Marc Bolans Tone

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Marc Bolans Tone

Postby cozzigreen on Sun Aug 24, 2008 9:19 pm

Since my first posting in January '08, it seems that there is still much interest in Bolans tone. I have also discovered some more information on Bolans Dallas Rangemaster and his use of a Colorsound Fuzz Wah Straight. See below where I've added in this info'.

For years, trying to re-create the tone generated by his legendary Les Paul had eluded and driven me absolutely nuts, so last year, I decided once and for all to try and find out exactly what he used. I realise that Bolan was not widely acknowledged as a guitar hero, but for many guitarists his tone didn't go unnoticed, so for those of you who are interested, this is for you.
..........................................................

He went through many electric ‘tone changes’ starting with the 1970 album ‘A Beard of Stars’ {Strat (Tony Viscontis' own) & Vox AC30 amp I'm guessing} right up to ‘Dandy in the Underworld’, but it is perhaps the sounds which he generated between 1971 -1974 on Electric Warrior, The Slider, less so Tanx and Zinc Alloy which are generally considered his best, and that is where I have channeled my efforts.
Probably my all time favourite guitar tone is Marc Bolans c. 1972, and which came to prominence on 'The Slider' album, and spilled over into 1973. From there on, he began to lose the plot and with it went his tone.

Essentially it was his Les Paul via his HH IC100 that gave him his best tone, but that is not the end of it. There are several ingredients, all of equal importance…… Much of the following is common knowledge, but I have tried to dig a little deeper.

Electric Warrior

By the sounds of it and the few studio photo’s in existence, again this appears to have been mainly Fender Strat into Vampower and Vox amps. He did have an endorsement deal with Vampower. His Dallas Rangemaster was probably used all the time, but its' effect can be very clearly heard in particular on the rhythm tracks on Motivator, Lean Love and ‘Rip-Off’ (this latter track has some great overdriven ‘separation’ in the chord work, particularly when he hits the 'F'), and the solos on Lean Love, Get It On (short solo at the end when it hits the ‘G’).

The Slider

By the time this album was recorded, Bolan had developed a taste for solid state HH amps, as they were more reliable than the valve driven Vampowers, and the distortion channel on the IC100 and IC100S works like a dream with a Dallas Rangemaster, which incidentally does not suit every amp.
Listening closely to all the electric tracks on this album (even more revealing is the ‘Slider Tapes’ CD which contains the raw recordings in progress), it would seem that all the electric stuff on this album was recorded entirely with his Les Paul and HH. There were definitely some tracks where he D.I.'d straight into the desk and overloaded the channel pre-amp; this can quite clearly be heard on Telegram Sam on the breaks. There is a CD called 'Bump 'n' Grind' which contains what appears to be one of the first studio cracks at 'Telegram Sam'. The guitar on this take sounds superb though a little out of tune down to the 'capo effect', and slightly different to some of the other Slider stuff. It is deeper in overall tone, and given that this was recorded at Rosenberg studios in Copenhagen (together with Thunderwing)', I did a little more digging, and photograhic records would suggest that this was his HH into a large Fender cab, though not being a 'Fender amp man', I'm not sure of the cab model - it looks as though it may even be a bass cab, though I'll stand corrected. This tonal difference is somewhat lost in the final mix though.

Bolan's 'Live ' tone
I have been paying some attention to his live tone of late, as there was something else in this tone which I was also hearing on studio material. There have been some videos posted on YouTube which were recorded at Chateau D'Herouville in 1972 during the making of 'The Slider'. The tracks filmed/recorded were 'Hot Love', 'Telegram Sam', 'Jeepster' and 'Baby Strange'. Whilst these recordings are in black and white, they offer decent audio quality. Upon listening to these tracks, I noticed that they did not sound purely like a 'Les Paul/Wem Copicat/Rangemaster/HH' set-up; there was something else beefing-up and adding some 'edge' to his tone. During this era, I noticed he was using a blue Coloursound Fuzz/Wah (I believe), so I decided to see if I could acquire one for myself, and managed to find one in near mint and full working condition, and I was surprised to discover that with the pedal in the 'off' positions, it added some great 'separation' to the tone, and [i]THAT was what I was hearing on these recordings as well as on the raw 'Slider' tapes. So, by simply putting the signal through this and using it as a 'passive' pedal rather than actually using it for the effects it produces, it provides some very nice 'edge' and a little more 'tightness' in the process. This is rather unusual as most pedals suck out the tone if not used whilst in the signal path, so I reckon this was a lucky accident. Having now heard this for myself, I now believe that the vast majority of 'The Slider' was recorded using this set-up, as was the making of Born To Boogie, where you can clearly see him using this on stage.[/i]


