Aday can’t seem to pass without -headlines blaring the most
recent portent of global economic
doom. People losing houses,
governments going bankrupt and
a myriad of other signs that as a
species we’ve perhaps invested in
a flawed way of existing. The idea
that there will always be more—
that the next new thing will be
bigger, bolder, and better—has set
us up to consume more and more
goods we don’t need.
However, as guitar players and
gearheads, we can take a little
solace in the fact that perhaps we
aren’t quite as entrenched in the
disposable 21st century as some
of our non-musical contemporaries. Our breed is a little different: We covet old equipment!
Our fixation with vintage gear is
testimony to that fact.
We utilize old technology—
valve amplification, analog electronics—because to our ears, it
sounds better. Added to that is the
glorious feeling of playing through
something that has some history.
Are we going to throw away that
mid-’60s blackface Fender Deluxe
Reverb just because the output
transformer needs replacing? No,
we most certainly are not. Instead,
we go out of our way to find the
most trustworthy, recommended,
and experienced amp service guy
we can, and only grudgingly allow
this individual temporary possession of our beloved but broken
baby, so he can work his magic
and have her singing once again.
This is a responsible approach.
We’re bombarded with advertising telling us that we need
this amp or that pedal so we can
sound like player X. I thought it
might be fun to examine a couple
of epic, world-changing tones that
were cajoled from surprisingly
humble and unexpected sources.
Our first port of call is Jimmy
Page and Led Zeppelin—the
band’s debut album. When we
think of Page, the iconic imagery
of the low-slung Les Paul into a
LEFT: The humble Tone Bender played a key role in ’60s psychedelic rock, and it’s no less useful today.
RIGHT: What’s inside? Two knobs, a few components, and a lot of soul.
squadron of Marshalls spring to
mind. Except that’s not what he
used for this album. The majority
of it was down to one Telecaster,
a fuzz pedal, a wah, and his
modified Supro combo that had
a single 12" speaker and delivered
about 25 watts of power.
Now, the theory is that since
the amp originally had two 10"
speakers, which someone had
replaced with a 12", a decent
chunk of Page’s magical sound
was a result of him pounding
the 15-watt 12" with 25 watts of
tube power. The cost of swapping
speakers would have been pretty
minimal, but the tonal dividends
can be heard every time you listen
to “Communication Breakdown.”
The sound that Supro produced—coupled with Page’s comprehensive understanding of mic
placement—generated some of
the most iconic tones imaginable.
All this from what can fairly
be described as a practice amp,
which is food for thought.
Keith Richards offers another
example. Contained in his autobiography is an amazing revelation:
He recorded song ideas in hotel
rooms by playing his acoustic
guitar into a little portable cassette
recorder. He then took the cassette rig to the studio, attached an
extension speaker to the recorder,
and mic’d that cabinet. “Jumpin’
Jack Flash” guitar sound? There
you have it. “Street Fighting
Man”? Boom—no big brand
amps, electric guitars, or even pedals! Just an acoustic guitar naturally overloading the internal mic in
a cheap Phillips cassette recorder.
Often many of us get a little
lost in the tools, rather than the
finished art. When you listen to
or “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” what
do you hear? Wonderful guitar
tones. The tools used to achieve
these tones are not what you
necessarily expect, but the proof
is in the pudding.
BEN FULTON is a Libran.
He likes long walks on the
beach and loves watch-
ing the sun set. He likes
going out dancing but is
just as happy to cuddle
up in front of the fire with
a good movie and glass of Pinot. He also
is the CEO and head designer at Red
Witch Analog Pedals.