The Final Word About EVH’s Super Lead?

July 19, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More
Here's the back of EVH's Super Lead (click to see it bigger).

Here's the back of EVH's Super Lead (click to see it bigger).

John Suhr!

A hundred years from now there will be mythology about Edward Van Halen’s early VH signal chain. But right now the unending discussions about it (which I am not denigrating!) are largely rumor or misinformation resulting from some version of the telephone game: someone heard/read something, told someone else, etc.

Mostly. But once in a while new, or at least reinforcing, facts will come to light. FACTS!

One such instance recently happened on a thread. You can peruse the whole thing here, but I’ve already done it, extracted the good stuff and thus you don’t have to spend the 60+ minutes it takes to wade through the 30+ pages!

In the thread – which contains the usual opining about Ed’s signal chain – John Suhr chimed in. And more than once. John is of course the guitar and amp wizard behind the company that bears his name, and works with various artists whose names you can see on his website.

One of those artists is EVH, and in 1991 John worked on Ed’s beloved Marshall Super Lead plexi (which refers to the plexiglass control panel). Here’s what he said about it in the thread – edited for readability and brevity. The reason I am writing about it and you are reading about it is that it is a goldmine of detail!

“The bottom line for me is when I saw it the amp was 100% untouched [no mods] except for filter caps and one added part which I prefer to keep to myself (Dave [Friedman, LA amp tech] knows it well of course too). It is a very minor addition that Jose [Arrendondo, the guy who Ed initially said modded his amp and then admitted he didn’t] did giving it a slight bit more bass in the treble channel.

“When Ed demo’d the amp for me, he dimed every control. The circuit other than that was stock…but it was not the everyday normal [Super Lead] circuit. There were a few oddball parts that Marshall did use from time to time: Not every Marshall follows the [Marshall] schematics.

“The only change, besides the minor tweaks when I saw it, was the VHT transformer [Steve Fryette, founder and former owner of VHT, worked on the head at one point and replaced the output transformer]. My job was to replace that transformer with a donor from another plexi with a similar circuit and close serial number that belonged to Matt [Bruck, Ed’s former tech and now assistant].

Here's John (Suhr photo).

Here's John (Suhr photo).

“After me [the amp] went to Europe [presumably to Peter Van Wheelden, documented in an old issue of one the guitar mags]and everything was rewired and became a mess he [Ed? Matt?] wasn’t happy with. I believe Dave [Friedman] has the amp right now and is trying to breath life back in to it….

“Ed even told me personally as he stood 2 feet away that this was ‘the’ amp and the only amp he used up until F.U.C.K. for recording. Now why would Ed lie to me when he was trusting me to restore the amp back to its original condition? He told me everything he could remember.

“I still have all voltages notes and scribbles [about Ed’s amp] in my old Groove Tube book.

“When I asked [Ed] about what he did to pump it up for more gain he didn’t really remember except that he probably had the Echoplex goosing it, turned the light dimmer [Variac] down until the [amp] pilot light started to go out or dim when you hit a single note (85-90V). I believe the amp also had a standby jack in the back that disconnected the power tube cathodes.

“Now please understand me: When Ed played through this amp in my shop it sounded EVERY bit like Ed and the first albums with and without the Variac. When I played through it it sounded every bit like me (cry).

“Bottom line is, Ed tired of less gain [with the old Marshalls] and wanted more. I think that amp sounded great back then but Ed was trying to move on. On F.U.C.K. he used my preamp for many of the tracks as well as a [Soldano] SLO100 for solos – that is the time I was working with him, ’90-’92.

“Ed would make any decent amp sound like Ed. If you heard the dry clips from the original recordings like many of us have you would hear so much was done in the production side.

“Dave or I are both capable of making a reproduction for you, but if you don’t play like Ed did back then and don’t slap whatever he did in front [of the amp] back in the day then you won’t get too far. This is not a friendly, bedroom amp. It is loud, not as dirty as you think and in your face.”


That was all from one post! Then he added the following tasty bits in subsequent posts:

“It is just a great, loud plexi, I have heard many similar. The Variac brought it down to 50w and gave it some ‘brown.’ Personally I still can’t play that amp ’cause it is too raw for me. It takes someone like Ed to pull it off, or Pete [Thorn] or Al [Estrada] or Mark [Rockstah on the Metro forum].”

