Depending on your punk rock ethics, you may or may not have a lot to thank Mike Wallace for. Without question, his application of slick dance music production techniques to a new generation of punk willing to admit that they liked the Beatles helped define the sound of an era. Call it what you will, the music was infectious. Like songs you learned when you were a kid—they were easy to remember, enjoyable to sing along with, and aggressive and catchy as hell. If you’re not aware, do yourself of favor and look them up. Better yet, get yourself acquainted with their music.
But Wallace was typically employed only as a mix engineer. He would get involved with projects after most of the material had already been recorded. In order to have such great material to work with, the raw energy in the studio still needed to be there. With Nirvana’s second album—their first on a major label—Wallace would create a blueprint for many bands to follow but first, the band needed to record an album. Enter Butch Vig. Having previously worked with Nirvana on some demos, he would become the vehicle through which the band would successfully get onto tape their pop infused ideas. Famously using John Lennon to coerce more takes, Vig knew exactly how to interact with underground artists.
Listening to the unmixed stems, it’s clear this album was meant to be raucous, heavy, and in your face. With AmpStamp, let’s take look at capturing that raw energy and giving it some slick studio production (or not, if you prefer). Here’s what we know:
- Kurdt Cobain’s amp had broken at an earlier gig and the band used the money they had to purchase a Mesa Boogie Studio .22 preamp and a power amp
- When the band checked in to Sound City studios, Kurt brought the Mesa Boogie with him. During recording he would also employ a Fender Bassman and some pedals but as Vig states, “Kurt Cobain, for the most part, used a Mesa Boogie amp”<sup>1</sup>
- Based on live appearances, a modern Marshall 4×12 was used
Careful! This one is hot! You may want to engage the Squelch control (noise gate). Though we know Kurdt used a distortion pedal to switch between clean and distorted tones, we think you’ll hear similarities using the high gain channel on this amplifier, it definitely packs a punch better than any pedal. Change the Color to get different left and right channel takes, and voilà—never mind.
- VG802C Amplifier, toggle between lead and clean + CH102 Chorus
- CH102 Chorus
- VG 4x12B 260W ’82 Cabinet
Though not a Bassman, we think you’ll agree this sound is instant Grunge. With a thick quality unlike any modern amp, this was the secret ingredient to some of the moodier tracks on Nevermind. The tone is much darker so we’ve adjusted the Color for more brightness, but let your ears adjust to it, it’ll sit perfectly in a final mix.
- VG207A Amplifier
- FZ104A Fuzz
- VG 1x12C 15W ’68 Cabinet
1 Berkenstadt and Cross. Nirvana: Nevermind (Classic Rock Albums). New York, Schirmer Books, 1998.