Despite Metallica’s global status, guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett have resisted the temptation to become out-and-out gear whores. Although both of them have enjoyed a fertile relationship with ESP Guitars and EMG pickups for many years, Hetfield has never actually put his name to a commercially available amp, while Hammett only began working with US company Randall Amplification in 2007.
After dallying with modular amps for a time, Hammett has gone to back basics – of sorts – with his new amp head, the KH103. Designed by Randall’s amp Yoda Mike Fortin and road-tested enthusiastically by Hammett, the all-tube, three- channel design is rated at 120 watts and mixes established valve concepts with MIDI switching technology. Most importantly, it glows green from within thanks to what Kirk calls “the fridge light”.
Each of the three channels features contrasting voicings that enable you to subtly alter the feel and character of the amp gain, as well as bump up the mid-range frequencies, and the idea is that you can find just the right tone and save it for later thanks to the aforementioned MIDI capability. There’s also a Boost function plus two Master volume knobs that can be set independently to provide a volume hike for playing solos.
The drive tones available across channels two and three can be crushingly dirty, and the KH103 enables you to go from channel one’s sparkling clean to a high-gain solo sear at the press of one button. You can incorporate your favourite stomp-boxes via dual FX loops too.
We’re told that the KH103 did see use on the band’s latest Hardwired…To Self-Destruction album, alongside some vintage Marshall and Mesa/Boogie amps, and it’s a fair assumption that it will form the heart of Hammett’s 2017 live rig.
Fancy a go? The full half-stack configuration comes in at £1,999 for the head and £999 for the Celestion-loaded KH412-V30 speaker cabinet. Note that a wah-wah pedal is most certainly not included.
More information from First Line (01626 853019) or randallamplifiers.com.
Sometimes, less is more.
Instead of relying on fancy switching to achieve their tones, players from the older school would become skilled at manipulating their guitar’s volume pot and pickup selection to get the sound they wanted. One of the most revered amps in rock history is the Marshall Super Lead head. And while it has two volume controls, there’s no channel switching.
Jimi Hendrix was the master of wringing unique sounds out of his Fender Strat, combining different pickup settings with varying levels of amp gain controlled by the guitar’s volume pot. He also used, among other things, a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face for additional colour.
There are other examples, but the simplest set-up remains that of AC/DC’s Angus Young, who just plugs his Gibson SG into a Marshall SLP with its two volumes set to around eight and magic ensues. It may all be in the fingers, but a decent guitar and amp certainly doesn’t hurt.