In the late 80s and early 90s, preamps and power amps were where it was at. Amp heads? Pfft. Sure, you put them on top of your dummy stacks on stage, but you didn’t actually use them. In the 90s that all changed and players rediscovered the glories of stacks, half stacks and combos, so everyone sold off their preamps. Now you can’t take a stroll on eBay or through a secondhand guitar store without tripping over a stack of the damn things. That’s very bad news for the clumsy of footfall, but great news for those of us who can’t get enough guitar gear. So I present to you, dear reader, Cool Preamps They Don’t Make Any More.
This preamp holds a special place in my heart because it was advertised on the back page of the very first guitar magazine I ever got – the March 1991 Guitar World with ZZ Top on the cover. Part of the 9000 range that also included a few different power amp options, the 9001 rocked three channels of 12AX7 goodness. It also had a cabinet emulation switch for direct recording applications. It’s not the most well-known and full-featured Marshall preamp – that honour goes to the JMP-1 – and it seemed to be favoured more for its medium overdrive tones than its clean and screaming settings. Check out the owner’s manual here.
CLICK HERE to see the Marshall 9001 on eBay
This preamp is an undisputed classic. Real tube operation with the flexibility of MIDI control, this one is still the heart of Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen’s rack, and Dave Mustaine has been known to use it pretty extensively. This beast packs four channels into a single rack space: Clean 1, the edgier Clean 2, Plexi-ish OD1 and high gain OD2. I’ve used a few of these in various situations over the years – usually in combination with a Marshall EL34 power amp – and I’ve never been anything less than completely blown away by the clarity and harmonic complexity, especially for fat-ass lead sounds and crunchy humbucker rhythm work.
CLICK HERE to see the Marshall JMP-1 on eBay.
Designed by N.S.”Buck” Brundage, this unit was manufactured from 1990 to 1997 and it was a favourite of producer Max Norman – yes, he who worked with Megadeth on Rust In Peace, Countdown To Extinction and Youthanasia, not to mention Ozzy Osbourne in the Randy Rhoads era. Back in the day, ART said: “Power Plant combines the finest elements and saturation curves of 12AX7s into 6L6 tubes giving the user the thickest, heaviest crunch of classic tube amps without diction and articulation of notes! The Power Plant is one of the most versatile studio and live sound production tools available. It has totally separate clean and overdrive channels, master volume control, a switchable effects loop, and a +20 dB output for a power amp feed (this output has a unique equalization and pre-emphasis circuit that reflects the curve of a guitar amplification section).”
CLICK HERE to see the ART Power Plant on eBay
This little beauty was popular among many players in the early 90s, especially when paired with a Marshall JCM 900 amp head. The typical trick was to bypass the JCM 900’s preamp section entirely by plugging into the MP-1 then sending its output directly into the Marshall’s effect loop return. Players who were big on the MP-1 included Nuno Bettencourt, Paul Gilbert, Kirk Hammett and White Lion’s Vito Bratta. Believe it or not, even Billy Corgan used one in Smashing Pumpkins. You get 128 programmable user patches, plus a chorus effect. ADA made an amp called the Quadtube which featured a rather MP-1-looking control section. They also released the MP-2 and the MB-1 bass preamp, and word is that the reactivated company is now developing a preamp called the MP-3 for release some time soon. Awesome. Fore more info, check out the always-excellent adadepot.com.
CLICK HERE to see the ADA MP-1 on eBay.
Another tube-driven preamp with 128 presets and MIDI control, part of the X99’s cool charm is that the passive control knobs are moved by little MIDI-driven motors. The idea is that if the pots themselves were motorised, an additional gain stage would have been introduced, and you’d get all sorts of additional noise. When I was 16 I played in a band with a few older dudes. The singer/guitarist had one of these and an Alesis Quadraverb. I thought it was the coolest damn rig I’d ever seen, and the warmly overdriven sounds were godlike. The X99 is a great choice for rock styles, and although I don’t know if I’d use it for metal, it’s one powerful piece of kit with a killer pedigree. Great colour too.
