Eddie Van Halen’s 1967/68 Marshall 1959 Super Lead
Eddie used this same Marshall amp to record the first six Van Halen albums. He bought it secondhand from England, which sparked up some stories that the amp was unable to run on 110v. The truth is that in Europe, all amps come with a switch to vary the AC voltage that you wish to plug into. Eddie however didn’t know about this at the time.
I’ve gone through every amp on the market. I mean, first tour I started out using my old 100-watt amp, which breaks down every other song, so I started using new Marshalls. I didn’t like the way they sounded, but I had to have something that would make it through the show. Then I lost them somewhere on an airplane, never got ’em back. And I started using Music Mans, Laneys. I used just about everything, and they all pretty much sounded the same, just because I play the same.
In the studio I use my old Marshall, which gets a slightly different sound. Live I use new Marshalls, but I do little tricks to them too.“Eddie Talks Guitars: 1979” (from the “Van Halen Tapes 1978-82”) By: Jas Obrecht
So when the amp was delivered to him and he plugged it in, it sounded very quiet because of the voltage difference. Eddie’s solution was to buy a Variac transformer which allowed him to run the amp on lower voltage. He played with the settings and found that the amp could still run well if he kept the dial at around 140v. This allowed him to essentially save the tubes, and play at clubs at half the volume. From that point on he would usually set all the knobs on the Marshall to 10, and control the volume using the Variac.
The signal from the amp went into a dummy resistor box set to 20 ohms – compared to the speaker output which was set to 8 ohms. This was done so that the Marshall head which was running on full volume can be easier to deal with. Eddie supposedly used this configuration on the first album, then removed the dummy box on the second, and came back to it on the third (and the rest that followed).
There are also stories about how this amp was modified over and over again, but our guess is that it was actually pretty much stock. Eddie even admitted that he purposely gave an interview in which he made some things up just to confuse people. One of our readers who worked at Soldano told us that Eddie brought the amp to the store one time, and it was indeed stock except for one old trick where you add a capacitor on one of the cathodes in the preamp in order to help reduce noise.
In the studio, I use my old Marshall, my precious baby. it gets a slightly different sound. Live I use new Marshalls. I made the mistake of taking my main one out on the road last year and I lost it on the way back from Japan. It was flying around India somewhere and six months later, thank God, I got it back. This is the one I bought when I was a kid. I didn’t even know what I had until now. It’s very old; it has a Plexiglas front. It used to be the house amp at the Pasadena Rose Palace; whoever played there has played through it. It’s a real good amp — unbelievable balls!“Young Wizard of Power Rock” By: Jas Obrecht Guitar Player (April 1980)
For the cabinets and speakers, Eddie usually used Marshall boxes loaded with Celestion G12M 25w in the early years, and Vintage 30 later on in the mid-1980s. During the recording of the first album, he supposedly used some JBL D-120 speakers in one of the cabinets.
Most of this info was taken from a forum post by Christopher Michael – who is supposedly Chris Merren (Eddie’s former tech). If the person in question ever ends up reading this article, please contact us and we’ll give you proper credits.
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