The 5 Favorite Amps of Rabea Massaad
So you’ve got amazing chops and a fancy guitar. But you’ll only ever sound as good as the amplifier you’re using. RABEA MASSAAD, guitarist for the UK metal bands Toska and Dorje, shares his five all-time favorite amps with LOUDER.
There’s an incredible selection of amplifiers out there providing every possible tone a guitarist might need. Sound quality is naturally very important to me, but an amp also should be inspiring for its intended purpose. Not enough guitarists draw the distinction between amps great for performing live and those great in the studio.
Live you’ll need an amplifier broadly covering the kind of music you play. But in the studio it’s crucial to have as many different sounding amps as possible. When you’re recording, it will be exceedingly difficult to cover all the different sections and layers of a track with a single amp tone.
I’ve put together a list of five classic amplifiers every guitarist should know. These amps are great reference points, especially if you’re just starting out in the music business. Even if some of them aren’t as widely used as they once were, you should know exactly what someone means when they say: “Imagine a JCM800 but with more distortion!”
Marshall have made lots of legendary amplifiers over the years. But for me, the JCM800 is their flagship amplifier. Marshall’s reputation was dwindling at the end of the 70s when everybody started to copy their valve amp design. Then at the beginning of the 80s, Marshall made the JCM800. It came out and suddenly everyone was using one: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses – Slayer’s Kerry King even uses his own version of the JCM800! This amp is great for hard rock, classic rock and metal. They're supposed to be played loud – and that's the only disadvantage. It's a 100-watt amplifier. It simply doesn't sound good quiet. When you crank a JCM800 to half power, push the mids just over half way with a nice amount of bass and reasonable amount of treble – nothing too much. It sounds huge with a humbucker! It's just the power behind it. It's the bark, the mid-range, the presence. There's something distinctive about a Les Paul plugged straight into Marshall with nothing else in between. It sounds absolutely monstrous. It's an uncompressed distortion almost. It's gargantuan. No wonder all those bands had 12 full stacks onstage. The wall of Marshalls is really just the epitome of British tone.
Fender Deluxe Reverb
I chose this amp because every guitarist should understand what it is to have a great, clean sound. Even if you don't play a lot of clean guitar yourself, it's important in case you're ever in a recording situation where you need one. The Fender Deluxe Reverb has an uncompressed, completely clean sparkle to it and the spring reverb tank just makes such a beautiful sound – it makes me want to play clean! A lot of blues players use these great little amps. They work well with pedals, too. Most importantly, a beautifully clean amp won’t lie to you when you’re learning or practicing techniques. It's so clean, so clear – just so honest. Of course, it's a great amp to experience a great Fender guitar – or any single-coil guitar – to learn chords and understand how to use dynamics in your playing.
The 5150 was Eddie Van Halen’s first signature amp with Peavey. Built in the US, it has two channels, rhythm and lead, with extra crunch and a shared EQ. It's essentially a hot-rodded JCM800, but the 6L6 valves give you that American tone. It has a really distinctive squelch to it and the crunch and the overdrive has its own unique bark. No one gets a 5150 for clean sounds. But if you're a metal player, you have to have one for recording. It just has a very powerful, thick metal tone. It sounds great with a Strat, it sounds great with humbuckers, it sounds great for low tunings. Obviously, it’s a versatile amp, because Eddie used it for loads of lead playing, too. It seems to have been an accidental gem that it's such a great metal rhythm amplifier. But it's so very good at its job!
Kemper Profiling Amplifier
Many guitarists seem to have an unintentional pride about gear. There are a lot of people out there who on principle steer clear of modelling amps, but they should give the technology a chance. I think it's safe to assume that not everyone is going to be able to wake up and decide to record with a 1969 Marshall Plexi on that particular day. Having a Kemper means two things: You've got an endless library of amplifiers at your disposal to use recording, as well as one of the most portable live rigs on the planet. You can store everything on it – all your amp profiles, your effects, your delay and reverbs settings. Put it all on a memory stick and you can even plug it into another Kemper at the venue and you’re good to go. It's also much easier to capture those magical moments in the studio when you find the perfect tone. Can you imagine if Slash’s Appetite for Destruction guitar tone could've been captured forever?
Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier
The Dual Rec takes what the 5150 started with crunch and overdrive, but fills out the clean channel. The sound is all Mesa, of course. If you're into nu metal or American hard rock bands like Black Stone Cherry to Dream Theater, you’ll immediately recognize the sound. The amp has this incredibly thick, compressed distortion that has so much power and so much low-end to it. Just the way it looks with the tread plate on the front – it's a very industrial American look. But it has these completely unexpected, beautifully glassy cleans that you could never get through the 5150. You might get them with a Fender amp, but then you wouldn't get the overdrive! So the Dual Rec gives you this beautiful blend of Fender glassy cleans with 5150 brutal overdrives. You can tell when you hear this amp from the squelchy nature of its distortion. It's not a flubby low-end, it's squelchy, but very controlled at the same time. It’s a very distinctive tone!
This article originally appeared in the GUITAR & BASS print edition of LOUDER magazine.