CLICK HERE to see the Soldano/Caswell X99 on eBay.
This all-tube four-channel blue behemoth is one of the most lusted-after pieces of guitar kit around. Forgive me for going back to Megadeth but if you dig the tones of the Rust In Peace era, they burst forth from this piscatorial pulveriser. It’s also all over a lot of early 90s work by Alice In Chains and Anthrax. The Fish is exceedingly hard to find today, so if you see one, snap the damn thing up.
CLICK HERE to see the Bogner Fish on eBay.
Hafler Triple Giant
The Bogner you buy when you can’t afford a Bogner, the Triple Giant was indeed designed by Reinhold Bogner himself. It’s not quite in the same league as the Fish, but it’s certainly not without its charms. There’s a pleasing depth to the midrange and bass. Just know that if you cover up the Hafler logo with black tape so people think you have a real Bogner, we’re onto you. *cough* Hi Simon.
CLICK HERE to see the Hafler Triple Giant on eBay.
Cool guitars they don’t make any more
Cool guitars they don’t make any more 2
Cool guitars they don’t make any more 3
Cool guitars they don’t make any more 4
Line 6 has been at the forefront of a lot of sound modeling innovations – desktop units, modeling amps, and the revolutionary Variax guitar. But despite the company’s amp modeling technology finding its way into pro studios worldwide and on thousands of concert stages, purists have been somewhat wary of the lack of valve technology. With the Spider Valve, Line 6 is looking to capture that slice of the market which has been hesitant to try modeling technologies because of the lack of valves.
At first glance, the Spider Valve looks a lot like a Spider III. It shares a similar control layout and 12 amp model types including clean jazz; 1973 Hiwatt custom 100; various Fender valve combos, Marshall heads; a Vox AC-30, Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier; and Line6’s own creation, “Insane.” There are also 7 effect types, and you can store 36 of your own sounds in addition to the hundreds of factory presets.
The signal travels into an analog-to-digital converter, then into the digital signal processor for tone generation, and is then converted back to analog and split to a cabinet simulated direct out, and to the effect loop. Then the signal hits a pair of 12AX7 preamp valves. The first acts as a cascading gain stage, and feeds the master volume which hits the next 12AX7 configured as a phase splitter. This is followed by Sovtek 5881WXT/6L6. There are two 6L6 output valves’s for 40 watts of class AB power in the combos, while the head version has four 6L6’s for 100 watts of class AB power. Bogner specified the use of boutique components such as Sprague Orange Drop and Wima capacitors in the tube section, and the combos are outfitted with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers.
The Spider Valve sounds very much like the Spider III at lower volumes. The same artist and song presets are there, and user-conjured tones are similar too. The amp has been re-voiced to provide more complexity to the mid gain tones, and the best way to hear this in all its glory is to crank the amp. Once the valves start cooking (and the neighbours start knocking), the slightly clinical bass response of lower volumes tightens up. The subtle fizz to the treble, common most high gain amps at low volumes, fades away to be replaced with rich transients. But the real beauty is in how the midrange opens up with lush harmonics, and the amp responds more interactively to changes in pick attack, playing dynamics and guitar control settings. This makes medium gain models come alive, and puts muscle and presence into clean tones. The sound tends to still be a little ‘hi fi’ compared to a 100% valve amp, but it’s a much more organic-sounding unit compared to the Spider III.
But don’t just take my word for it – here’s a video of Guitar World’s Paul Riario demonstrating the Spider Valve (although the treble sounds a bit harsh on this video). Make sure you stick around for the blues sound at 9:40 in the video to get an idea of how the Spider Valve handles non-metal styles.
The Spider Valve is more than ‘just’ a modeling amp. It has its own character, and offers something that nothing else in the industry can do. The design input and endorsement of Bogner also doesn’t hurt in lending some cred in boutique circles.
