Ride The Lightning

What’s left to say about this thrash metal classic? The band brought a level of perfection to heavy metal production unheard of in the genre up until this point. Tight, click-track accuracy, layers upon layers of guitars, warehouse ambience, and allegedly sped up tapes caused riffs to hit listener’s ears at blinding speeds. If you’re not aware, do yourself of favor and look them up. Better yet, get yourself acquainted with their music.

While it’s been reported that the band auditioned every Marshall in Denmark to find the right amp to record with1, we think the core of the sound actually came from their introduction to Mesa/Boogie, namely the Mark IIC+. While we’re sure there’s more than one way to get here, when you plug in, it’s unmistakable. The top end sizzle, mid-scooped metal mania hits you square in the face.

And the story is the stuff of legends, with James’ prized modified Marshall getting stolen shortly before recording was scheduled to start, it was the perfect time to look for a new amplifier. Mesa/Boogie was just up the road so-to-speak and this would begin an unspoken sonic partnership that would last the band for years.

And while we’re here, we thought we’d shed some light on one of the most difficult riffs known to thrash metal fans. The intro from “Fight Fire with Fire!” While the basic riff is well known (Riff A), online guitar personality Ben Eller shed some light on the other half of the riff (Riff C) back in 20172. However this still left the transition between these two riffs open to interpretation. Being good citizens, we felt we needed to make an attempt to clarify the riff that bridges riffs A and C, let’s call it Riff B. It embodies one of the defining characteristics of a great Metallica song–the use of odd meter changes to create phrases that catch you off guard. Likely done by feel to avoid a more prog-rock style composition, the band showed a healthy disregard for meter, opting to construct passages beat-by-beat in order to get from one place to the next.

Take a look and listen, once you get up to speed you’ll be able to go toe-to-toe with one of the fiercest thrash riffs around. Make sure to note the small bends that occur in measures 10 and 11, they’re critical to accurate articulation of the pull-offs and was likely the result of speed and finger-pressure while playing.

Lightning

Taking full advantage of the VG802C Amplifier 5-Band EQ, we’re employing the classic “V” setting. Despite later accounts showing the Treble Shift engaged3, based on our testing we think this wasn’t the setup for this particular album. We’ve also added the OD101 Overdrive which was definitely used in some form. Potentially to thicken up rhythm parts with lots of A-string palm muting, most definitely on solos, either way be sure to experiment with the gain ratio between the amp and overdrive, you’re bound to stumble onto something brilliant. You can’t miss with this gear!

  • OD101 Overdrive
  • VG802C Amplifier
  • VG 4X12B 260W ’82 Cabinet

1 Taylor, Matt. Metallica: Back To The Front. Insight Editions, 2016.

2 Ben Eller. (2017, July 13). That riff from Fight Fire With Fire by Metallica you could never figure out! Retrieved from https://youtu.be/5jIcZcIwJzo

3 Rasmussen, Flemming. Metallica Notes. http://www.fwrproduction.com/FWR_Produktion/Notes_1.html. Accessed 20 February 2021.

Sweet Leaf

Who would have thought that what started out as an above average blues band would become the prototype for heavy metal as we know it. From the opening sounds of a rainstorm to a bell that’s tolled for a thousand lives to the perfect use of the Devil’s Interval, Black Sabbath had, perhaps inadvertently, created something coherent and unique that immediately registered and resonated with listeners upon first exposure. If you’re not aware, do yourself of favor and look them up. Better yet, get yourself acquainted with their music.

So rare is that occurrence that when critics started complaining but fans started following, the band knew to continue in the direction they had started. And we are all glad they did. As album after album of instant classics continued to fill the shelves, many guitar players started to wonder how Tony Iommi was getting such a heavy sound. And so our journey begins…

What we do know is that Iommi had a modified Rangemaster, one of the first treble boosters.1 Based on dropping the needle and some experimentation, it’s unlikely that Iommi got that kind of distortion from an amplifier and a treble booster. Our latest theory is that his Rangemaster was modified to include a fuzz unit. Most likely a two or three transistor model since the Rangemaster itself was a single transistor circuit.

What we have here is the classic VG402B Amplifier with the VG 4x12B 100W ’73 Cabinet and the EQ100 Treble Boost followed by the FZ101B Fuzz. This deep and heavy tone is amazing and we think you’re going to instantly hear those Black Sabbath classics when playing. Paired with an SG, you can’t get any closer. Enjoy!

SWEETLEAF

Crank it up, this tone is heavy. Designed to imitate modifications done to Tony Iommi’s treble booster, we think we’ve found something special. But you be the judge. Use the fuzz to capture the dark sounds of Master of Reality or disengage and crank the amp for something brighter, similar to their self-titled debut.

  •  VG402B Amplifier
  • EQ100 Treble Boost
  • FZ101B Fuzz
  • VG 4x12B 100W ’73 Cabinet

1 Iommi, Tony. Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath. Da Capo Press, 2011.

Nevermind

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
NEVERMIND

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
LITHIUM

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.