After I recorded my "Vibrolux" album, I went searching for an amp to reproduce the tremolo sound onstage. My Fender "Vibrolux" amp that I recorded with and named the album after, didn't work well with an acoustic guitar in the live setting. There were feedback problems and too much of the midrange "skank" sound that is intended for screaming electric guitars. I tried various solid state amps made specifically for the clean acoustic sound, but I missed the warm tube sound. One day at Chelsea Guitars on 23rd St. in New York I chanced upon a small off-brand amp for $100. that nobody seemed to care about. It had a nice tremolo, a 12" speaker for the full bass response I wanted, a lot of "headroom," and it was all crammed into a small cabinet easy enough to drag around New York in a taxi. It was made by a company called Sano that no one seemed to know anything about. Until recently, the only thing known was the amps were built in New Jersey and looked to be of 60's vintage. Now through a series of phone calls, I found my way to the brothers Zonfrilli, whose father founded the company in 1951. Many thanks to Joe and Fred for their time and patience with my long winded questions in search of the history that only they could tell. Here's what I've discovered so far.
Circa 1940, Joe Zonfrilli, Sr., founded music schools called Major Music, in Irvington New Jersey. At some point near 1950, an accordion player named Nicholas Sano, wanted a pickup for his accordion, and Joe designed and patented one of the first pickups for what had until then been a purely acoustic instrument. With the pickup came the need for an amplifier, and so in 1951 came the first Sano amps.
One prevalent myth is that Sano was in some way affiliated with Ampeg. That isn't the case. Both companies were in operation at the same moment in time, and Joe told me that at one point Sano had considered buying an Ampeg factory that was relocating, but there was no business relationship between the two. Having said this, I saw in Greg Hopkins' great book on the history of Ampeg, a photo of Stanley Michaels, one of the original Ampeg people, standing beside a very early Sano amp. It seems that if he had any involvement at all with Sano, it was brief. This is what Fred Zonfrilli had to say about it:
"I only knew Stanley Michaels by way of introduction for a short time in those days. I was only 13 and had no active contact with Sano at the time. When I did get involved with Sano, a man by the name of Jack Gentile, a protege of Stanley Michaels, took over (continued) as a technical consultant to Sano. In the beginning, my father had subcontracted the assembly of the electronics to Jack and a small staff of women that did the point to point wiring. The small production began in the first floor of our building in Irvington, New Jersey. As the amp production grew, we eventually took over the production ourselves and years later added our own wood cabinet production line so we were able to become more self supporting."
There may have been as many as 100 different amplifier models produced, from the company's inception in 1951 until it's demise in 1980. The early amps have a chrome "Sano" logo in cursive lettering along with "Hi-Fi" also in chrome. The handle on top was also in chrome, as if from a Buick Roadmaster of that era. I know there were models with a 15" speaker along with 2 8" speakers, in a variety of cabinets, in speckled gray, brown and blue. They were later covered in black tolex, some with a silver piping around the front edge of the cabinet and some with a white trim along the edge of the grillcoth/baffle. I've seen some of the "Hi-Fi" amps with a single 12" speaker as well, with and without tremolo and/or reverb. At first, these amps were designed strictly for accordion use. This explains the full tonal range that works so well for acoustic guitar.
Here's an explanation from Fred for the stereo effect that they created for accordions; " Sano invented and secured patents for the first "elongated" stereo pickup( PU) designed for the accordion. The stereo function (effect) of the PU was created by the use of this PU system built on or inside of the accordion. The right hand or piano keyboard had it's own mic set up (usually 3 under the grill) in order to cover the entire treble range. The left-hand or bass keyboard (buttons) had it's own separate mic setup (usually two-one up top and one in the bottom of the bass compartment). This set up produced the stereo (separated) sound effect whereby the stereo signal was then sent to a stereo preamp built into the amplifier. There as only one basic or power amp used to reproduce the overall "simulated" stereo sound. The stereo effect gave the accordion a much more dynamic sound. We did on special occasions build a unique amp in the series that, in fact, has two separate power amps built into one cabinet. The bass signal went to one speaker and the treble signal went to another, creating a "true" stereo sound. This model was not very successful as a portable amp due to it's large and cumbersome size and weight (but what a sound)! remember, those were the days before solid state technology."