With Alice In Chains in town recently for the Soundwave festival and their own side shows, now seems like as good a time as any to look at the guitar tones of Jerry Cantrell. The band’s defining moment was the 1993 album Dirt, which stripped away the slightly 80s-rock elements of their debut and ratcheted up the dark, foreboding, Sabbath-y elements instead. Cantrell’s tone was huge and warm, and a lot more ‘boutique’ than most of his grunge-era contemporaries.
The Dirt album was recorded with legendary producer Dave Jerden (as was its predecessor Facelift and the acoustic EP Sap), and legend has it that on Dirt, Jerden had Cantrell use a multi-amp rig to fatten up the guitar sound, with each amp chosen for the particular frequencies it emphasised. If you want to copy this approach at home, you don’t need a whole warehouse of amps and a huge studio to record them in (although it helps). You can get somewhere close using multiple amp simulator plugins. I’ve had good Cantrell-like results in Pro Tools by combining Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier and Marshall JCM800 models from IK Multimedia’s Amplitube 2 for the bass and midrange, respectively, and the Bogner Ecstasy model from Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 3 for the high end. Place each plugin on a separate track, dial out the frequencies you don’t need from each amp (for example, you already have a lot of bass from the Mesa, so turn it down on the other two models), and select the same track input for each track. Each part on Dirt was double-tracked, so you might want to do the same in a recording context, or use a stereo doubling effect live if you’re one of the growing number of guitarists who uses a laptop live instead of an amp.
Cantrell uses effects pretty minimally, but along with Kirk Hammett he was one of the main proponents of the wah wah pedal in the 90s. In this era he favoured the Jim Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Crybaby model, which has a bassier and much darker response than other Crybaby wah pedals – especially those available in the early 90s, when Jim Dunlop were still a while away from adding the myriad tone-shaping features available in some of their more high-tech pedals today. One way of getting close to this sound is to simply try to keep away from the upper register of the pedal’s travel, but that might get in the way of your performance. Through a lot of trial and error I’ve found (and verified by comparing this directly with the Jimi Hendrix wah) that you can get quite reasonably close to that sound with a regular Crybaby by simply turning down your guitar’s tone control. This is especially effective on the title track for Dirt, which features a snaky, wah-drenched melody like that would be a little too brittle if a more trebly wah sound was used.
I’ll be perfectly honest with ya, I’d been looking forward to the day when I got to test-drive a Bogner Alchemist like a kid looks forward to Christmas. Then again, I look forward to Christmas like I look forward to cranking tube amps. Anyway, the Bogner Alchemist is the first ‘relatively low-cost’ offering from the eccentric, California-based, German-raised amp genius Reinhold Bogner (if you wanna see how eccentric, go to bogneramplification.com and scroll down the news page). Bogner’s modern classic USA-built amps, such as the Ecstasy and Uberschall, are now badged as Bogner Custom Shop, with the straight Bogner name now being used for the Alchemist series, which are built in China. Straight up, let me say the build quality is very high, so don’t let that ‘Made In China’ throw ya.
The 6L6-loaded, Class AB-powered, 40-watt Alchemist is available as 1X12 and 2X12 open-back combos, and a 100 watt head with matching open-back 2X12 cabinet. I tested the 2X12 combo (and I also ran it through my closed-back Marshall 4X12 cab and an AxeTrak isolated speaker box). Channel 1 (the Gold) channel has controls for gain, treble, middle, bass and volume in addition to slider switches for Clean/Crunch, Bright (treble boost) and Deep (low boost). Next are a pair of switches for channel switching and a solo boost. Channel 2 (Mercury) also has gain, treble, middle, bass and volume controls, along with switches for Punch, Bright and Mid Shift. Next there’s an effect section with delay (Ducking, Analog and Tape) and reverb (Plate, Spring, Hall). Finally, there are power and standby switches, the latter of which has selects between standby, 20 watt or 40 watt operation. The supplied footswitch selects channel, boost, delay and reverb. The effects loop is parallel, meaning that whatever effect is in the loop will be running alongside the unadorned sound. The loop has its own level control, it travels independently of the main signal for improved clarity, and it’s designed for instrument-level effects (ie: stompboxes), although the manual says rack gear can be used too if you’re careful with the levels.
