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Truly Matchless

Big year this one, I finally managed to acquire a Matchless amplifier, something I’ve been wanting for a looooong time.

Being totally honest… I loved the way the look, that was the main reason I wanted them, something that looks that good has to be good too.

There are not that many artists that use matchless, but the main one I care for is Ricardo Mollo, guitarist from Divididos and probably the Argentinean Hendrix, the guy is an animal and a tone freak, very colourful playing, interesting rhythms and sounds.

A few weeks back as usual I started watching videos about it… then reviews, then more videos, then pictures… and then I found one in Reverb at a very decent price, so I pulled the trigger.

The seller brought it to my house that very same day, I was super excited, a few hours later… the amp arrives. Oh my god, what a feeling… I think level of excitement matched the one I had when I got the 71SG and the Jaydee.

 

I first plugged in the telecaster… don’t ask me why… but I wanted to hear a single coil pickup

They look great together!

Man… as soon as I started playing I was in a sensory overload, the cleans… the depth of sound, it was like the first time you enter a house of mirrors… you just look everywhere and think “what the hell is going on”

Every chord just sounded perfect, every string had its own character, suddenly you can hear how the guitar was truly designed, I think this should be Matchless’ moto: “hear your guitar for the first time”

Let me dig deeper into this concept, I’m a Marshall Man, I have like 10 of them and I’ve always loved them way more than anything else, I’ve always thought that any other brand with a similar sound was just trying to imitate them, so… why bother trying them.. just get the real thing. But… you know when you are playing with the band.. or with just background music and your solos don’t cut through or you can’t really hear that high E string on the G chord? I know of course you can tweak your sound, etc. But I’m talking about a different level of “hearing everything”

Matchless provides cut through 360 degree sound, I don’t understand how they do it, my Matchless is a Lightning 15 Reverb, so it’s not top of their line but everything they do is top of the line…. everything is done to a level of detail that is out of this world.

 

Every single terminal is shielded

I’ve started testing tones and everything just sounded incredible, the Treble and Bass control (yes… no mids) interact with each other in a ver intuitive way… and they are extremely responsive, you can go from scooped mids, high bass, high mids, high treble, etc but just playing around with these two knobs.

I play in an AC/DC tribute band, and I tell you… this amp does better AC/DC tone than a Marshall, and my usual setup is either the JTM45 or the 1987x with a 1960AX cab… so.. also top end stuff, but again… Matchless is just incomparable.

They are crazy expensive, but I suggest you find a way of trying them out, it’s a before and after experience, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing another brand any time soon… at least until I get to buy their flagship model… DC 30.

So… to summarise… Matchless is just that… something that is impossible to Match, something that has been done with so much care and thought that it can’t be better… everything has a purpose nothing was left to chance or to economic reasons, everything is there for a reason.

Comparing these two, Matchless still wins even with Marshall using the Matchless speaker… which was really clear and sounded awesome.
Small-ish at 15 watts, but being Class A amp… sounds like a 30 Watt amp. It’s also very very heavy.

Taming a big boy’s Marshall Amp

Marshall 8080
Marshall vs100
Marshall JCM 900 combo
Marshall JCM 900 head 5881 tube version
Marshall JCM 900 EL34 version
Marshall JTM 30
Marshall JCM 2000 TSL601
Marshall Class 5
Marshall 8040
Marshall VS102R
Marshall JMP 2200
Marshall JCM 800
Marshall ministack
Marshall 1987x
Marshall 5005 (lead 12 no reverb)
Marshall 5005 (bass)
Marshall JTM45
Marshall DSL15H
Marshall 2201

Those are all the Marshall amps (heads and combos) I’ve owned over the past 20 years, I’ve sold some of them and I must have around 8 or 9 at my home studio now, I’m only listing them so you have an idea of what my Amp Journey has been.

Once you enter the tube/valve world you don’t look back (sometimes you do :p) but this tube/valve world is complex, confusing, expensive, loud and heavy!!