Later on, as rock music came to the forefront, Sano made amps with the usual mid range boost for
electric guitar and keyboards, bass amps, P.A. systems, solid state amps, stand alone reverb units, and even a battery powered 1-10" speaker amp with a shoulder strap, called "The Minstrel," for marching bands!
A few scattered details; The amps were manufactured in 3 locations: first at 1281 Springfield Ave. in Irvington, NJ, then at 49 Meeker Ave in Cranford, NJ, and finally in Roselle, NJ. There were 3 logos used on the amps over time. The first was the simple chrome cursive 'Sano' accompanied by the 'Hi-Fi' logo. The second logo was a black plastic 'Sano' in script letters on an off white background. The early version of this second logo was small and attached to the upper left-hand corner of the wood portion of the cabinet. The later version of this logo was similar in size to a 'Fender' amp logo and attached to the grillcloth part of the amp. The final logo was a plastic chrome rectangle with a more modern 'Sano' in squared off lettering. There were also amps produced for other companies including Hohner and at least for a while the 'Excelsior' brand. People claim to have seen amps under the 'Zon-Rio' brand name, however Joe ZonFrilli says that only accordions were made under this name. 'Zon-Rio' is a name put together from the 'Zon' of the 'ZonFrilli' family, and 'Rio' from Lou Iorio, Joe Sr.'s brother-in-law and business partner from Major Music.
In addition to manufacturing the amps, the Sano company imported acoustic and electric guitars, and accordions from Italy.
slideshow of various SANO amp models
Here's a list of the models that I know of so far:
1. #AR12 1-12" speaker, reverb, tubes: 1-EL84, 1-6AN8, 1-5Y3GT
2. #16WR schematic
3. #160 tremolo
4. #160R schematic 1-12" speaker, tremolo & reverb, 16 watts RMS
tubes: 2-EL84s, 4-12AX7s,1-6CS7(reverb),1-12AU7, rectifier?
6. #20WR schematic
7. #25WR schematic
8. #250R 2-12' speakers, tremolo & reverb, 30watts RMS
tubes: 2-7591s, 3-12AX7s, 1-12AU7, 1-7199(reverb), 1-GZ34
9. #30W schematic
10. #30WR schematic
11. #300R (stereo) 1-15"speaker + 2 -8' speakers, tremolo & reverb, 35 watts RMS
12. #300R-C (compact) smaller cabinet than 300R but the same otherwise
13. #300R-12 comes with 2-12" speakers
15. #50WR schematic
16. #500R-C (compact) smaller cabinet than the 300R but the same otherwise`
17. #500R 1-15"speakers + 2-8"speakers, 65watts RMS
18. #500R-12 comes with 2-12" speakers
19. #1000R Solid State, 2-12" speakers tremolo & reverb 100watts RMS
20. #1000R-L same as 1000R except comes with J.B. Lansing speakers
21. #1000R-C (compact) 1-15" speaker+ 2-8" speakers
22. #1000R-CL (compact) same as 1000R-C except comes with J.B. Lansing speakers
23. #1000R-PB piggy-back, separate amp and speaker enclosures
24. #1000R-PBL same as 1000R-PB except comes with J.B. Lansing speakers
25. #1000R-PBH piggy-back, separate amp and speaker enclosure-speaker cabinet is much taller than the 1000R-PB and stands vertically like a Vox "Super Beatle"
26. #1000R-PBHL same as 1000R-PBH except comes with J.B. Lansing speakers
27. #BA-1 1-15"speaker (bass amp) tremolo, 20 watts RMS
28. #BA-18W schematic
29. #GS-10 "Sano-ette" small cabinet, 1-10" speaker, tremolo, 8 watts RMS
30. #GS-15 1-12" speaker, tremolo & reverb, 17 watts RMS
31. #GS-20 1-12" speaker, tremolo & reverb, 20 watts RMS
32. #GS-30 1-15" speaker, tremolo & reverb, 35 watts RMS
33. #GS-30-10 4-8" speakers, tremolo & reverb