REVIEW: Marshall 1959RR Randy Rhoads
The late great Randy Rhoads left an indelible mark on the guitar world when he passed away in 1982 with just two Ozzy Osbourne albums to his name, and a pair of Japan-only releases with his original band, Quiet Riot (yes, that Quiet Riot). At a time when Eddie Van Halen was revolutionising guitar playing with his party-guy antics, flashy technique and legendary ‘brown sound,’ Randy provided the Yang to Eddie’s Yin with similar technique and tone but an altogether darker aesthetic.
Before recording Blizzard of Ozz with Ozzy, Randy ordered some Marshall amps direct from the factory, based on the 1959 Super Lead but customised with white Tolex and including several modifications. The most important of these mods is a change to the way the two channels interact with each other. Typically, a Marshall Super Lead would have two channels, I and II, which each have 2 inputs. Players discovered early on that they could run these two channels together by joining them up with a short cable, but the 1959RR offers an internally-facilitated variation on this idea, all in the name of increased gain. The mod, which is only on channel II, cascades both halves of the first 12AX7 preamp valve, feeding the output of the first stage into the input of the second, instead of using each half separately for channels I and II. This effectively makes channel I’s volume control function as a master volume, while turning the channel II volume into a gain control. Or if you are after a classic Super Lead sound, just plug in to channel I, throw in some industrial-strength earplugs and off you go.
I wasn’t supplied with the matching speaker cabinet for this review, so I plugged the 1959RR into my Marshall 1960A cabinet. I tested it using an Ibanez RG550 with a Seymour Duncan Parallel Axis Trembucker bridge pickup. As it is a non-master-volume amp, the 1959RR needs to get loud – real loud – to achieve the kind of distortion you’d normally be able to dial in quite easily on an amp with separate gain and volume controls. Even with the added flexibility and gain of the channel II mod, you need to wind the level up pretty freaking high in order to get the thick, powerful distortion that the amp was built for. Plugged in to channel II, the amp was loud enough to fill the house with sound when the volume was set to zero. ZERO, people. I found the ideal setting was to turn both volumes up to about 6 (my neighbours, however, might dispute my definition of ‘ideal’ but I argue that little sacrifices such as ‘hearing’ and ‘peace and quiet’ must be made from time to time in the name of rock). The manual indicates that this 6+6 setting was Randy’s preferred level too, and it ensures a healthy mix of volume and overdrive.
Randy liked to increase the signal to the preamp with outboard devices (differing reports suggest he combined an EQ and a Boss overdrive pedal, or used an MXR Distortion + pedal – CLICK HERE to buy one from Music123), and he turned the bass down a little, which helps the speakers to breathe a little more and also keeps the amp’s insane level of power from overwhelming the bassist. Since I didn’t have an MXR Distortion + on hand (although I faked it with the model in my Boss GT-8 just to get a ballpark idea of what it’d be like to play with Randy’s gear), I used an MXR/Custom Audio Electronics boost/overdrive pedal designed by Bob Bradshaw to give the 1959RR a little extra nudge into high gain, and this seems to be the key to going from Randy’s rhythm tone to his lead setting.
The tone of the 1959RR is bright and edgy, with lots of attack and detail. This is not one of those amps that covers up your mistakes with front-end compression, but it rewards clean technique with a rich, punchy overdrive. Make sure you use an attenuator if you want Randy’s tone without damaging your hearing. Seriously.
Sure, this amp will help you sound a little bit like Randy Rhoads, but despite its signature appeal and blinged out white and gold appearance, it’s a straightforward workhorse which will appeal to players of many different genres. There’s a lot to love about this amp, whether you’re a Randy fan or not, and it’s already found its way into the rigs of Paul Gilbert (who used one when Racer X reunited at Winter NAMM 2009) and Dave Mustaine, who used one for his lead tone on the forthcoming Megadeth album.