Let’s talk about the Loud characteristic most of these amps posses, you can buy a 5 watt tube amp and it’ll still blow your pants off, there’s a number of reasons this happens, the speaker efficiency also plays a huge part of this, but let’s stick to the amp.

The guitar signal moves through the inside of the amp getting powered up and ready to come out of the speaker ready for you to enjoy, on this journey the signal acquires distortion, volume and EQ, now… valve amps have a “power section” which is where the famous power tubes come into play, this is where things get out of control on tube amps (mostly vintage jmp styles with no master volume) because this stage not only gets you the volume but it also gives you more distortion and a specific tone that you might be after.

Some Marshalls will have a Master Volume, and this controls the amount of voltage that gets routed to the power tubes, it also allows you to play with distortion at “bedroom levels”, but the most exciting Marshalls to play (plexi style) often don’t have a master volume…. what does this mean? Well… it means that you don’t have a gain control, so all the distortion comes from the volume, which means… you need a ridiculous amount of volume to get the distortion we all look for, this is THE distortion.. Page, Hendrix, AC/DC, etc. This is what we all want to hear from a Marshall.

So… why am I writing this? Because I’ve found ways to obtain this sound without going deaf, and believe me when I say…. these amps are loud! I wasn’t around in the 70s so I’m not sure how loud these bands would play in pubs, but it would’ve been deafening loud.

What you need is an attenuator, to attenuate the signal that the amp spits out before it hits the speakers, now… this is critical to remember. The Master Volume controls the voltage to the Power Tubes but the attenuator, lets the amplifier be and it attenuates the audio signal that goes to the speaker after it leaves the amp, so the amp tone is genuine… everything you want it to be. And why do we want this? Because power tubes are a component of the sound too so we need to let them be a part of the tone. The attenuator is a genius invention and gives us the ability to run these genuine marshall tones at bedroom levels

There are a lot of attenuator brands out there but I’m going to talk about the one I have but also give some pointers of what to look out for.

  • Don’t buy an L-pad attenuator. These can be found for like 30 bucks on ebay, they do work but they also catch fire quite easily if you overload them. Trust me.. I built one and once I tried to use it with a 100W amp and smoke started coming out even though it was for 100W. If you do use an L-pad attenuator get at least double the rating of the amp
  • Don’t buy attenuators that only work with one speaker load combination, THD hotplates, Palmer and some others offer attenuators at decent prices (£250) but they are designed for 4, 8 or 16 ohms, so you’ll need a new piece of equipment if you ever change your speaker combination.

I bought the Two Notes Reload, why? Because I found it at a good price and it has an ohm load selector along with other things, it’s a great piece of gear, it also has cab simulation and some other fancy stuff that I’ll never use.

Playing with tone

Don’t be a knob snob, that is my advice and second advice is… follow suggestions to prove them wrong or right.

I don’t have much patience when it comes to trying things out, usually I just try to plug in and play, I have little time to play during the week and I sort of think that I waste time when I find myself fiddling with gear for hours.

However I’ve decided to start locking some time in and try to record a few things (I also don’t like recording) just to see if I could come at peace with this tedious and boring task. To my surprise… I still found it tedious and boring… but… it helped me re-discover my amp controls and equalization, I know this sounds obvious and most of the amps have had those 3 basic eq controls since the beginning of time, but I’m sure that most of you keep everything in the middle… (noon).

We all know what they do… but we often play with treble or bass controls and leave the mids in the middle right? I learnt what the mids does when I started playing heavy metal… I had one of those valvestate marshalls that had the “contour” control which scoops the mids, scooping the mids means taking out mids, remember that U shaped eq on your dad’s hi-fi system? Well it’s the same thing.

What does this does to my tone? Well… it adds “tightness” it changes the way distortion sounds, it’s an awesome thing to play with, suddenly everything sort of sounds better, the problem is that if you scoop them too much your sound will not cut through the mix, but a little bit of it can get you to that sweet spot you’ve been waiting for.