Tanx
I have not been able to unearth any photographic evidence from the Tanx sessions, which would indicate the equipment used, but my ears would suggest that this is again essentially his Les Paul & HHIC100. On 'Electric Slim....' you can hear him using the inbuilt tremolo on the HH very clearly. Some of his soloing sounds as though he had D.I.'d it, though if you play through the HH / RM at 'bedroom volume', it accentuates the scooped tone. A good example of that tone is the soloing on Left Hand Luke which pretty much extends throughout the track.

Zinc Alloy
The album has probably the widest selection of sounds on any T. Rex album. It was recorded in fits and starts, and it shows as there is no overall album consistency like on Tanx & The Slider. It does however have several great tracks in Liquid Gang, Carsmile Smith and Superbad, all of which have a great feel and some very nice melodic fingerwork from Bolan. Superbad features some great wah noodling - very clearly done through his LP & HH. This combination works very well with all the ingredients I have outlined on this piece. By the sounds of it, some solos such as on Teenage Dream, Nameless Wildness may have been D.I'd as they are pretty 'thin', as were some of the rhythm tracks on 'Sound Pit'.

Other tracks from c. 1973/4
Around this time, Bolan introduced a phaser into his effects arsenal, and in conjunction with his Les Paul & HH, it can very clearly be heard on 'Satisfaction Pony'. According to Tony Visconti, around this era, analogue tape flanging can be heard on the solo's on 'Satisfaction Pony' and others. It's a very strange effect and sounds somewhere between a wah and a phaser.

Guitars
Strats a Tele and an assortment of others, but his preferred, and main axe was his Gibson Les Paul: possibly originally a ’58 Plain Top or Gold Top, which was finished in an orangey-brown in deference to Eddie Cochrans’ Gretch. It looks as though it originally had a Bigsby, as on some good photo's two holes near the bridge can be seen. It was an 'amateurish & streaky' job - maybe he wanted it like that! He broke the neck on this in America apparenty where he threw it in in a fit of rage sometime around 1972. The replacement neck - a black 'Custom' one, was fitted twice after it was badly fitted the first time. The construction of this guitar in conjunction with the electrics and open coil PAF’s were very important. The inconsistencies of these early pick-ups meant that Bolan had accidentally stumbled upon a couple of beaut’s - beauts' that is for the sound he created. They didn’t appear to have a great output, and sometimes it was though he had to push out every note – he rarely suffered from massive feedback. They delivered a very raw and crisp attack – not smooth like modern day PAF’s, which enabled him to generate a fantastic raw tone; ‘crunch’ for his rhythm and ‘biting’, ‘crisp’ lead work alike. This guitar would also have been constructed with Bumblebee capacitors, again an important element of that guitars’ tone. It was stolen around 1977. I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW WHERE IT IS NOW!
The nearest you can get to this guitar now is with Gibsons’ VOS reisues. They have the long neck tenon, Bumblebee caps and Burstbucker pick-ups, amongst other accurate elements, and are superb, and I have recently acquired a ’58 plain top which in conjunction with all the other ingredients, delivers this tone in spades. Note: even these guitars all sound different, and I tried about 10 before I found one which gave me what I was after.
By the way, a Strat sounds fantastic via the RM/HH or Vamp amp/Vamp 4x12, and you can dial-in most of the Electric Warrior tones this way

Amps
The Vampower amps are somewhat ‘cleaner’ than the HH’s, even though they feature a ‘bite’ control which sends them into a nice overdrive/distortion. They are also incredibly loud; my Mk1 100w head pushes out about 108 watts and I can’t even get it past 0.5 on the master volume before it’s rattling the foundations, it's so powerful! Tracks such as Jeepster and Ride a White Swan pre ‘The Slider’ etc, appear to have been done with the Vampower. A Dallas Rangemaster combines very well with A Vampower.
The HH IC100 S (the ‘S’ stands for sustain) features a distortion channel which can be dialled-in, and goes from ‘crunchy overdrive’ to ‘sweet sustain’. The IC100 has a pre-set level of distortion which works quite well. These amps have two settings ‘studio’ and ‘stage’ and go from ‘bedroom’ volumes right up to ‘very loud’. It is possible to get a great tone at low volumes. On its’ own the distortion channel is quite ‘muddy’; a Rangemaster really tightens the whole thing up and brings it to life, with some fantastic sonic separation in chord work and some beautiful highs on solos.
I own two IC100S' & one IC100 which is almost ex-factory mint, and interestingly they all have their own character. One of the IC100S' is more powerful than the other, and the IC100 has slightly more of that 'Bolan' tone than the IC100S'.

