80s Metal Amp

Em7

deus ex machina
Joined
Apr 27, 2012
Messages
945
I know that I am about to place a sign on my backside that says "kick me," but I have been getting back into 80s shred because I have been starting to see Millennials and early Zoomers try to play 80s metal. It is often quite interesting to see them try to do it, but I give them serious props for attempting a very technical style that was popular before most of them were born. The problem with recorded highly-technical 80s metal is that it is not tube. The power supplies in tube amps that make them great for slower styles cripples high speed playing because the power supply in a tube amp struggles to keep up with transient demand in shred. Sure, things can be done to reduce the transient demand such as limiting bass response, but solid-state rules when it comes to high-speed tracking because a solid-state amp can use a highly-regulated power supply. Push even a very tweaked Marshall hard at a high speed and notes turn into mush because the power supply cannot keep up with the transients. That is why solid-state preamps like the MP-1 (the tube is in there mainly for glow) coupled with solid-state power amps were so such a boon to shredders in the 80s (listen to the album "III Sides to Evey Story" by Extreme and you will see what I mean as well as a lot of the stuff that was recorded by Paul Gilbert in Racer X). The Axe FX comes close, but there are still digital artifacts to my ears The human ear is sensitive enough to hear the staircase that is created via pulse-width modulation (regardless of how well it is smoothed out using superimposed noise). They do not produce the smooth continuous output signals of analog circuitry. For many people, it is good enough, but not for me because it wears on my ears (I still have excellent hearing for my age because I have always worn sound suppression when playing live). Satriani used a DS-1 into a JC-120. He could have used a Marshall, but as I mentioned a Marshall struggles to keep up.


Anyway, I am glad to see the younger generations taking up shred, but there needs to be corresponding shift in amp production from catering to blues dads who are rapidly becoming blues grandads to designs for the 21st century that are approachable in cost for teens and twentysomethings. As good as it sounds, the Axe FX is not the answer to this problem.
 
I know that I am about to place a sign on my backside that says "kick me," but I have been getting back into 80s shred because I have been starting to see Millennials and early Zoomers try to play 80s metal. It is often quite interesting to see them try to do it, but I give them serious props for attempting a very technical style that was popular before most of them were born. The problem with recorded highly-technical 80s metal is that it is not tube. The power supplies in tube amps that make them great for slower styles cripples high speed playing because the power supply in a tube amp struggles to keep up with transient demand in shred. Sure, things can be done to reduce the transient demand such as limiting bass response, but solid-state rules when it comes to high-speed tracking because a solid-state amp can use a highly-regulated power supply. Push even a very tweaked Marshall hard at a high speed and notes turn into mush because the power supply cannot keep up with the transients. That is why solid-state preamps like the MP-1 (the tube is in there mainly for glow) coupled with solid-state power amps were so such a boon to shredders in the 80s (listen to the album "III Sides to Evey Story" by Extreme and you will see what I mean as well as a lot of the stuff that was recorded by Paul Gilbert in Racer X). The Axe FX comes close, but there are still digital artifacts to my ears The human ear is sensitive enough to hear the staircase that is created via pulse-width modulation (regardless of how well it is smoothed out using superimposed noise). They do not produce the smooth continuous output signals of analog circuitry. For many people, it is good enough, but not for me because it wears on my ears (I still have excellent hearing for my age because I have always worn sound suppression when playing live). Satriani used a DS-1 into a JC-120. He could have used a Marshall, but as I mentioned a Marshall struggles to keep up.


Anyway, I am glad to see the younger generations taking up shred, but there needs to be corresponding shift in amp production from catering to blues dads who are rapidly becoming blues grandads to designs for the 21st century that are approachable in cost for teens and twentysomethings. As good as it sounds, the Axe FX is not the answer to this problem.
After a lengthy contract dispute with Les, I’m still looking for another guitar player for the “Old Guys Metal” band. Let me know if you’re interested.
 
I Have To Disagree With You That A Tube Amp Can't Keep Up With Technical Metal Styled Playing. I Have Many Amps With Sag And Squish And I Also Have Many Others That Are incredibly Tight And Articulate In Their Response And Some Would Even Say They Are Too Stiff.
 
