Mick Mars Uses Vintage Gear: Who Knew?

July 29, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More

Mick with his '60s parts Strat

The September 2009 issue of Vintage Guitars magazine has Mick Mars of Motley Crue on the cover. My first thought was: Another guy who makes a lot of dough and buys a bunch of vintage stuff. But after reading the interview, I was surprised to find out that Mick actually uses this stuff, in the studio and on tour – which is why I’m writing it up.

Here are some of the highlights of the interview, plus some further info (and photos) I dug up on his rig.


> He’s a big fan of ’60s and ’70s Strats, and owns, among others: a ’62 in fiesta red, a black ’64/’65, a mid-’60s pre-CBS sunburst and a couple of ’70s.

> The most interesting guitar, however, is a Strat “pieced together with parts from ’63, ’64 and ’65 Strats with J.M. Rolph pickups [see below] and a Floyd Rose,” which is one of Mick’s main stage axes.

> He appears to favor rosewood fingerboards, and doesn’t care about aesthetics. “When I buy a guitar, I look for something I can play,” he says. “I don’t buy pristine guitars because I like to play them. If I drop them, I don’t care.” He adds: “I typically don’t buy guitars for looks. I buy them for tone – the sound, the output…. I’m a tone freak.”

> He took the paint off an early Charvel because the sound “was being choked off.”

> When picking a guitar for a sound he wants for a song, he first plays it through a clean amp. That way, “you can tell which one has the tone that you want.”

> His action is set “really low.” He uses Ernie Ball 11s, tuned down to D (regular tuning but a whole step lower), and loosens the trem springs (he uses three) “to make it easier to play.”

Amps and Effects

> In the studio he blends amps: “I use a Vox AC30, a Hiwatt and a Marshall [modded per below], and hook them all togtether. This is old-school, using all the tones from each different amp and using them [in] different combinations. Pro Tools plugins don’t sound the same.”

> Live he achieves the same ends with modded 50- and 100-watt Marshall JCM 800s, Soldano SLO-100s and Rivera Boneheads to beef up the bottom. All are then run through VHT and Crest power amps.

> He A/Bd his live amps through cabs with vintage Celestion greenbacks and current Celestion Vintage 30s, and prefers the V30s.

> The Marshalls are modded with an extra preamp gain stage, for three instead of the stock two.

> He uses few effects, notably an old Eventide H3000 Harmonizer, which he says “has a lot to do with my sound.”

Variac and More Details

I found photos and a description on Flickr of Mick’s current live rig. Note in the following that it says the Marshalls are modded by Jose, meaning Jose Arredondo, the guy who allegedly modified an unknown-at-the-time Edward Van Halen’s amps and possibly helped Ed with other mods (e.g., pedals).

“Mick is cranking this rig through twelve 4×12 cabs using two VHT Classic power amps and a Crest for the Sub. The heads used are two Jose modded Marshalls and a Soldano SLO 100. The Custom Audio preamp is used primarily for clean. Everything is run with the biggest Variac I have seen . The big red box on top of the power amp rack.

“There are vintage effects units that Mick digs still in the system. Eventide H3000 harmonizer, Yamaha SPX 1000, TC M1, Alesis Quadraverb, Custom Audio dual stereo line mixer, Rocktron Replifex, Custom input selector, Roctron RSB-18 switcher, Custom Audio 4×4.”



Apparently all of his stage guitars have the J.M. Rolph pickups. Mick says, “My guitar tech got in touch with him because my pickups were putting out 14k and he tolds us he winds them to 16k. So I got a couple of them, and they screamed! So then I got a couple dozen of them.”

I’ve never heard of J.M. Rolph, but here is his site: jmrolph.com. Mick says the Rolph pickups are “high-output [around 16k vs. 8-9k for PAF-style humbuckers], but not high distortion.” The higher output is “not for the purpose of increasing distortion. It’s part of my tone. It resonates better.”

But his favorite pickups are Gibson T-Tops. “I can’t get enough of them,” he says.


> He’s not a fan of blazing speed. “Lots of people are more concerned [about] how fast they can play. They like sweeps, and playing faster and faster, but there’s no time for the note to develop any soul.”

> He really admires Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme and Randy Rhoads, guys who are fast but who have styles. “There are a few [fast players] who are really good, like Nuno…. When I hear Randy Rhoads, I think, That is a guitar player!”


Does Mick have a distinctive sound? I’d say yes. A chorused-sounding (Eventide), detuned, heavy sound that is most definitley NOT scooped or all-preamp or the other things done to make guitars sound bad in heavy bands. Call me crazy, but in my opinion his tone also is not overly distorted.

Does he have a distincitve style? I’d also vote yes on this question. If Motley Crue had a different guitar player and you were familiar with their tunes, I bet you’d notice that the non-Mick version of the Crue sounded different.

In the interview, Mick talks about doing a solo album, which would be very interesting. Motley Crue has a distinctive sound and style, and bassist Nikki Sixx apparently is the band’s main songwriter. So it would be interesting to see how much of the Crue’s sound and style comes from Mick, and to hear what his tone is like outside of the band.


If you think Mick looks a little sickly in photos, even beyond the makeup, that’s not just because of the stage makeup or because at 58 he’s the oldest member of the band. It’s because he suffers from a disease called ankylosing spondylitis, with which he was diagnosed at age 19. Reports had him in very bad shape prior to the Crue reunion in 2004.

Here’s what Mick said about his disease in a 2005 interview with Metal Edge magazine:

Metal Edge: For those that aren’t familiar with the disease, what exactly does it do to you?

Mick Mars: “It changes up your spine, it affects your eyes, you can’t see as clear with them. Right now, my disease has gone up to my brain stem and into my throat and stuff — I have one vocal cord working and the other is dead. I have a team of doctors trying to figure out how to get it back so that I can have a full voice again. It’s like there are bones growing over your bones and shifting it up — like if you were to put a brace on your back, then try and stand up, you can’t do it. It gets to your hands, it gets in your elbows, it gets in your knees, any place there are joints. It starts in the hips, and that’s why I had the one replaced and need to do another one. It has nothing to do with age — you could be 17 or 18 years old and have it, and what happens is, they need to cut it out, or it goes through your whole body.”

Metal Edge: It sounds excruciatingly painful.

Mick Mars: “It is, it is…and you go to the doctor, and they give you the quick fix, so I had to get myself off that whole thing, too. They don’t try to treat it, they just give you pain pills. Well, why don’t you do anything about it? Overseas they do things, they have remedies, and they work like eighty percent of the time, but over here, the doctors really don’t seem to know a lot about it, and it’s really upsetting.”

Category: Celestion speakers, Charvel, Eventide, Marshall, Mick Mars, Rivera, Soldano, Strat, Vox

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