Speakers/Cabinets
Open to opinion, but we do know that he used HH combo’s and Vampower 4x12’s. I also acquired a Vampower 4x12 cab which was loaded with Rola Celestion G12m 25’s. This nails the Slider album tone. I am also aware of other Vampower 4x12’s containing pre-Rola 25’s.

Dallas Rangemaster
I read somewhere recently where the sonic effects of a Rangemaster are like that of fine grade sandpaper, an analogy which I feel is very accurate. I have had the pleasure of acquiring three RM’s, and they all sound different. They all however deliver that trademark 'hollowed-out sound' in varying degrees. My findings and the opinions of others I have counseled would suggest that the ones containing the OC44 germanium transistors deliver a smoother tone, and the OC71’s provide certainly more ‘edge’ and possibly higher harmonics. One of mine has the OC44 and the other two the OC71. So if an OC44 is 1500 grade, OC71’s fall between 1500 and 2000 grade. The OC71's do have less gain, so that would go some way to explaining Bolans' attacking crunch. Modern day PAF's appear to suit the OC44, and Burstbuckers/vintage PAF's combine well with the OC71 to deliver that attacking crunch. I know this is a small sample, and that they all differ slightly, but right now that's all I have to go on, as it's not as though I can sample 20 RM's and make a judgement.

Given this, I now believe Bolan had one which contained an OC71. The solos on tracks such as ‘Rabbit Fighter’ and ‘Ballrooms of Mars’ would suggest this. Also if you listen to ‘Buick Mackane’ just before the solo starts you can hear in the background a couple of phrases which sound as though they have been done with a Wah -they haven’t; it is the OC71 RM effect in conjunction with all the above, and one which I am now able to replicate easily with my set-up. STOP PRESS!! I now have it on VERY good authority that Bolans Rangemaster DID (does) in fact contain an OC71 with a 10k pot, which confirms everything I was hearing on record. The OC71's provide more of that 'hollow' tone than an OC44. So if you want to get as close to Bolans sound as possible, you have to get a Rangemaster or a good clone with an OC71, and not an OC44.

The 'live' tone he got on the Musikladen shows- 20th Century Boy and Buick MacKane was awesome, and if you discount some of his wayward 'noodling', they are probably the finest examples of THAT tone to survive. He is using an IC100 through an Orange 4x12. The 'depth' he gets through that Orange is phenomenal. A Vampower 4x12 gets that tone, but with slightly less depth, as the cabinet is narrower and of different construction. It can't be seen, but his Rangemaster is in the mix; he couldn't have got that sound without it. In fact it was after having heard this version of 20th Century Boy that I decided to scour the planet in search of an original Rangemaster - it blew me away that much.

There is a work-in-progress track on the ‘Rabbit Fighter: Alternative Slider’ CD called ‘Buick MacKane and the Babe Shadow’ – I am in no doubt now that this is a raw and perfect example of his Les Paul / HH / Vamp 4x12 / RM OC71 in action. Just as an aside, this set-up gets unbelievably close to Billy Gibbons tone on 'Eliminator' and 'Afterburner'.
So for anyone wanting to get that sound on 20th Century Boy, this is the simple set-up. He also used a WEM Copicat on a short delay to fatten up his overall sound.

Vampower amps & cabs are now pretty elusive, as are Rangemasters, but they do become available from time to time if you look hard enough; HH amps crop up on UK eBay pretty regularly and they can still be obtained fully serviced from MAJ in Kingswinford U.K. They have the 'servicing rights' for HH. When HH was bought by Laney, I don't think Laney were bothered about that aspect. If you don't want to spend big bucks on an original Vampower cab or Rangemaster (it's the speakers really more than the cab which get you there) it's still possible to find the vintage Greenbacks, though I have to say I do like the look of the Vampower cabs' grille cloth and that logo. Vintage 'broken-in' speakers sound SO good. As for a Rangemaster, there are many good clones out there that will get you most of the way there, though not quite providing the mojo that comes with a RM. - they are pretty special.