I Have To Disagree With You That A Tube Amp Can't Keep Up With Technical Metal Styled Playing. I Have Many Amps With Sag And Squish And I Also Have Many Others That Are incredibly Tight And Articulate In Their Response And Some Would Even Say They Are Too Stiff.
I Have To Agree With Bogner On This One.

I've worked with players on several tracks who played metal '80s style, and they used tube amps. There are a few that seem to work fine.

I do agree with Em7 about modelers, though I don't think it's only the PWM. Something gets weird in the initial note transient. I know it when I hear it but can't describe it. Also, modelers sound 'dry' to me - the liquidity of a tube amp just goes missing, there's no juice.
 
I Have To Disagree With You That A Tube Amp Can't Keep Up With Technical Metal Styled Playing. I Have Many Amps With Sag And Squish And I Also Have Many Others That Are incredibly Tight And Articulate In Their Response And Some Would Even Say They Are Too Stiff.
Even the Boogies from the 80s struggle to keep up with sixty-fourth notes while remaining articulate. One could not give away a BF or SF Fender in the 80s because only twin stands a chance of keeping up with high speed playing. Marshalls had to be completely re-voiced and they still blew up. I have lost count of the number of Marshalls on which I have worked over the years where the interstage coupling caps were reduced to picofarad levels in order to reduce bass response enough to keep up. The sound of the eighties was solid-state, not tube. The most recorded amp in the 80s was the JC-120.


For our younger members, tube amps were on their way out in the 80s because vacuum tube production ceased in the west. The only reason that tube amps still exist is because Mike Matthews went to Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell. If you look at most of the new designs in the 80s, they were almost exclusively solid-state. Sure, a few may have had a 12AX7A added for glow, but that is all it was, glow. Other than Mesa, rack power amps were mostly MOSFET in design. Unlike a BJT (bi-polar junction transistor), a FET (field-effect transistor) is a transconductance device. A vacuum tube is also a transconductance device. A transconductance device uses a voltage to control a current flow. That is why the Brits refer to vacuum tubes as "valves." Small signal amplifier design with FETs is much like it is with vacuum tubes.
 
I Have To Agree With Bogner On This One.

I've worked with players on several tracks who played metal '80s style, and they used tube amps. There are a few that seem to work fine.

I do agree with Em7 about modelers, though I don't think it's only the PWM. Something gets weird in the initial note transient. I know it when I hear it but can't describe it. Also, modelers sound 'dry' to me - the liquidity of a tube amp just goes missing, there's no juice.
You can agree with Boogie as much as you want, but you are looking at things through a distorted lense. I did a lot of repair work in the eighties. Most gigging bands used solid-state amps. There is a reason why the first PRS amp was a solid-state design.

What you are missing from a tube amp is the distortion artifacts a tube amp produces. A tube amp is never truly clean. Those artifacts become heavy intermod (IMD) as the amp is pushed harder and the power supply starts to collapse. Intermod sounds like mush.
 
Another weird thing about eighties hard rock/metal is that a lot of the guitar parts were not recorded by band members. Let's take Whitesnake's 1987 album. Adrian Vandenberg and Vivian Campbell appeared in the videos, but they had very little if any input to the album, which was mostly written/recorded by John Sykes, but even he did not record the solo on the biggest hit on that album; namely, "Here I Go Again." Sykes could not come up with a workable solo. If legend is to be believed, Dan Huff came in and recorded the solo in one take.

Another thing about the 80s is how much of the recorded music was actually re-written/arranged and/or recorded by Nile Rogers, Bernard Edwards, and Tony Thompson of Chic. While SRV is credited with playing guitar on "Let's Dance," I was actually Niles Rogers who arranged the song and played rhythm guitar on it. Nile Rogers played guitar on the Duran Duran "Dangerous." If you watch the video, you will see him in it. Tony Thompson was the drummer for the super group The Power Station and Bernard Edwards, not John Taylor, played bass on their cover of the T.Rex song "Bang a Gong."
 
A tube amp is never truly clean. Those artifacts become heavy intermod (IMD) as the amp is pushed harder and the power supply starts to collapse. Intermod sounds like mush.