Even though I knew about mids (of course… I’m not a rookie… right? :p) when I finished my recording tests I found that the guitar was too much in my face… like a gritty sound, I tried mic placement (another art) which it changed the sound but I still wasn’t happy, so I went to the Eq section and started moving things around until I remembered that U shape!!, so now even though I mainly play AC/DC I still scoop the mids a bit… if listen to “Shoot to Thrill” you’ll see that mids are heavily scooped.

Long story short…. spend time playing with the knobs, try recording and playing with the eq on the computer/ipad, you’ll be surprised how closer you’ll get to the sound you are after and then you can try yo mimic those settings in your amp. Remember that all the records or live concerts you hear have a myriad of experts sorting out every detail of the sound until it’s perfect. Remember that old story “guitar straight to amp”? Well… it is true… but remember there’s a team between the amp and the sound you finally hear.

Marshall 1987x

We are in constant search for our sound… and I don’t think it’s a one way journey… it’s got many many curves, loops and we sometimes go back to places we’ve been, it’s definitely something that characterizes us musicians, there is always something we are missing, but I don’t want to come across as “hard to please” there are many many moments were you feel you have  the perfect rig, the perfect setup, the perfect tone, that moment during rehearsal or a gig were you just feel you are sounding exactly as you think you should.

But the journey must continue :p. what’s the thing that we bump into a lot of times in our journey? Amps… and which brand? Marshall…. there is just nothing like it.. I’ve tried many many brands and models in fact I went ahead and tried a Friedman… and a Victory… and you know what they all compare themselves to? a Marshall… and what is everyone trying to sound like? a Marshall… but don’t get me wrong… Marshall was at the right place at the right time, anyone could’ve done it… but Jim was there in his shop when Eric Clapton came in looking for an amp, and that is the sound my generation relates to, not Eric.. but Marshall.

But… which Marshall? would any of them do? YES! try them all please, some are crap.. some are awesome… some of them work for different stages in your guitar life.

Anyway…. yes.. as the title says this is about the 1987x a Marshall that looks as good as it sounds and as loud as your mom calling out for lunch while you were out playing with your friends.

I owed it to myself… a Marshall with no master volume, were the distortion would come from turning that bastard all the way up to 11 (actually.. anything above 3 or 4 just creates more distortion and not volume.. 7 is about right for AC/DC) I knew that this amp would only be useful in a rehearsal with a really loud drummer or in a gig…. (stadium gig) but I wanted it anyway, even if I didn’t have the right attenuator.

This amp sounds so good! it’s just so 70s in your face guitar distortion… not too distorted, not too clean.. just about where you want it. I bought mine used… as like everything I buy because it’s cheaper and it’s just as good as new or even better… it has been broken in already 🙂

This is probably the purchase that I did more research for…. I’ve tried as I stated above… Friedman, Victory, JTM 45 and Cornell Amps (British made), the 1987 is the one that I liked best…. the one that represented the tone I was after… the Cornell one was awesome.. that came in second.. but I always knew that I would’ve still wanted a Marshall after buying  a Cornell.

it’s got the basic controls but the difference here are the inputs.. it’s got 4 inputs… but.. what for!! well.. they are actually 2 + 2… two of them are high and 2 normal…. brighter vs less bright….  but you can combine them… I only use the high input, but you can connect a short cable between a input 1 and input 2 and then you can mix high and low so you have a bigger spectrum of sound.

I’m currently using it with a Torpedo Reload, it’s an attenuator with a lot more functions…. apparently it is also awesome for recording… but I haven’t tried that part yet.. I can say the attenuation bit works like a charm… you can control the volume with a normal knob…. and not with those stupid decibel steps like the Palmer or many others… it also has a multiple OHM selector… so it will work with 4,8 and 16ohms, easily changeable.