So the only factors which will prevent anyone re-creating his sound 100% are his actual gear! So for example if you want to recreate the tone from 'The Slider' era you will need:

Les Paul '58 Plain Top VOS
Coloursound Fuzz Wah Straight
Wem Copicat
Dallas Rangemaster with a Mullard OC71 transistor
HH IC100
Vampower 4x12 containing Rola Celestion G12M's / HH 2x12 combo.

This will get you 98% there. I't can't be 100% as all Les Pauls and Dallas Rangemasters sound slightly different to one another.


I would welcome any useful information that could be added to the above.
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Postby vintageRob on Mon Aug 25, 2008 12:12 am

Haven't seen you 'round these parts lately Paul.
Always enjoy reading your detailed posts.
Did you eventually sell the Les Paul supreme?
"vintage?.....we just used to call them used!!"
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Postby geoff_bell on Mon Aug 25, 2008 9:23 am

after the depth of your research, it's great to see you finally appear to have some answers.

i've always been a big fan of bolan. though all i have are compilation albums, it's great to see that there is always something unique about each one - the most recent one i got (a double-cd from asda), seems to concentrate more on his latter material. although this is the bolan i would have seen on telly as a youngster (i'm in my early forties, so it's material from laser love on that i remember being current, i actually prefer the acoustic stuff through tothe height of bolan-mania.

sometimes i wonder if the glam acts had dressed straighter (y'know, the likes of bolan, the sweet, slade, etc), would they have been remembered more as guitar bands, and their guitarists for their tone. it was probably the songs i remember moreso than what the artists wore - with boland and the sweet especially.
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Postby cozzigreen on Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:03 am

vintageRob wrote:Haven't seen you 'round these parts lately Paul.
Always enjoy reading your detailed posts.
Did you eventually sell the Les Paul supreme?


Being pretty much 'blinkered' in my personal tone quest, I was just about satisfied, but being 'Mr Picky', it was just a bit of fine-tuning I required; confirming the OC71 tranny and the final 'missing 5%' which was the passive use of the Colorsound. As all the OC71's sound different, I'll keep going - sifting through any I can find which get even closer, but that's about it. Yes the Supreme and the Ultima both sold. I now just have an Eric Johnson Strat and the Les Paul VOS 58 Plain Top which has now been 'Bolanised' by Dan McPherson; and what a job he did - fantastic!
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Postby cozzigreen on Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:12 am

geoff_bell wrote:after the depth of your research, it's great to see you finally appear to have some answers.

i've always been a big fan of bolan. though all i have are compilation albums, it's great to see that there is always something unique about each one - the most recent one i got (a double-cd from asda), seems to concentrate more on his latter material. although this is the bolan i would have seen on telly as a youngster (i'm in my early forties, so it's material from laser love on that i remember being current, i actually prefer the acoustic stuff through tothe height of bolan-mania.

sometimes i wonder if the glam acts had dressed straighter (y'know, the likes of bolan, the sweet, slade, etc), would they have been remembered more as guitar bands, and their guitarists for their tone. it was probably the songs i remember moreso than what the artists wore - with boland and the sweet especially.


By the time Laser Love had been released I thought Bolan had lost his way well before that (about half way through 1973), and my interest in him musically had waned, and I was well into BeBop Deluxe by then, but he always interested me as he had charisma (and bull****) in bucket-loads. I'm just a 70's boy really. I know I've now turned into my Dad, but I look at so many bands these days and I struggle to see any originality, now I know it's hard to re-invent the wheel, but in the main, I don't get it, though I have noticed many bands using vintage gear, so that's clearly a step in the right direction!
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Postby zaxxon on Tue Aug 26, 2008 8:55 pm

Are you sure Bolan just had that one LP? Seems like every time I see him, he's playing a different LP. He also owned a flying V but I don't know if he ever recorded with it. It was recently on Antiques Roadshow. I wonder how much he ever actually used a treble booster with his LP. I would suspect it was mainly used with his Strat. I had a BSM recreation and I didn't like it's effect. You're right it's very amp dependent but I think it was designed mainly to boost low output single coils. It didn't work good with HB's or modern amps in my experience. Have you ever read this ?:

http://mixonline.com/mag/audio_classic_ ... index.html

Visconti mentions him using a Marshall but he may just be using that as a generic term for guitar amp. They also filmed 'Cadillac' at Chateau D'Herouville. His tone in those clips sounds very fat and very much like the records.
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Postby cozzigreen on Wed Aug 27, 2008 9:53 pm

zaxxon wrote:Are you sure Bolan just had that one LP? Seems like every time I see him, he's playing a different LP. He also owned a flying V but I don't know if he ever recorded with it. It was recently on Antiques Roadshow. I wonder how much he ever actually used a treble booster with his LP. I would suspect it was mainly used with his Strat. I had a BSM recreation and I didn't like it's effect. You're right it's very amp dependent but I think it was designed mainly to boost low output single coils. It didn't work good with HB's or modern amps in my experience. Have you ever read this ?:

http://mixonline.com/mag/audio_classic_ ... index.html

Visconti mentions him using a Marshall but he may just be using that as a generic term for guitar amp. They also filmed 'Cadillac' at Chateau D'Herouville. His tone in those clips sounds very fat and very much like the records.