With so many control options, one could worry that the amp is too complex, but after a few minutes it all becomes very intuitive. The Gold channel can go from the cleanest of clean to a grindy crunch that is heavy enough to work for Foo Fighters or even Metallica-style rhythms (at least Kill Em All and Load eras…), or can be backed off for a more classic rock response. The in-between sounds are especially dynamic and controllable: a sparkly, Hendrixy single coil sound can be driven to a toothy bite just with harder pick attack, great for emphasising particular licks and even greater for covering ‘Little Wing.’ The sound may be a bit too open for more intense metal tones but that’s not really what the Alchemist is for.
The Mercury channel bares the obvious influence of the Bogner Ecstasy: anyone who’s heard Steve Vai on the first G3 DVD will recognise certain shared tonal characteristics here. Again the amp responds super-well to playing dynamics, until reaching saturation point where the attack compresses and smoothes out. Lay back a bit and notes seem to grow and evolve with an almost vocal-like midrange envelope. It’s pretty addictive, especially in medium gain levels, where you can wring a wide range of tones out of your strings. It’s also very fingerpicking-friendly, with great articulation for those Jeff Beck licks. Again this is going to work for certain types of players more than others, and may not be suited to more metallic sounds requiring flatter dynamics.
This is one of the most versatile amps I’ve ever played, yet it feels very simple despite its complexity. The cleans can be polite enough for jazz, edgy enough for blues, jangly enough for indie, punchy enough for rock, grindy enough for more traditional variants of metal, and hyper enough for shred. Frankly, I want one!
To hear the Alchemist in action, here’s my video demo, which I posted on YouTube and linked to from I Heart Guitar about a month ago.
For the first 2 songs I’m using my 2006 Ibanez Jem7VWH. For the last one, I’m rocking my Ibanez RG7420 with a Dimarzio Tone Zone pickup in the bridge and a Blaze in the neck. I plugged the Bogner into my AxeTrak speaker cabinet for recording, but the recording still sounds very accurate to the Bogner’s own speakers.
My review of this amp will be in issue 178 of Mixdown magazine, out this week here in Australia.
CLICK HERE to buy the Bogner Alchemist Series Tube Guitar Amp Head for $1,099.99 from Music123.
CLICK HERE to buy the Bogner Alchemist Series 212 40W 2×12 Tube Guitar Combo Amp for $1,399.99 from Music123.
CLICK HERE to buy the Bogner Alchemist Series 112 40W 1×12 Tube Guitar Combo Amp for $1,199.95
I’m back from my little Christmas exile, and I’m in a reflective mood, so here, for the heck of it, is my list of stuff I liked this year, in the world of guitar. 2008 was a pretty cool year for me. I wrote about a squillion articles for Mixdown and Australian Guitar, recorded a few tunes, wrote a huge batch of songs for my new band (watch out for us in 2009), interviewed Joe Satriani, John McLaughlin, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather, Page Hamilton, Max Cavalera, Bryan Beller, George Lynch and more, and started this here blog (with encouragement from the ever clever Mrs I Heart Guitar, who is an avowed blog-reading fiend).
2008 was also a pretty bitchen year for the world of guitar. We had releases by Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, the reunited Extreme, Guns N’ Roses, and even a freaking Van Halen tour (which never made it down to Australia or anywhere else outside North America for that matter… hopefully that will be rectified in 2009, but I shan’t be holding my breath for that one). There were also some very cool gadgets released during the year. So here’s my list of cool stuff in 2008. Click on any of the links to buy the stuff if you like.