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If you are into Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Hendrix, Ac/Dc or  any thing that uses an electric guitar and has classic distortion… do not hesitate.. and try this amp.. it is Loud! you WILL need a good attenuator.. and they are not cheap so you need to budget at least half of what the amp costs for an attenuator.

The 61 Reissue, best SG out there?

Why is it always that guitar manufacturers do reissues of the first year they released a design? 61 Reissue for SGs, 52 for Telecasters, 54 for Stratocasters, Les Paul is probably the exception…

Whatever the reason is, it works. I’ve always found the 61 reissue to be the easiest to play, with a thin neck but a flat fretboard it’s just butter.

It sports two 57′ humbuckers, which for me are  the finest pickups ever produced by Gibson, they have a really smooth tone and crazy sustain, almost Les Paul like. The hardware is nickel instead of chrome, that means it’s not annoyingly shiny so you get this sort of faded metal colour which ages very nicely.

These where produced until 2013 where they were replaced by the SG Standard, the Standard from 2013 is not the exact same guitar as a 61 reissue.. but it comes pretty close, they use 57′ humbuckers and half pickguard, although the hardware is all chrome instead of Nickel.

The 61 reissue actually started under the name “62 Reissue”, which wast first produced somewhere in the 80s and around mid 90s the name changed to 61 reissue, I think the specs and hardware were maintained.

If you are in the market for an SG standard… which will set you back roughly 1200 US dollars.. try to find a used 61 Reissue… they will hold their value a lot better than a standard and for me… it’s a superior guitar, just be careful with the fretwear.

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Marshall JMP 2200 & vintage Celestions

I was in the market for some Celestion Greenback speakers (G12M) which are supposed to be the holy grail of speakers… together with the GH12.

Browsing on ebay… -as you do- I found someone selling this odd looking Marshall supposedly from circa 1976 which some Rola / Celestion speakers designed for Jim Marshall.

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The seller was claiming that these speakers were in fact the famous GH12 -50 watts in this case- so I started doing my research, there is almost nothing about the JMP2200 all the Internet knows is that it’s a mid 1970 Marshall and it appears to be one of the first Solid State amps created by them.

I then moved on to researching the speakers, checked the serial number.. and boom! again.. 1976 Rola Celestions, I was so excited! long story short.. I went ahead and purchased the amp. It is probably the heaviest amp I’ve ever carried! after 3 days my arms are still in pain.

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I plugged in my Gibson SG tinkered around with volume and… it was pure magic, the tone that comes out of this thing is unreal, I’ve owned probably around 20 Marshalls from different price brackets including of course 100% valve amps… and to me this JMP 2200 is the best thing I’ve heard, you get Ac/Dc tones without any effort, just plug in and play.

These beasts are not easy to find… but if you do see one on sale, do yourself a favour and purchase it! I paid around $180 US dollars for mine but I would’ve paid a lot more knowing it sounded this good.

Controls are pretty simple, the only thing that stands out are the inputs, it’s got 2 + 1 inputs, being bright and normal (?) -at least that’s how they sound to me- and one that combines and a volume for each.

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Going custom

“Custom”… that is such a sexy word for guitar players, for some of us getting a custom is just reaching the top! -of guitar shopping that is-

So 2 years ago I decided to give myself a birthday present… and this in fact was a Jaydee guitar, made by John Diggins, John is the genius who came up with the Lightning bolts on Angus Young’s guitar, -our good friend Solo Dallas has this info covered on this link– back in late 70s and early 80s John used to repair Angus’ guitars, to a point were Angus’ original 1971 Standard only had the Gibson headstock left from the original guitar… everything else had been rebuilt by John.

So to me… ordering this guitar wasn’t only a big deal because it was custom made… but also because it’s something very unique that was  built specifically for Angus’, he toured with it on 1981, and they are not that many out there, in fact there are only 4, so it is pretty unique!.

The whole experience of ordering the guitar is such a surreal thing, you feel special… the fact that you are talking to the guy who is a legend and will be building your guitar is just… incredible.

Fast forward 12 months, I started getting updates via their Facebook page and you see how these guys create a masterpiece from just a piece of wood.

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And you also see your name on that wood! might not mean much to some… but it does mean a lot to us!.

Fast forward 2 months and I got this:

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All sanded and ready for spraying!

and just 2 weeks later I get this:

Step by step… built, paint, finish!

I was so excited! of course…I drove up to their office in Birmingham that same Saturday to pick her up:

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It was such a mix of emotions… because you wait for so long you get the updates and then that’s it… it’s done… and you are there… playing it… it feels that it doesn’t still belong to you… feels like you need to tame her… for me it is such an iconic guitar… that I felt I needed to gain her respect, which I’m still doing… and playing her as often as I can.

It’s such a massive experience, I don’t know why it has hit me so much, I think the combination of such a great instrument but also being one of Angus’ guitars… is just too much to take in.

The instrument itself is flawless, the craftsmanship that goes into this thing is out of this world, but I think what I enjoyed the most was the whole treatment I got, the way these guys deal with you.. they make you feel like a rock star, they reply to your emails in record time, they send you updates via Facebook and also.. you get to meet them and have a chat with them at their office. I got to hear some stories from Mike -John’s son-  of when he was in the show that Angus’ received this guitar from John and Angus just jumped on stage with it… you find yourself talking to someone that is part of rock and roll history, and also… you get to be in a place where Tommy Iommi’s been… he is local to Birmingham and John builds guitars for him.

Waiting 18 months is not easy… but the reward is so big… you’ll be wanting to wait another 18 months pretty soon!.

If you do have the chance… treat yourself to something special.

Personal review of the Jaydee SG

 

A day in NYC…(support the locals!!)

So I recently went on holiday to the Big City, did the typical touristy stuff but I wanted to do something special with the music stores… of course we can go to Guitar Center and fool around with pretty much anything they have there… but I wanted a “true” NYC experience…
I woke up that day and added to my google maps all the music stores up to Central Park, after 30 minutes of research, my itinerary looked like this:

guitar-stores-nyc

 

I’ll go into more detail later… but it took me around 2 days to do the whole thing , it was a tremendously rewarding experience, I used to skip local stores and go to big chains like Guitar Center or Samash, mainly because I used to find it a bit uncomfortable asking to play a specific guitar to the owner in a small store where “everyone” is watching you or expecting to buy something or “get the hell outta my store”, but this was just my perception of being just a kid and not realizing how annoying big stores are… filled up with kids treating instruments like toys or people shredding away at high volume disturbing everyone else at the store.

So I packed up by bag put some comfortable shoes and headed to the streets.

From South to North.. these are the stores I went into:

Rudy’s Music  Shop(461 Broome Street): had an extremely luxurious selection of guitars, it was just breathtaking seeing not only custom shop guitars but also guitars owned by famous artists and some limited runs. A great place to visit and admire some gems they have there…

 

 

Rivington Guitars 73 East 4th Street: As the owner describes it “Little guitar store” it is little but packed with some gorgeous SGs, most of them vintage and at a great price! he had a 68 for like 3 grand or something, so you can tell the guy is not trying to pull one on you by selling you overpriced vintage stuff! I wish I had gone back to that store because my visit didn’t make it any justice,

 

 

Chelsea Guitars (224 West 23rd Street): This is the one that will steal all my good memories from New York, I went into the store presenting my self as a “blogger” I’m sure that’s what every store owner wants to hear… I almost wanted to tell him… “I have a blog.. but I’m still cool”, anyway… I think I spent 2 to 3 hours in total ( I visited the place twice) Danny had so many cool stories and he dedicated time to each one of them, he had some exquisite and beautiful guitars there… some old and some newer ones (he did take the time to explain what really is an Old guitar!, thanks Danny). This is a must visit and please dedicate time to it and of course buy something! although he won’t force it on you, if you don’t have much cash on you (we musicians never do!) just buy a t-shirt they are very cool.

