Mike Soldano founded Soldano Custom Amplification in 1986 after years of notoriety as an amp modifier to the stars. His flagship model, the SLO-100, has found its way into the rigs of players as diverse as Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Silverchair’s Daniel Johns, Joe Satriani and even Eddie Van Halen, who used one for most of the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album. Soldano’s “strip everything to the essentials” design philosophy comes with a hefty price tag so Mr Soldano has teamed up with Jet City Amplification to offer a series of amps that carry through on the essence of his designs at a much lower price point than the sometimes shocking price tags found on amps like the SLO-100.
Michael J Soldano founded Soldano Custom Amplification in 1986 after years of notoriety as an amp modifier to the stars, and his flagship model, the SLO-100, has found its way into the quiver of players as diverse as Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Silverchair’s Daniel Johns, Joe Satriani and even Eddie Van Halen, who used one for the majority of the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album. Soldano’s “strip everything to the essentials” design philosophy comes with a hefty price tag – the best components and flawless build quality don’t come cheap – so Soldano has teamed up with Jet City Amplification to offer a series of amps that carry through on the essence of his design manifesto at a much lower price point than the sometimes shocking price tags found on amps like the SLO-100. (By the way, Jet City has also enlisted THD legend Andy Marshall for the PicoValve, a low-wattage amp based on a single 6L6 power tube which can be switched out for almost any octal-based power tube without rebiasing).
The JCA20H is stripped-down 20 watt single-channel amp with no crazy tone switches or power damping or any other such gadgetry. The power amp features a pair of EL84 tubes, partnered with a trio of 12AX7s in the preamp (the rectifier is solid state). Controls are Gain, Bass, Middle and Treble in the preamp section, and Volume and Presence in the master section, and that’s it. Not even a reverb. This really is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get amp. A lot of thought was put into the choice of transformer too, which had to be low in cost while providing boutique tone. Jet City uses audio-grade metal film resistors and high-quality copper for all internal connections as well.
Hey! Stumbled across Eddie Van Halen’s Soldano settings online (a Soldano SLO100 played a big role in the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album in 1991) and decided to see how it would sound if I used those settings on the Soldano SLO100 model in IK Multimedia’s excellent AmpliTube 3 (the amp model is available as an extra through the AmpliTube Custom Shop). I also added some pitch shifting and delay like Eddie used on the album. If you have AmpliTube 3 you can download the patch here. Hope you dig it!
To partially quote Elton John, remember when rock was fun? When you could crank up the car stereo, hang out the window and scream the lyrics to ‘Loving You Is A Dirty Job’ with a smile on your face? Then the 90s happened and music got kinda depressing. Then the 00s happened and music got kinda homogenised and computerised and just, y’know, boring. Well the 21st century is in its teens now and has started sneakin’ out to parties, kissin’ girls, fighting boys and rockin’ out. Hard. And that can only mean one thing: Ratt’s back, baby. This classic Sunset Strip band is kicking all sorts of ass with their new CD Infestation, and I had a chat to guitarist Warren DeMartini about it.
The response to the new CD has been huge!
It’s really, really exciting, Peter. It really reminds me of the feeling we had when we started. It’s just been great.
Why the long wait?
That’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer for it. It’s a really weird art form that just kinda falls together when the planets line up, I guess. It’s not something we really could have done any sooner or any other way.
It also seems like a really good time because, well, for me I was a teenager in the 90s and I loved 80s rock and you were not allowed to love 80s rock in the 90s! And now nobody cares about stuff like that any more, now you can like what you like.
Yeah, I absolutely know what you’re talking about. It’s like someone’s switched the light on.
I understand you recorded Infestation in a mansion?
We did, we’re really big fans of records that have the stories behind them, like the band will rent a villa in the south of France, live there for six months and cut some timeless piece. We always talked about doing it but it really didn’t merge with opportunity until this record.
Did you use the space in creative ways, like do the Led Zeppelin thing of putting the drums in the stairwell, or was it more of just an environment to be in?
What happened was, our producer Michael Baskette basically bought his family’s home on the Chessapeake Bay and turned it into a recording studio. So it was already set up for recording. It just kinda evolved. He was cutting records in his living room, the as he got more and more successful he had more and more modifications done to the place, then he finally totally redid it to be a studio. It worked out perfectly, having the remoteness of getting away and moving into a place for a while, and the technical aspects.
So it’d be a very different album if you recorded it in LA or something.
I think so. It was more of a wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee and get to it, then take a few breaks, get back to it, go to sleep, wake up and do it again. It was a little different not having to drive somewhere, and not having the kind of distractions you typically get when you record in LA.
Well that’s kinda like me except it’s a laptop and a Pro Tools MBox in the corner of the lounge room.
Yeah! It gets easier and easier, doesn’t it! (laughs).
So were you trying to make a classic Ratt album or did it just happen?
You can’t really try – the second you try it just doesn’t work. The only thing we were semi-conscious of going in was we wanted to recreate the energy, spark and colour of the stuff that was coming out around the time of 84, Out Of The Cellar meets Invasion of Privacy kind of thing. It was a kind of a ‘not spend too much time on any one thing,’ go-with-the-gut kind of approach to those records, that changed as we had more time to spend in the studio.
And it sounds like you guys are having fun.
Yeah, you can get great results with either approach, and on this one that almost through-and-go kind of approach really worked this time.
So what gear did you use on the CD?
