…and Three Van Halen Connections
Montrose, the 1973 self-titled debut album by the band of the same name, is one of those tone-pillar albums – “a pillar of tone that holds up the house of rock” (or pick a different metaphor). It likewise stands on its own as a monument of great tunes and great tone.
I heard “Rock Candy” on satellite radio the other day in the car, and just couldn’t get over how great it sounded. BIG drums, BIG guitar, simple riff, rip your head off vocals by Sammy Hagar who at that time was pretty much unknown.
So I had to find out: What was Ronnie Montrose using on that album – the default thinking is that it was a Les Paul through a Marshall, but was it? And that overall sound, that “hugeness” across the full audio spectrum, something that’s largely missing in this digital recording/playing age. How?
Nose to the ground, and here’s what I found out.
It was NOT a Marshall: It was a tweed Fender Bandmaster, a 3×10, apparently a combo.
> Amp builder and tech Mark Cameron from the metroamp.com forum: “I asked [Ronnie] what he used on this and it’s a 3×10 Bandmaster. He found it at a garage sale the day before he went in to record, bought it for almost nothing and used it as is, he said. Also I think a regular [Fender] Champ on 10 for some stuff – Ted Nugent did this too.”
> Ronnie confirms use of the Bandmaster when talking to vintageguitar.com about his tone on “Bad Motor Scooter” off the same album: “…the one amp I wish I’d never got rid of, a three-ten tweed Fender Bandmaster. I’d gotten it for $90, and when I bought it, it was covered with woodtone contact adhesive paper! The contact paper peeled right off – it didn’t leave any residue and the tweed looked brand new. I used that amp so much I blew it up several times before I finally got rid of it.”
In the ’74 video below, you can plainly see tweed Fenders behind Ronnie. Also, in the video below that – an in-studio track to promo the ’74 release of the Paper Money album – it looks like Ronnie is playing through a small mic’d Fender combo (anyone know what amp that is?).
In case you’re curious, Fender Bandmasters have 6L6 power tubes. To my ears, 6L6s sound less wide and warm than the EL34 tubes used in Marshalls. Small Fender combos I believe usually use lower-power 6V6 power tubes, which sound similarly less-warm (but still good!) than EL84s to my ears.
Guitar-wise, Ronnie favored Gibsons at that time, notably Les Pauls. I couldn’t find any info on exactly which Les Paul(s) may have been used for that recording, but it appears that the ’59 ‘burst that was allegedly stolen and which he wants “back” from Gary Moore wasn’t one of them: In the lawsuit, it states that that guitar was stolen in 1972 at an Edgar Winter Group concert, which I believe would’ve put it before the Montrose recording sessions.
The Sound and the VH Connections
A big part of the Montrose album sound was Ted Templeman (producer) and Don Landee (engineer). If those names sound familiar, that’s because that’s the same pair of guys who produced and engineered the first six Van Halen albums (through 1984). After that, Donn helped through some of the Sammy-era VH albums (while Ted produced David Lee Roth’s band) and Ted came back to co-produce For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge with Andy Johns.
So Ted, and notably Don, helped Van Halen – and particularly Ed – sound huge on those albums:
> User Ross Hogarth on the prosoundweb.com forum: “I just worked with Ted and talked to him about that record [Montrose]. I asked him if the guitar sound was his template for Van Halen [and] he agreed. He also gives big props to Don Landee.”
> From a 1991 Guitar World interview with Ted: “Donn Landee is such a great engineer, he really took a major part in capturing that raw guitar sound [on the Van Halen albums].”
Ed has also been quoted as saying that Don and Ted made his guitar sound much bigger on VH1, and that he liked the hugeness of the Montrose record.
However, Ted says in the same GW interview: “Edward pretty much had that sound of his at the Starwood. As far as I was concerned – and Donn would probably tell you the same thing – recording him was pretty much a question of sticking a mic in front of his amp.”
So here are the Montrose-VH connections:
> Sammy was in both bands;
> Ted and Donn produced and engineered both bands;
> One of Ed’s favorite cranked-amp sounds was a Fender Bandmaster. That allegedly was his home practice amp.
Here’s “Rock Candy,” from the original album: