Jul 22, 2012
When I heard Appetite for Destruction for the first time, it destroyed my mind. I was young, and sure I’d been indoctrinated into the world of rock somewhat by listening to a bunch of Queen records, but this was something altogether different. It was raw, it was frenetic, and the songs sounded like the most primal expression of rock n roll I’d ever heard.
A Guns n Roses fan was born.
There’s no denying that the guitar tone achieved on Appetite was one of many groundbreaking features of the record. It was percussive, springy, crunchy and just oozed the dirty rock n roll that GNR were selling. So how did Slash get it? This can largely be attributed to a modded Marshall head which the studio rented from a company called SIR for the recording sessions.
There is a WHOLE bunch of history surrounding this mysterious amp, but the short version is this – Slash liked it so much that he refused to return it to the rental company, and went so far as to tell them that it had been lost. Unfortunately, a roadie mistakenly returned the amp, and then at some point it disappeared…. seemingly forever.
There is a really long, but rather interesting story on it here: http://www.slashsworld.com/equipment/amps/the-appetite-amp-story/sweet-marshall-o-mine/
After that, Slash was never able to get that guitar tone again. On the Use Your Illusions albums, he used a modded Marshall JCM800, which again has a bunch of stories surrounding it, but basically it’s a treble boosted 800, turned way up. Somehow, he yet again turned in a distinctive and iconic tone, although it was quite different from the holy grail Appetite tone.
Anyway… fast forward to today, and Slash has made himself into the most identifiable mainstream rock star in the world. Everybody is jumping on the endorsement bandwagon again, so Marshall say to themselves, hey – let’s make a signature amp based on this legendary amp that no one can find! And while we’re at it, we’ll chuck in the one Slash uses now, eh?
On the face of it, it sounds more like Recipe for Disaster than Appetite for Destruction. Luckily, they got one of their top engineers, Mr Santiago Alvarez, on the job – and by god, he did it. He was also given access to Slash’s personal amp (the modded JCM800) and was largely able to duplicate the circuit from there, from what I’m told.
Santiago is a cool guy who worked on the JVM and I believe also on the new Satriani amp that Marshall is releasing. He hangs out at the Marshall Roadhouse (formerly Marshall Vintage Modern) forum and is kind enough to answer tech questions on the amps he has designed – what a cool guy. Did I say it already? I’ll say it again. Awesome.
Anyway, on to the amp itself! The basic spec sheet is something like this:
- 100W with Electronic Power Attenuation (power scaling).
- 4×6550 power tubes, 5xECC83 preamp tubes.
- AFD and #34 modes, footswitchable.
- Effects loop, which when not in use can be utilized as a variable, footswitchable boost of up to… well, freaking heaps of decibels. Actually, +10dB.
- High and Low inputs – use the High input, it just kicks more ass.
- Magical self-biasing abilities so you can basically press a button and SHAZAM, a biased amp, with no electrocution. Bonus.
This is meant to be based on a 1959T with the unused valve for the tremolo circuit modded to become an additional gain stage.
It’s there, “that sound”. I was sceptical at first, and I realise that there’s a whole lot more to a recorded sound than just the amp, but this mode totally sounds, and more importantly, reacts the way you’d imagine it would, based on the guitar tones on the AFD record. It’s a fairly thick, meaty overdrive, quite girthy and focussed in the lower mids rather than fat and open in the traditional Marshall way. There’s a fair whack of treble but this is tempered and balanced by the rest of the sound. One of my favourite things about it is the way the low end reacts to palm muting, not just for power chords but single notes as well – it’s tight and yet “springy” or “bouncy” (ooh-er), which gives the notes this great percussive feel.
There’s quite a lot of gain to be had here (5 preamp tubes’ worth!), and I found that most of the special tone in this mode comes from preamp drive, so you can dial in the master fairly low and still achieve that sound fairly easily. Diming the gain gives you heaps of it, but it doesn’t really sound “br00talz” but it can get a little stodgy if you don’t adjust the EQ to taste. The EQ works pretty well, much more reactive than my Marshall Vintage Modern I owned when I first bought the AFD (but that’s not saying a lot, the VM is mainly controlled through it’s high/low preamp controls), you can scoop it and stuff but to be honest I haven’t really experimented much with this, cos it sounds so good set around 7 for everything! It’ll definitely do most 80s/90s metal fairly easily.
Clean sounds – none to speak of with humbuckers, but I managed to get a hairy rolled back clean using split coil settings, but this mode is meant to rock the fuck out anyway. Here is my “Appetite Medley”:
Hmmmm, the plugin seems to be slightly on the fritz – try this mini one if it’s not loading.