Thanks for the feedback. No I haven't seen that copy, though I think it is distilled out of the paperback 'Rise and Fall of a 20th C. Superstar'.
Yes Bolan did have many guitars and I've seen him with about 3 different Les Pauls, BUT without doubt his favourite and best sounding one was the 'orange-washed' one. The same goes for amps - he tried most of what was around at the time, and also used whatever was around in some studios, but he settled with Vampower c. 1970/1, and HHIC100 from 1972 - 4/5 ish.
Regarding his flying V, he recorded Thunderwing with it, and I nearly had a punt on it when it went under the hammer, but prefered to remain married!
There is no doubt that he used his Rangemaster on practically everything he recorded. My ears are now so tuned in to that tone having owned three of them myself that I would bet my house on it. There is absolutely no way you could have got that sound without it; the OC71 has a VERY distictive tone, and works equally well with a Strat.
Yes Rangemasters/treble boosters do suit some amps better than others, and combine exceptionally well with HH & Vamps.
Chateau D'Herouville......Yes! Cadillac - I meant Cadillac and NOT Baby Strange - my mistake! Now that fat tone (and my personal favourite) is exactly the tone produced by the following set-up, and importantly that order:
Les Paul into....
Colorsound Fuzz/Wah Straight in the off positions! into....
Wem Copcat into....
Dallas Rangemaster OC71 into....
HHIC100
Deep joy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Postby zaxxon on Thu Aug 28, 2008 6:47 am

I had the BSM RM-Metal model treble booster and it uses the OC44. That's probably why I didn't like it that much. I didn't know there was that big a tonal difference between them when used in a treble booster circuit.
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Postby cozzigreen on Thu Aug 28, 2008 8:00 am

zaxxon wrote:I had the BSM RM-Metal model treble booster and it uses the OC44. That's probably why I didn't like it that much. I didn't know there was that big a tonal difference between them when used in a treble booster circuit.

I wouldn't say the tonal difference is 'big', but they are different. The OC71's give you more of that "aaooww" sound - a bit like a wah effect when you bend notes.
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Postby ayh on Thu Aug 28, 2008 2:48 pm

Great to see some appreciation for Bolan the player.I love those Rock En Stock videos from French TV
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Postby pentadil on Sun Dec 14, 2008 12:41 pm

Wow. Thanks for taking the time to research this and thanks for the detailed report !! I rarely post here, but read all the time, I just have to log in to say THANKS !!!
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Postby randallg on Thu Dec 18, 2008 10:55 pm

here's what Tony Visconti (Bowie and TRex producer) wrote to me after I asked him about Mick Ronson's and Bolan's gear:

They both played Les Pauls, too, and they both had similar influences (they were around the same age). The amps were totally different. Mick used a Marshall 100 watt head and two 4x12s. Marc used a variety of smaller amps, mostly solid state ones, although he used bigger ones on stage.
>
>tv
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Postby Baxthorpe on Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:49 pm

Fender cab - 6 x 10" Dual Showman full of Jensens. They do NOT have the usual guitar speaker "mid peak" - you get a similar sound from PA speakers, it is fatter than using guitar speakers.
Colorsound Orange Overdriver is the missing link (Orange in this case has nothing to do with the Orange company, it is just the name of the pedal).
Colorsound Fuzz Wah is close, but no cupie doll. Bolan endorsed the range, so they gave him all those pedals.

That is an amazing piece of work you put in on this - could you get interested in Harvey Mandel?
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Postby Rabbitfighter on Wed Dec 24, 2008 11:47 pm

Great info! As you can tell by my user name I'm a big fan. Thanks.
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Re: Marc Bolans Tone

Postby RomanyStew on Wed Oct 05, 2011 8:00 pm

Great thread,even if it's an old one;)
Does anyone know if Cozzigreen is still around,he has not posted in years.
Many thanks Romany
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