynor’s leadership, the firm went on to introduce many innovations to the market, including the first 8x10 bass speaker cabinet and the first wedge PA monitor.

Besides featuring a sought-after tone, Traynor models from the ‘60s and ‘70s are recognized as some of the most durable, bulletproof tube amplifiers ever built. Legend has it that Pete Traynor would test new models himself by throwing them from the two-story roof of the factory, replacing the tubes, and then testing if the amps still worked.

Traynors from the classic period also contained massive Hammond transformers as well as a unique design that incorporated a convenient circuit breaker on the back panel rather than relying on fuses. Beginning in the late ‘60s, both Traynor heads and combos featured a top panel that allowed for quick access to the amplifiers’ ultra-clean, point-to-point hand-wiring, making it easy to perform repairs or modifications.

It is important to note that one weakness of the first generation of Traynor amps was a two-prong power cord and the reliance on a “death cap” for electrical grounding. Upon failing, such a capacitor can set up a guitar player for a shock or electrocution. Luckily, most examples from the early years have by now had that problem fixed, after earlier owners, while strumming their guitars and touching a microphone, completed the circuit with their bodies.

They are ideal for modifications. Guys would hotrod them, and, somewhat uniquely, we don’t shy away from that as part of our heritage." - Jeff Cowling

Due to robust design features and low relative cost in the used market, Traynors are also among the most frequently modded amps on the vintage market.

“They are ideal for modifications,” says Cowling. “Guys would hotrod them, and, somewhat uniquely, we don’t shy away from that as part of our heritage.”

From the beginning, Yorkville Sound’s business was run by Jack Long, with Traynor overseeing product creation. Long was a businessman known for his integrity, who was also willing to take big risks. Critically, Long also insulated the eccentric Traynor from the stress that comes with starting a business.

A huge bit of publicity for the fledgling company came in September 1969 when the Toronto Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival concert featured a Yorkville PA and a full backline of Traynor amps. John Lennon and Eric Clapton performed with the Plastic Ono Band using Traynor stacks (the show was later immortalized by the Live Peace in Toronto 1969 album), as did the Doors and a young, chicken-throwing Alice Cooper. Legendary ‘50s performers Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard also featured on the festival’s bill.

John Lennon & Plastic Ono Band - "Blue Suede Shoes" (Toronto Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival, 1969)

Despite the increasing popularity of the company’s products, the ‘70s brought many challenges. While Yorkville’s PA systems and amps sold briskly in Canada, U.S. import surtaxes and the appreciation of the Canadian dollar hampered sales south of the border. With most U.S. distribution limited to the U.S. Northeast and Northern Midwest, many of the vintage Traynor amps that come to the used market today still originate from these regions.

Pete Traynor left the company in 1976 and subsequently lived a quiet life until his death in 2016. Yorkville ceased tube amplifier production in 1980 and retired the Traynor brand entirely in the early ‘90s to focus on sound systems and other high-end audio products.

Relaunched in 2000, the Traynor brand has subsequently produced both reissues and highly regarded new models, including the YCV line of tube guitar combos and the Horse line of lunchbox tube heads. Of course, as Traynor is a company founded by a bass player, the company today also produces high-quality bass heads and cabinets, including the 300-watt all-tube YBA300.

Vintage Traynor Models to Look For

YBA-1 Bass Master

Perhaps the best known of all Traynor amplifiers is the YBA-1. Initially introduced under the Dyna-Bass name in 1963, the YBA-1 Bass Master was introduced in 1964 and produced into the ‘70s (later reissued in the 2000s). Similar in design and tone to the Fender Bassman and the Marshall JTM45 designs of the period, the model spawned several variants with different features and output levels.

Traynor YBA-1 Bass Master Mark II

The original YBA-1 produced between 40 and 50 watts of output driven by Two 6CA7s (which are interchangeable with EL34s) and three 12AX7As. Though designed as a bass amplifier, the model was quickly adopted by guitarists. While the Bass Master did not have a master volume control, by “jumpering” between the amp’s channels guitarists quickly discovered a pleasing overdriven tone.

During the ‘80s the YBA-1 developed a reputation as a tremendous mod platform with hundreds of guitarists converting the circuitry in search of a higher gain and a more “British” sound. Among purists, the original unadulterated circuitry is still lauded for a tone that hovers somewhere between those of the classic Fender and Marshall models it resembles.

Price Guide: Mark I & II variants tend to price between $450 and $700 depending on condition and year.

Reverb and Master Volume Head Models

While the YBA-1 is the best known Traynor head among collectors, other models are also coveted.

1979 Traynor YRM-1 Reverb Master

The YRM-1 Reverb Master utilized 12AX7 preamp tubes and EL84 power with an output power of 50 watts. Reverb Masters featured a master gain knob and spring reverb, as well as tube tremolo and a treble boost switch.

The YGA-1 Signature features 100 watts of output and circuitry similar to the YBA-1 with the inclusion of tremolo, but they appear less frequently on the used market.

Traynor also manufactured a series of guitar and bass combos during the '60s and '70s with several close-backed designs and unusual speaker combinations. These amplifiers tend to be less sought-after than their head-only siblings and, as a result, sometimes fetch lower prices in the vintage market.

1960s Traynor Signature YGA-1A

Built to the same ultra-durable specs, these are very heavy amps that could test the backs of frequently gigging players. Starting in the late-’60s, all Traynor combos began featuring a speaker line out, allowing them to drive external cabinets.

A factor to consider when purchasing a vintage Traynor combo is that the company primarily used Marsland speakers in their amps and cabinets during that period. Some modern guitarists are not enamored of the tone that these stock speakers produce, while others like them just fine.

Price Guide: YRM-1 heads, depending on condition and year, tend to price in a similar range to the YBA-1 despite the extra features.

YBA-4

1976 Traynor YBA-4

The YBA-4 Bass Master Combo is essentially a repurposed YBA-1, providing the same sought-after tone and ability to jumper between channels. One Achilles heel of the design is that the sealed-back cabinet’s dimensions are too shallow to accommodate many 15-inch speakers favored by modern bass players. As such, the model is best known today among guitarists who often convert the YBA-4 to an open-backed setup (or even convert the amp to a standalone head). The model also has ardent fans in the steel guitar community.

Price Guide: YBA-4 models also price within range of the YBA-1 in the vintage market, but will typically require a significantly higher shipping cost.

The Guitar Mate and Studio Mate

Both the Traynor Guitar Mate and Studio Mate combos (YGM-1 and YGM-4 respectively) produce 20 to 25 watts driven by 12AX7A preamp tubes and two EL84 power tubes. While the first versions came without reverb, later variants included reverb as well as lush tremolo that could both be controlled via a footswitch.

The Guitar Mate had a single 12-inch speaker, while the Studio Mate featured an unusual closed cabinet configuration with four eight-inch speakers. In addition to guitarists, harmonica players looking for a bit more volume than a vintage Fender Champ sometimes employ these lower-wattage tube combos.

1972 Traynor YGM3 25W 1x12 Combo
1970s Traynor YGM-4 Studio Mate

Other notable combos produced by Traynor during its golden era include the YRM-1SC, a 4x10 combo based on the Reverb Master head. The brutally loud and clean-sounding YGL-3 Mark III models feature two twelve-inch speakers and are often referred to as “Twin killers” by enthusiasts.

Price Guide: Perhaps unsurprisingly, these smaller, more portable combos typically price at higher levels than other, heavier models. This is in part due to demand by recording musicians looking for affordable lower-wattage vintage tones.


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