Meeting Paul Gilbert in person after many years of email communication and two interviews – he was just as cool as I could have hoped.
Hearing from Mike Keneally that he’d checked out my blog. In an email he said “Your website is EXTREMELY readable! Lots of cool articles.” I think I still smile in my sleep about that one.
Attending an album preview party for Trivium, and almost accidentally making a baby with the back of Corey Beaulieu’s head thanks to an uncomfortably posed photo.
Buying a crapload of new pedals while the Australian dollar was at 98 US cents. I went on an MXR spree and bought a Dyna Comp, Custom Audio Electronics Boost/OD, EVH Phase 90, Carbon Copy Analog Delay, and Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz. Now the dollar sucks again, so I’ll have to hold off on buying a Dunlop Buddy Guy wah and an eBow until it recovers. Dammit.
This unexpected new direction follows two highly successful instrumental albums from Gilbert. Sounding like a cross between Queen, Paul’s own solo stuff, and a tiny dash of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge-era Van Halen, the songs are memorable, the performances are powerful, and the shredding is noodletastic. You should also totally check out Gilbert’s ‘Silence Followed By A Deafening Roar’ CD, which was released earlier in the year. The link above will take you to CDJapan.co.jp, but you can also buy it at Amazon.com now too by clicking here.
When I was a kid, I thought Gretsch guitars were the coolest freaking thing in the freaking world. All that metal stuff really looked like it did something, and I couldn’t wait to grow up and get my hands on one. Later my attention drifted to pointy Ibanezes and never really went back, but I still think Gretsches are cool, and the PRS Starla taps into enough of that vibe to make me say ‘dayum’ every time I see one. PRS, if you can find a way to make a Bigsby perform just like a Floyd Rose without changing the look at all, I’ll let you rebadge the Starla as my signature model. Just putting it out there, okay? Cool.
Yep, I’m an Ibanez geek. What can I say? The second I saw Steve Vai hoist that heart-shaped triple neck guitar on David Lee Roth’s ‘Just Like Paradise’ video in, what, 1988 or something, I was hooked. Having said that, I’m not just into spiky neon metal axes, and my favourite Ibanez in 2008 was the new FR series. These Telecaster-inspired axes feature a fast neck and modern pickup switching options while still carrying more than a little old school soul. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone with a lot of sway in the industry picks up one of these and declares it their main squeeze forever more. It’d be me but I think I need to sell some guitars before I even think about buying any more.
MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay
I’m not sure exactly when this pedal was released – it could have been some time in 2007 – but I got mine in mid 2008 and it’s one of the best delay pedals I’ve ever encountered. It’s stupidly simple: controls for delay time, number of repeats, and volume of repeats, plus a button which adds a light warble to the delayed effects if you wish (and a few internal controls to adjust this modulation effect if you wanna, but really, they seem to have selected the most useful settings at the factory). The repeats mush up in a gloriously lo-fi way, and they get muddier and noiser as you increase the time between repeats, but that’s part of the charm of this vintage-vibed, sparkly green little beauty.
Bogner Alchemist series
I haven’t even played one of these suckers yet and already they make me go all a quiver. ‘Real’ Bogner amps are kinda outside my financial reach at the moment, so it’s encouraging to see a Bogner amp out there which the majority of players can afford (I’ll be sticking with my Marshall DSL50 cos we’re totally in love, but that doesn’t mean I can’t check out a hot amp from time to time, right? I’m sure my Marshall checks out other guitarists when I’m not looking). Anyway, the Bogner Alchemist series takes the vibe of the company’s far more expensive and covetous amps, and distils it into Asian-manufactured units for the player who wants to show off with a Bogner logo, but doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to hoist an Uberschall and Ecstasy into the back of the van for a pub gig.
So what were your highlights of 2008? Any gigs that totally did it for ya? Any new gear that you would hock your right leg to own? Favourite albums? Meet any of your heroes?