 

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30th Street Guitars (27th between 6th and 7th ave) : This store reminded me of Rudy’s but it’s “friendlier” you can browse around without any guilt, they had some beautiful guitars, I spoke to the technician or the owner.. (who knows) and he confessed that he had spent time fixing Angus’ guitar for the show of the 14th of September at the Madison Square Garden, (my whole purpose of the trip). again… great place to visit

Rogue Music (30th between 6th and 7th ave): Another cool store this one, I don’t think they had any of my particular interest… I mainly care about SGs, but the owner was exceptionally nice.

I won’t comment on Samash or  Guitar Center… you probably already now what a chain store looks like :).

That’s my list… those where my best 2 days in NYC, I loved every minute of it, everyone was exceptionally nice and now I understand the concept of supporting local business… I’m sure they have plenty of customers in NYC… but if you have local stores in your area that you haven’t been to, please do… go there talk to people and get involved, they’ll surely appreciate your custom.

Instant Angus

This is the reputation the SD Storm earned, a pedal that you plug in and Angus Young sound comes out of the speakers… so, is it true?

Yes!, definitely the pedal gives you that extra bite that Angus achieves with his tone, this is not a distortion pedal, in my opinion it’s a combination of an aggressive booster and a compressor, allowing you to have sustain and overdrive without loosing clarity on your tone.

The pedal is simple… 3 knobs, Power, Storm and Snap, which I think they mean Input, Output and Compression, I could be wrong though but to my ear this seems to be the effect they cause on the tone.

The achieved tone from the pedal is very affected by the Amp setup (duh) but really… you can’t just set your amp to clean and plug and play like a distortion pedal, because it’s not a distortion pedal… so it needs the right level of gain and volume from the amp.

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I tested it using my 71 Gibson SG and the Eric Clapton Stratocaster. I’ll comment on both separately:

Gibson SG: I used the OD1 channel with very little distortion (3) and on volume on 7 on the Marshall TSL, with the overall master on 1 (Yes, I got neighbours), the pedal configuration was: Power:10, Storm:7,Snap:5. I loved the tone that came out of the speaker but I was missing something… and it was volume… as we all know, great guitar tone is achieved by volume so I switched to my Blackstar HT1R using the emulated output straight to my headphones, used the clean channel with gain on 6 and master on 9, and it just blew my mind, everything was there the clarity of Angus’ tone but also the heavy “distortion” he has, Angus has a very distinctive E Chord sound.. it just sounds so bassy but clear… and you get just this with the Storm, using the guitar volume on 6  and 10 for the solos.

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EC Stratocaster: Marshall TSL on the clean channel, with gain on 5 and master on 1.5,the pedal: Power:10, Storm:7 and Snap on 5. SRV instantly came hrough my amp, using the neck pickup I fell in love all over again with my Strat, (tuned half step down), that classic glassy sound you get on the Strat but slightly overloaded it’s a very addictive tone, and again the clarity remained there, every note and string sounded as clear as it would be coming out of the clean channel.

Overall I liked the pedal very much, it’s very hard to describe the sound, sometimes I think it is similar to what you can achieve with a distortion pedal, but it’s also far away from it, because the clarity that your tone has with the Storm can’t be achieved with a normal distortion pedal. If you are after a classic rock sound THIS is the only thing you need to add to your rig.

The price tag on this baby is $335 US dollars, it’s not cheap but you have to think that this pedal is hand built by one guy… not an assembly line in a massive factory, so this impacts directly on the cost of the product.

The presentation was very good, I got a T-shirt and a big picture of Fil and Angus, signed by Fil, there are no instructions manual, which of course are not needed, however I feel that this should’ve included some sort of ideal set up to achieve Angus’ tone, Fil has worked extremely hard to achieve this and I’m sure he has a few tips that we would all love to hear.

Head to www.solodallas.com to get the pedal.

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