This mode is meant to be based on a JCM800 modded for Slash by Frank Levi ex-S.I.R. It seems to be basically a JCM800 with a HUGE amount of treble. Supposedly, this is exactly the same as the modded 800 Slash has been using since the Use Your Illusion days.
A lot of people have been ragging on this mode, I think mainly because everyone sets their EQ for the AFD mode, and switches over expecting magic, but then it sounds thin and reedy. This really kinda sounds like a completely different amp, and needs to be tweaked to suit. This is where the EPA (fancy name for the attenuator) comes in. Dialing down the power lets you push the poweramp to get power tube overdrive into the mix to give the sound some meat without deafening yourself, your neighbor’s dog and small rodents within a 2km radius. It’s still REALLY trebly, even with presence and treble turned down, but this will cut through a live mix like a crazy Japanese knife.
The perfect tonal baseline for this mode is the song Back from Cali on the new Slash album. It sounds pretty much EXACTLY like that. Down to the volume-rolled-back intro.
There’s not really as much gain in this mode since it doesn’t use the extra gain stage. All I can say is, if this is really what Slash has been using for the past 20 years, I’ve gained a LOT more respect for the fluidity of his legato licks. Due to the lower gain, this channel cleans up a lot more readily with the guitar’s volume knob. Check out a couple of tunes from the UYI-era up to the present:
Electronic Power Attenuation:
The power scaling is great, and as I mentioned earlier, is pretty much integral to getting the #34 mode to sound good at sensible volumes. I can’t really hear any significant degradation in tone till you get close to whisper volumes, and seriously, why would anyone want to play this amp that softly? The power scaling is not continuous – it happens in a stepped fashion, but there are enough steps that it doesn’t matter.
I’ve been using this for gigs and at home for almost 2 years now, and it’s great. Funnily enough I often end up running this 100W behemoth at 12.5W and the tone is still killer.
Fuck yeah! It’s not the be all and end all, but neither is it completely a one trick pony. There are at least two amazing tricks in there and more to be found with experimentation. To an extent, the AFD mode is always going to be used for that awesome overdrive sound, but the modded 800 mode definitely has a lot of potential for sonic variety in there. Since writing this review initially about a year or two ago, I’ve gigged the AFD in both modes for both originals and covers, and it’s worked a treat.
Power scaling is a god-send, and I wonder if Marshall will roll this out for non-LE/signature stuff any time soon. Quite a game-changer if they do. So far it’s only seen an appearance on the limited edition Yngwie Plexi (YJM100).
The amp looks like a crazy mongrel aesthetically (representing all the various influences on it), and I think it’s cool since the Slash signature aspect was not overdone in any gaudy fashion. It does what it needs to, and does what it promises astoundingly well.
5.0 Fuck Yeahs – only slightly because I’m a Slash fanboy.
Um… I tried to Google an image for “Slash fanboy”, and this is what came up. I don’t really know what’s going on in there, but oh well, seems like good times to me!
How to win shit
Alright, alright. I know in the title line I promised that you could win something, and you’ve been thinking to yourself, “I wonder when he’ll shut the hell up about the amp and tell us how to WIN WIN WIN!!”
As some of you may know, Slash recently released his follow-up to his first, self-titled and critically acclaimed solo album. The new album is called Apocalyptic Love (an undeniably awesome title), and features Myles Kennedy and a band he’s now calling The Conspirators.
For all you lucky readers, I have a Limited Edition Fan-Pack version of the album to give away. Classic Rock magazine in the UK has put together an insanely cool collection of interviews with Slash, Myles and the band, packaged it together the new CD in a book-cover format, and included some surprise official merch in with it as well!
It’s not available here in NZ, and you probably can’t buy it new anymore either!
So… how do you win?
Step 1: Jump on the Six-String Samurai Facebook page, and if you haven’t already, “Like” the page.
Step 2: “Like” the poster for the giveaway, the one that looks like this:
Step 3: Share the picture (only shares from the original one count!) on your timeline.
And you’re into the draw! This first draw will be within New Zealand only, but the next giveaway I intend to be for everyone all over the world, so don’t fret.
Bonus entry: If you aren’t already (or don’t do Facebook), just sign up as an email subscriber to the website. It’s that little window that popped up about 30 seconds after you got on this page – the one that you clicked to close, hahaha. Just refresh the page and it’ll pop up again in 30 seconds. Subscribe and you’ll get another entry into the draw!
The giveaway ends on 3 August 2012, and the randomly drawn winner will be announced later that week. Get sharing!