This is true. Most tube amps have 5-10% THD even clean. But that's what makes them desirable for music production, as opposed to reproduction. In other words, that's the good stuff because it produces harmonic content and complexity, it's hardly a drawback.

It's also true - as you mention - that as the tubes are pushed harder, you can get some mud - the amount varies by design.

As an amp clips, square waves are produced instead of sine waves, increasing the bass content and creating a little or a lot of mud, depending on the amp. that's why they call it 'clipping'. The tops of the sine waves are 'clipped' off, and the signal becomes more of a square wave. Power supplies matter.

Nonetheless, the eyes and ears don't lie. I saw a speed metal band perform a little while back, and the guitar player used some sort of huge Diezel amp - I didn't get a close look but noticed the logo. He had stellar chops and could play his ass off. No issues.

I've seen speed metal bands perform with other tube amps as well, including Mesas. Soldanos, and others mentioned above. Granted, I'm not a devotee of the genre, but I like to see friends perform.

Not one of the session players I hired used solid state amps when I was getting into the ad scoring business in '87-89, and they could (and did) play any style, including metal.

One thing that should be discussed is that different tube amps handle transients in different ways. An AC30 handles pick attack differently from a Marshall Plexi, a Fender handles them differently from a Mesa, and one could go on and on endlessly.

An AC30 accomplishes this by cutting the lowest bass so that the amp doesn't have to work as hard, and there are many other examples of amp designs with different sonic priorities tailored to various styles of music.

I'll be interested to hear DTR's take on this. He is a VERY fast player. I don't think he uses solid state amps, but I could be wrong.

For me, it's great to have input from an experienced tech such as yourself, but it's quite another thing to work with great players in session after session, with a variety of amps, and have wonderful discussions before and after the gig; or to be a performer specializing in this kind of music.

Kind of a different trip. Just my two cents.

And yeah, everyone knows that lots and lots of records weren't performed on every instrument by the band, starting with the first records ever made. I mean, seriously, this is not earth-shaking news. I've done it myself as a producer.
 
Last edited:
Aren’t JCM800s shelved at 720hz or so, stock?

I can’t comment on what was what was actually recorded… but I’ve been reading GP mag since high school (late 70s) and they all claimed to be playing Marshall, or Boogie or whatever, so this is interesting.

I’ve never tried to shred on an 800 with the master on 6 or so, to see if it could keep up, but they’re shelved so high I just always assumed they could
 
Aren’t JCM800s shelved at 720hz or so, stock?

I can’t comment on what was what was actually recorded… but I’ve been reading GP mag since high school (late 70s) and they all claimed to be playing Marshall, or Boogie or whatever, so this is interesting.

I’ve never tried to shred on an 800 with the master on 6 or so, to see if it could keep up, but they’re shelved so high I just always assumed they could
I mean, Yngwie did it well with 80 Marshall stacks.
 
This is true. Most tube amps have 5-10% THD even clean. But that's what makes them desirable for music production, as opposed to reproduction. In other words, that's the good stuff because it produces harmonic content and complexity, it's hardly a drawback.

It's also true - as you mention - that as the tubes are pushed harder, you can get some mud - the amount varies by design.

As an amp clips, square waves are produced instead of sine waves, increasing the bass content and creating a little or a lot of mud, depending on the amp. that's why they call it 'clipping'. The tops of the sine waves are 'clipped' off, and the signal becomes more of a square wave. Power supplies matter.

Nonetheless, the eyes and ears don't lie. I saw a speed metal band perform a little while back, and the guitar player used some sort of huge Diezel amp - I didn't get a close look but noticed the logo. He had stellar chops and could play his ass off. No issues.

I've seen speed metal bands perform with other tube amps as well, including Mesas. Soldanos, and others mentioned above. Granted, I'm not a devotee of the genre, but I like to see friends perform.

Not one of the session players I hired used solid state amps when I was getting into the ad scoring business in '87-89, and they could (and did) play any style, including metal.

One thing that should be discussed is that different tube amps handle transients in different ways. An AC30 handles pick attack differently from a Marshall Plexi, a Fender handles them differently from a Mesa, and one could go on and on endlessly.

