THE GEAR OF THE ORIGINAL PUNKS
THE RAmonEs: VolUmE As A wEApon
In punk, volume is both a weapon of aggression
and a tool of protection. You can command a lot
of attention with 120 decibels of sonic fury. You
can also make people think twice before taking
a shot at you with a beer bottle or a glob of spit.
“Big tools for a big job,” is how Pete
Townshend of the Who described his
gear. The job was to get ideas across to
people—teach them and wake them up.
The tools were big amps and electric guitars. The Who’s music spoke of disaffection
and dissatisfaction, and it sounded dangerous, loud, and nasty. Many would argue
that the Who, four angry young men from
Shepherd’s Bush, London, were the original
punks. They certainly created the blueprint
for punk gear. Early on, the Who struggled
to get acceptable sound and volume from
cheap, underpowered gear. Both Townshend
and bassist John Entwistle were admirers
of Fender amplifiers. By the mid ’60s they
were working with British music shop owner
Jim Marshall, who was building clones of the
Fender Bassman circuit for the British market.
Townshend and Entwistle, who had determined that their brand of aggressive music
required more volume than either the current
Fender or the Marshall lines could supply,
requested a 100-watt amp from Marshall. The
unit he delivered, the Marshall 1959 SLP100,
satisfied their requirements for power, volume, and durability and became one of the
classic rock amps of all time.
played music similar to the Who’s—it was
chaotic, loud, and aggressive—but there was
a sonic difference: it was stripped down to the
basics, it eschewed any blues influence, and it
tossed out all dynamics in favor of a take-no-prisoners onslaught of sound and speed.
Slumming on the Subway: (left to right) Dee Dee, Joey, Tommy, and Johnny Ramone in NYC, circa 1975.
Note Johnny’s gig/shopping bag.
300-watt bass heads and three matching 8x10
cabinets. Johnny and Dee Dee would stay with
Marshalls and Ampegs, respectively, throughout their careers with the Ramones. Further,
both played said amps at full volume. Johnny’s
tone was referred to as similar to a buzzsaw.
The Who were at the forefront of a new
sound in rock and roll: distortion. The sound
of tubes and speakers being pushed beyond
their limits—something that, in previous
generations, had been avoided at all costs—
became the sound of a generation. And the
defining guitar tone of the last 40 years. The
tones, the overtones, and the harmonics of
that saturated sound changed guitar and the
way people heard it. What was once a major
no-no became exactly what people wanted.
Like the Who, the Ramones initially struggled
with underpowered gear and cheap guitars.
And like Townshend & Co., the Ramones got
new amps. Gone were the small combos they
had struggled with. In their place were two of
the all-time giants: Marshall and Ampeg.
“We play so loud that the amps couldn’t take
it,” bassist Dee Dee Ramone explained in
1976 in the documentary End of the Century:
The Story of the Ramones. “But now we got
these amps that they…they, they’re really, they,
they…work. And we can really push them. We
could blow this place apart if we wanted to.”
Night after night of full-tilt operation pushed
the Ramones’ amps to the limits. Monte A.
Melnick, Ramones tour manager and author
of On the Road with the Ramones, recalled
recently, “I would have all the amps serviced
before all the tours by a professional service
company. They would test the tubes and
change the ones they determined bad. We
did carry spare Marshall tubes, and I believe
they were EL84s. We had spare Marshall and
Ampeg heads and cabinets with us on tour
just in case we had problems. The amps and
cabinets for the Marshalls and Ampegs were
right out of the box with no alterations.”
Fast-forward to 1974. After the rise and fall
of the hippie movement, the beginning and
end of acid rock, and the short flicker of
glam rock, a new sound emerged from New
York City’s Bowery scene. Early on, someone
called it punk rock because it was the music
of people who lived on the fringes of society.
The losers, the rejects, the criminals. The lead-
ers of this new movement were a gang of
four from Forest Hills, Queens. The Ramones
Guitarist Johnny Ramone was a wild fan of the
Who, the Stooges, and the New York Dolls.
Having witnessed these bands in their heyday,
he had seen first-hand the power waiting to be
unleashed from a quartet of glowing bottles
like a hell-bent genie trapped in a really lame
lamp. So when money was finally available,
Johnny purchased not one but three Marshall
1959 Mark II Super Lead heads and six Marshall
1960B 4x12 straight cabinets. For his part,
bassist Dee Dee purchased three Ampeg SVT
Johnny relied on a Mosrite Ventures II model
guitar. He often said that he went to 48th
Street in Manhattan—music row—look-
ing for the cheapest guitar he could find.
This is true, but he was also looking for
something that would separate him visu-
ally from the soft-rock players of the day.
Made only in 1965, the Ventures II model
was the company’s entry-level Mosrite gui-
tar, and it had a basswood slab body, a thin
and fast neck, plastic trim and knobs, and