It’s personally devastating to realize Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album—a record that didn’t leave my turntable for weeks and collected enough dust to fill Dick Van Dyke’s chimney-sweep bin in Mary Poppins—turns 50 years old this month. (All of these half-century rock-and-roll anniversaries of the past few years are rather chilling to “people of a certain age.”)
Released in the United States on January 12, 1969, the album had a rough start with music critics, but I didn’t notice any of that stuff. I was too busy being mesmerized by Jimmy Page’s unhinged guitar playing, John Bonham’s mammoth-sounding drums, Robert Plant’s yowling vocals, John Paul Jone’s sensual bass and organ lines, and a bunch of absolutely thrilling songs that exploded out of my crap stereo speakers and drove my parents insane. (Something good had to be in those vinyl grooves to fire yet another salvo in the battle of the Generation Gap!) As I got older and more into audio production, I also became a fan of the project’s speedy 36 hours of recording time and relatively meek £2000 cost (approximately $4,800 in 1969 dollars). Jimmy Page certainly knew how to produce a brilliant album on the quick, and he obviously had a band ready to play.
This week, it was revealed that two companies are celebrating the 50th birthday of Led Zeppelin with appropriately stunning product releases.
Mitch Colby—a long-time industry buddy and founder of Colby Amps in 2012 (adding Park Amps the next year)—delivered a major surprise when he announced he was working with Jimmy Page himself to produce 50 hand-built Sundragon amplifiers. Even cooler is that each Limited Edition amp will be numbered and signed by Page.
The Sundragon is a recreation of the Supro Coronado that Page modded (after it accidentally fell out of an equipment truck on a pre-Zep tour) and used during the recording of Led Zeppelin. Colby worked directly with Page and producer Perry Margouleff to unlock the secrets of the original amp, and, happily, Page is a fan of the result, stating he was “impressed with the forensic analysis both Mitch and Perry had put into the research of the sonic reproduction of the original Supro.”
It wasn’t exactly an easy job, though.
“Duplicating Jimmy’s amp wasn’t straightforward,” Colby told Guardians of Guitar. “His amp has been modded, and some of the reasons for the resulting changes to its sound and feel were not immediately apparent. I had the original amp in my shop for a month, and that was a good thing, because it took me that long to get the Sundragon to duplicate its rich sound and satisfying touch.
“Working with Jimmy was a dream come true. I was 15 years old when Led Zeppelin was released, and I’ll never forget the effect it had on me the first time I heard it. Jimmy was serious about getting the amp to sound like his, and he was closely involved in its final cosmetic design. He loves talking about music and gear—plus he made us feel like we were working on the same team.”
Fender Jimmy Page Signature Telecaster
Fender is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Led Zeppelin’s first release with a series of four signature Telecasters modeled after Page’s 1959 model (shown above in the photo of the band performing “Dazed and Confused” in 1969), which was gifted to him by Jeff Beck in 1966. Like the Snapdragon amp, Page was involved in the development of the line, which will include two production models and two instruments produced by the Fender Custom Shop (“The Limited Edition Jimmy Page Telecaster Set”) and master builder Paul Waller.
[Above] Fender Custom Shop master builder Paul Waller (left) and Page.
One of the Custom Shop models pays homage to the Yardbirds-era of the ’59 Tele, when Page customized it with eight circular mirrors. The other model recreates the dragon motif that Page hand painted on the guitar himself after removing the mirrors and stripping the finish. It reportedly took an eight-month collaboration between Page and Waller to get everything perfect, and only 50 of each version will be manufactured—each with a signed headstock by Page and other “personal touches.”
Obviously, the Custom Shop instruments are expected to be uber expensive, but the production models will be priced more within reach of the average player—though neither price was released at press time. You’ll miss out on the signed headstock and some other stuff, of course, but Page has said all of the production models will be true-to-spec of his ’59 Telecaster.
“This guitar is so special and has so much history,” Page stated in a Fender press release. “They really got it 110-percent right, or 150-percent right. It’s so absolutely as it is, as it should be, and as it was.”