An AC30 accomplishes this by cutting the lowest bass so that the amp doesn't have to work as hard, and there are many other examples of amp designs with different sonic priorities tailored to various styles of music.

I'll be interested to hear DTR's take on this. He is a VERY fast player. I don't think he uses solid state amps, but I could be wrong.

For me, it's great to have input from an experienced tech such as yourself, but it's quite another thing to work with great players in session after session, with a variety of amps, and have wonderful discussions before and after the gig; or to be a performer specializing in this kind of music.

Kind of a different trip. Just my two cents.

And yeah, everyone knows that lots and lots of records weren't performed on every instrument by the band, starting with the first records ever made. I mean, seriously, this is not earth-shaking news. I've done it myself as a producer.

I am an engineer. No guitar truly produces a pure sine wave. They all produce harmonic content, even one plays cleanly. A square wave is a multi-frequency wave. If you run it through an FFT, you will see the components that make up the signal A bass heavy square wave is more a function of the thickness of the neck than the amp. That is why the best shredder guitars have thin necks. Sure the flatter radius and wider nut width makes it easier to play in classical position with one's thumb on the back of the neck, but a thin neck produces a harmonic signal that emphasizes higher frequencies. The intermod that is produced is moslty filtered off by either the output transformer or the speaker, both of which have limited frequency ranges. The richer the tone when a guitar is unplugged the more harmonic content that is produced when that amp is pushed into non-linear operation. It is simple physics.

The problem with harmonic generation is that harmonics start to combine, producing sum and difference frequencies. This phenomenon is known as intermodulation distortion (intermod or IMD). Have you ever been in a room with one than one guitarist using a distorted signal? Did you notice that it gets difficult to hear anything after a certain volume is reached? That phenomenon is the result of the harmonic content from both guitars combining and producing intermod. The only way to get around it is to elminate one of the guitars or have one guitarist play with a much cleaner signal. That is a major problem with Cookie Monster metal bands. They can quickly sound like mush. Speed metal ushered in the use of the "V" graphic equalizer setting. That is necessary to attenuate most of the portion of a guitar signal that produces distortion. It is the same reason for the scoop in the EQ found in BF and SF Fender amps.

I have been working on amps since I was a teenager in the seventies. I grew up with a father who what was then known as an engineering technical specialist (a non-degreed engineer). He started working with electronics professionally in 1951, so I am not working from a basis of "voodoo" like most guitarists when it comes to tube circuitry. I had access to an encyclopedia of tube technology. I am the person who created the mod for the 2-Channel "H" and "C" amps that allows LEDs to be installed in the footswitch without requiring one to install a battery in the footswitch or install a DIN plug in the amp, which is the path Doug took with later 2-Channel models. Doug could not figure out how to do it using just the positive voltage rail (V+). He went with a DIN plug, so that he could run V+ and V- out to the footswitch. My approach was novel for a guitar amp. I rewired the footswitch jack to run V+ from the relay supply out to the pedal with two returns, one for channel selection and one for reverb control. The returns were wired to LEDs which where wired to the gates on logic-level MOSFETs. I created a tiny eyelet board on which two low RDS(on) logic-level power MOSFETs resided. The MOSFETs were wired between V- on the relay power supply and the V- connections on the switching relays. The relay supply voltage was high enough to withstand one LED forward voltage drop and still be able to turn on a logical-level n-channel MOSFET fully on. The beauty of the mod is that it still worked with a bog stock, non-led footswitch. I gave the mod to Doug. He just never implemented it.
 
Last edited:
I mean, Yngwie did it well with 80 Marshall stacks.

Actually, no. This is 720 Hz. There isn't a shelf cutoff at that frequency, either high or low pass.


DreamTheateR is correct. JCM 800s are shelved off at 720Hz, which is roughly the mid-frequency on 22-fret guitar. Have you ever noticed that the bottom of the "V" when set on a Mesa graphic EQ is on the 750Hz slider? That is not a coincidence. The "V" shape is absolutely necessary to play shred or speed metal on a Boogie.