“The amp I worked on was [serial #] SL12301. [Ed] said he might have hit it with the Echoplex (which has gain) or an EQ [e.g., the MXR 6-band]. Jose, rest his soul – I had him [alter a plexi] for me in the ’80s as well – did not tell a lot of truths about Ed’s setup back then [referring to a user’s comment about how Jose told him Ed used a distortion box on VH1].

“There was never a master in that amp that I remember – all solder joints that were original were very easy to detect. Jose did put slave outs in the amps and also I believe had a standby jack in there, which would explain some extra holes. I also think that putting a Master in there during [the] holy grail era is something Ed would have remembered to tell me.

“Ed was trying to help out the guy who maintained his amps [Jose]. There were no mods other than one that takes less time to do than it takes to open the chassis, and certainly wasn’t necessary for him to get his tone.

“Ed was working on [a signature] amp with Jose for years until near the end [of Jose’s life]. It never got off the ground to sound the way Ed wanted it to sound. If Jose did gain mods on Ed’s amps, which I know is not true, then it would have been a slam-dunk easy thing to put on the market since it was already tried and true and tested.”

– End of part 1 of 2 –

Category: Edward Van Halen, Marshall, Suhr

Comments (7)

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  1. Jim W says:

    Great work. Thanks for posting.

  2. Gee Halen says:

    There's a method for ME to achieve a bedroom-friendly brown-like sound. I have a Kramer Baretta with a (I guess) kinda higher output DiMarzio pickup, which I run into a stock, Taiwanese Boss DS-1. On the pedal I have the Tone and Level knob all the way DOWN with the Distortion all the way UP. Then I run the thing into a Peavey Nano Valve amp, a Class "A", 5W fully valve stuff. With the lower, but already distorted, compressed tone (note: it's still just the DS-1), I can run the amp on at least level 5 (out of 10), which is already loud enough for the neighbours in this block of flats I live in (note: on level 5 with the amp only you get this crystal-clear clean tone if you are just plucking gently, as soon you hit a big E-chord, it starts to scream wildly – great dynamics. You need the pedal to even these wild differences, but you can still play a lot with the gain on the amp).

    What happens is that I try to avoid preamp distortion in favour of poweramp distortion, and indeed, I can get many of the characteristics of EVH's tone. With the overdrive-kinda tone from the amp mixed with the distortion from the pedal you get this rich, mid-range sound with a little bit of hair, which won't mess up with chords, great for rhythm-sound (thumps really well with palm-muting), and sounds very EVH-ish with lead, but you have to work on harmonics, especially below the 4th fret.

    It's a really cheap, great sounding method in my opinion.

  3. Ollie Woodall says:

    Now why on earth did Ed send the amp to Peter Van Hasslehoff if John had been in there and sorted it all out 3 years prior? Was Ed not happy with John's work on the OT swapout?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Before the Dutch guy, before Suhr, the amp came to us at Soldano. I worked for Soldano in the late 80's-early 90's when Ed bought three SLO 100's (one of which he took to Peavey, which resulted in the 5150). Anyway, Ed's amp was totally stock except for the one little mod that everyone wants to keep secret. Well, here it is: On V2, there is a 820 ohm cathode resistor. Some plexis have this resistor bypassed with a .68 capacitor. Most Marshalls have no bypass cap here, just the 820 ohm. Well, Ed's amp had a 330uF electrolytic capacitor bypassing this 820 ohm resistor. If you look at Fender schematics for the tweed Bassman amp, Fender already tried this idea on the 5F6 Bassman (with a 25uF), but removed it on the next model, the famous 5F6A. Just adding that capacitor adds more gain than you might think. Add that cap to the Variac set at about 85 volts and all the other stuff, and there you are.

  5. James says:

    I find it interesting that john Suhr wants to keep something to himself, when he used to call us at Soldano all the time to learn about amplifiers. Next thing I know—he’s an amp guru.

  6. Matt says:

    What about the white pot that used to be all the to the left where the giant flat head screw is now? In the VH2 studio session photos it looks like a master volume or something. And they’re saying it was never modified? something is screwy here.

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