There were two parts to the recording, because we were doing the 25th anniversary Out Of The Cellar tour in between the whole thing, so I cut the record with the reissue San Dimas-style Charvel, and I also had a Performance Koa and a Nashville Gretsch. Then we went back and did about a month’s worth of gigs, then we came back and that’s when I brought another Charvel, so I had the black French graphic, the white French graphic, a Performance Koa and a Gretsch Nashville.
It’s really cool to see Charvel coming back over the last few years since Fender bought them.
Yeah, they really got great again. Fender bought Charvel several years ago so it’s all assembled in Corona, which is a very similar result that they had with the San Dimas plant, so it’s something I like being involved in.
And Performance, how did you hook up with those guys back in the day?
I was at Frank Zappa’s studio and his guitar was sitting there on a guitar stand. I said ‘Can I try it out?’ and he said ‘Yeah,’ and I played it and I was astounded how good it played. I was like, ‘What? What is this? Where did it come from?’ and he told me about their shop. At that time it was by the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. I called them up and said ‘Do you still have the specs on the guitar you built for Frank Zappa?’ He said yes and I just ordered one right there. That was the beginning of many collaborations.
Is that the same neck shape you use today?
Yeah, the Koa necks were all more or less based on that neck they made for Frank. I have several of them, and the Koa was one of those lot, yeah.
You just don’t see them in Australia so I was really stoked to try out a bunch at NAMM.
Yeah, the skill and the extra time in them can be very impressive.
And what about amps?
On Infestation I did the basics with a Diesel, then when we went to overdubs we hooked a Soldano and a Diesel together. The Diesel filled out the bottom, the upper mids and highs, and we blended that with a Soldano which had taken most of the mids, and it was just a nice combination.
Did you talk about gear choices with Carlos Cavazo, or did he do his own thing?
There were many amps which were part of the studio, and I think Carlos used one of those, possibly with the Soldano, I can’t remember. I know Carlos used a Marshall that belongs to the studio, and I believe the Soldano.
You guys have some great twin-lead stuff on the album. It’s great to hear that again.
Thanks! Yeah, that was kind of another loose thing we were keeping in mind doing this record: keeping the twin lead stuff that Robbin Crosby and I crafted early in the band’s career.
So Australian tour plans. Are you coming back any time soon? Please?
Definitely! We were there a couple of years ago and it well, and basically the word was, when you come out with a new record, come on back! So I’m counting on that happening. So while there isn’t a definite plan at the moment, I know it’s in the works. There’s a festival in Tokyo that happens every year, and we got added to that last week, so it would make sense to take it to Australia.
And I hear you were recently added to Download.
Yeah! The Infestation tour, we’re doing some warm-up stuff here but we’re going to sort of officially launch the tour in Europe at Sweden Rockfest on June 10th, then Download’s on the 13th.
Cool, hit the ground running!
Yeah! That’ll get the blood pumpin’!
Photo from the Ratt website
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
I’ve been into George Lynch’s heroic guitar playing and to-die-for tone ever since I was about 14 and one of my older cousins showed up one day with a box full of cassettes. He’d been doing some spring cleaning and I guess he was growing up and entering the ‘real world’ and no longer had time for the wild-haired rock I’d always associated him with. Among that box were a few Dokken cassettes, and Lynch’s playing blew my mind. Not long after, he released his Sacred Groove solo album, and I was set on my path towards mastering that wide Lynchian vibrato.
I was fortunate to interview George a few months ago in preparation for Lynch Mob’s Australian tour. The current Mob line-up includes drummer Scot Coogan (Bridges of Destruction, Ace Frehley), bass legend Marco Mendoza (this dude is so charismatic he shows up David Coverdale on Whitesnake’s recent live DVD), and singer Oni Logan.
The first three tracks played were ‘She’s So Evil,’ ‘Hell Child’ and ‘Street Fighting Man’ from the first Lynch Mob album. Coogan has that rare ability to seem like he’s at the front of the stage even though he’s hidden away behind a drum kit, and his energy brought a powerful edge to the already riff-stomping Mob sound. George used his legendary J.Frog ESP (the one with the awesome carved skull and bones) for most of the set, although it was very cool to see him break out his ESP GL-57, which looks like a modified and bashed up Stratocaster. Amp-wise, he appeared to be using a Soldano SLO-100 and a Marshall Plexi, but the amps were turned towards the back wall (either for better isolation or because George wasn’t using his signature Randall amp, I’m not sure) so it was hard to tell. But his live tone was every bit as crunchy, clear and vocal as his studio work. Guitarists in the crowd, and I’m sure there were a lot of them, could learn a lot from the clarity of his tones, which are clean enough to remain punchy, but distorted enough to sound thick and edgy.
A particular highlight for guitar geeks such as myself was Lynch’s instrumental signature, ‘Mr Scary.’ The studio version included multiple overdubbed guitars, including a huge harmonized melody, so it was interesting to see how it translated to a single guitar, bass and drum interpretation. It came across more like an extended jam, with Mendoza covering a huge amount of ground while Lynch whipped across the guitar neck. When it was done, my ass was thoroughly kicked and somewhere my inner 14 year old was saying “Whoa…” Other Dokken tracks in the set were ‘Into The Fire’ and ‘Tooth And Nail.’
Finally, with ‘Wicked Sensation’ and a Scot Coogan stage dive as an encore, Lynch Mob were gone, but hopefully it won’t be too long before they return. With a new album on the way (the first with this particular line-up), I’d love to see them play a larger venue with a bigger stage to prowl upon.
Photo by Gabrielle Geiselman