I know that you are well meaning, but you know only enough to be dangerous to new guitarists. Marshalls got progressively brighter in order to overcome the problem with transient current demand. A lot of people think that they got brighter in order to keep up with the DX7 keyboard, but that is only half of the answer. Anyone who has designed and built a tube amp circuit from scratch knows that one often has to go back and "lean out" the amp to get rid of flattualence and mud. That is done by reducing the size of the interstage coupling capacitors. It is known as "voicing" an amp.

By the way, shelving doesn't mean emlimination. It means setting a -3dB down point. Frequencies above the RC knee are passed while those below it are attenuated with a reduction of -6dB per octave.
 
Have you ever noticed that the bottom of the "V" when set on a Mesa graphic EQ is on the 750Hz slider? That is not a coincidence. The "V" shape is absolutely necessary to play shred or speed metal on a Boogie.
I thought DTR was responding to my comment about cutting ALL frequencies below a certain point so the amp doesn't get muddy; obviously a Marshall doesn't filter out all frequencies below 720 Hz. That's all I was pointing out; perhaps I misunderstood his point.

All low or high pass filters are simply steep shelf EQs.

The 750Hz slider on a Mesa is NOT a shelf EQ. If it was, all frequencies above that slider would be boosted or cut. Instead, each slider controls a range of frequencies, not ALL frequencies above and below. It's a Bell EQ.

A shelving EQ creates a flat raise or drop of ALL frequencies below or above a certain point. The amount of the boost or cut can be very steep, or not very steep, but a high or low pass filter is a shelf EQ set to max reduction above or below certain frequencies.

I know that you are well meaning, but you know only enough to be dangerous to new guitarists.
You know how to make amps. How very wonderful.

I know how to create, produce and mix music and I do a good job of it, which is why Fortune 500 ad agencies hire me to create and mix audio and music for TV ads. I've also guest lectured at AES and at the university level about studio and audio topics. I've helped more musicians with their music, and given them more career opportunities, than you will in a million years.

Dangerous to new guitarists, indeed. Take a freaking hike.
 
Last edited:
uh…yikes…. Les, I think that was a bit of an overreaction. He wasn’t insulting you personally. I have joked before that I know enough to be dangerous when it comes to amp design, and at one point I was building or modify all my tube amps. I’m no EE but have a good friend who is, who would go part by part through various amp schematics with me and explain everything to me in the amps design. I’ve mentioned this here before… I was fascinated by the whole topic of amp design ( and pedal design) but was spending more time in amp forums, reading tube amp design books, building and modifying amps and pedals, than I was spending playing guitar.

Just saying, knowing how an amp sounds or even how to make it sound good, ir even bring a great player, or great at producing music, Has nothing to do with knowing how an amp is designed. So saying that is not an insult. I would say I know more about amp design than most guitar players, and I was a beginner at it. If he said that to me, I would have laughed and agreed, and I have read several tube amp design books several times through, and spent TONS of time in tube amp building forums, and a few years of legit study and exploration time on amp design.

So all that too say, unless you’ve spent way more time on amp design than you’ve ever mentioned before here, what he said was not an insult.
 
Last edited:
uh…yikes…. Les, I think that was a bit of an overreaction. He wasn’t insulting you personally.
Let him speak for himself. I don't buy that for even a split second.

The guitarist I've been most dangerous to, I guess, would be my son, who grew up in my studio and claims I taught him stuff - I mean, who knows where he got this idea.

He's the guy on the left at a small gig at Wrigley Field with one of his bands this past summer. Geez, I really screwed up with all the gear, tone and music advice and lord knows I ruined any chance he had...

JdwNeAb.jpg


Of all things, my dangerous advice was so bad, he wound up in a Fender ad (he endorses Fender)...yeah, I made a mess of things.

DUYi2k2.jpg


With one of his gold records for recording, producing and mixing, he has three...too bad I didn't know how to teach him to use the gear in a studio. If only I had known what I was talking about! Better break out the lifeboats!

BaRHade.jpg


I am SO f^cking dangerous to new guitarists.

G'head, ask me if I'm ticked off.

:mad:
 
Last edited:
Back
Top