In every generation of guitarists, there’s the player with the tone to die for. Think Eric Clapton in 1966, burning up the Bluesbreakers album with his ready-to-burst JTM45 Marshall combo. Think Angus Young in 1980, driving the seismic crunch of Back In Black with the Marshall 100-watt Super Lead and 2203 JMP. Think Slash on 1987’s Appetite For Destruction, coaxing a snake-hipped sneer from the mysterious rented Marshall head that disappeared into folklore shortly after the album sessions.
Like those legends, Steph Carter has put his own sonic stamp on his era in rock ‘n’ roll, driving no less than three great bands since the millennium. For this Marshall Spotlight video interview, the guitarist invited us into the Marshall Studio to dig into the stacks that have powered his career to date, complete with riff demos, amp settings and trade secrets. “Gallows was just a straight punk band,” he reflects. “The Ghost Riders In The Sky was like an Americana indie rock ‘n’ roll thing. And now, Lyoness is a big, riffy, bluesy band.”
It’s impossible to overstate the impact of Gallows. On classic early albums like 2006’s Orchestra Of Wolves, the Watford punks were the most furious sound coming out of Britain, thanks in no small part to Steph’s brother Frank Carter: a fire-haired provocateur with the DNA of a young John Lydon. Yet just as pivotal to Gallows’ assault-and-battery were the scene’s most dangerous guitar lines, fired through a pair of custom Marshall JMP stacks.
The JMP has history. Introduced in 1975, this Marshall benchmark has raised hell in the rigs of titans from Jeff Beck to Judas Priest. But you’ve never seen amps quite like these. Battle-scarred and missing letters from the logo, Steph’s twin JMP 2203s speak of a thousand brutal nights on the stage. “I remember, the bus drove past the Electric Ladyland music shop,” he recalls, “and this amp was in the window. I didn’t even know if it worked. I just put it on stage for soundcheck, turned it on and I was just like, ‘That’s the sound…’”
But when Steph left Gallows in 2012 to form The Ghost Riders In The Sky with wife Gillian, his ethos changed completely. “I was running this Marshall 2555X clean and all the sound was coming through the FX loop,” he says. “There was a lot of sub-octave fuzz stuff going on and this amp really did the job.”
Ghost Riders came to an untimely halt when Gillian took a break for essential surgery, and for a time, Steph’s busy schedule as producer, guitar technician, educator and hired gun meant he doubted he would ever form a traditional band again. Then came a new chapter, as the couple’s next project Lyoness debuted with the hypnotic, hard-edged Americana of this year’s Fool’s Gold EP. “I wanted something different,” remembers Steph, “so I reached out to Marshall and said, ‘What would be a good addition to the collection?’ We came up with the JTM-45, because it’s the amp that started it all…”
As the first-ever amp to ship from Jim Marshall’s fabled London repair shop in 1963, the JTM-45 was the choice of stars from Jimi Hendrix to Pete Townshend. In fact, considers Steph, the only issue with his custom British racing green JTM-45 stack is the stadium-sized volume. “So I also bought two amps from the Marshall Studio series during lockdown, because I’m sure my neighbours hate me for playing the JTM-45 at home – and because when we started touring again, I wanted something that was easier and more compact. I have a thing for Marshall amps. You can tell…”
Lyoness’s Fool’s Gold EP is out now. For more information on Marshall’s history and current range, see www.marshall.com