A couple photos have been kicking around on my desktop for a while now, of Carlos Santana’s amps. Looks pretty cool (below), and you can tell by it that the guy has ears for what he wants. Not a whole lot of schizophrenia going on, at least that’s how I see it.
I wasn’t sure how to post about it until I read the November issue of Vintage Guitar magazine, the one with Carlos on the cover. I thumbed over to the cover story, and whoa – what caught my eye was a shot of Carlos’ pedalboard, which is particularly timely to talk about in view of the recent John versus Johnny post. So I’ll start there.
Here’s what’s on Carlos pedal board:
> Two amp switchers and a wah. (According to the VG article, he has a TC Electronic DT delay offstage but it’s rarely used.)
That’s it. I love it! That’s a man who knows what he’s doing, and it reminded me of two quotes:
> Derek Trucks, when he played with Carlos, noted that Carlos “would show up an hour before his band, trying to improve his tone.”
> Jimmy Somma of Sommatone amps talking about how “you have to play the amp.”
Here’s more detail on Carlos’ signal chain, from his tech Ed Adair via the VG article:
> Usually his PRS Santana II sig model, salmon-colored.
> GHS Big Core strings designed by [former SRV and Santana, and current John Mayer, guitar tech] Rene Martinez. The strings have with a thicker core and thinner windings. The PRS is strung with GHS BCXLs (9.5, 11.5, 16, 25, 33, 43). [You don't fiddle with strings that much unless you are after something: Wood!]
> Carnare GS-6 – From the manufacturer’s website (more here): “Low capacitance and low series resistance provides improved frequency response (flat to 50kHz). A bright, ringing characteristic sound is preserved, even when using HI-Z [?] guitar pickups with long cable runs.
> Pete Cornish LD1. Adair: “That’s a line driver. But more important, it’s an impedance matching unit. The input impedance of a guitar amp is typically 1 mega-ohm, and this is designed to trick the guitar into thinking that it’s plugged directly into an amplifier. So the output of the guitar isn’t changed or boosted, it’s just maximized.”
> Stock Dunlop Crybaby GCB95, which is the original Crybaby.
> Pete Cornish three-way amp selector. Adair calls it “the biggest improvement in [Carlos'] guitar rig in 20 years, simply because it has floating grounds on the output. It will drive long cable lines, and with that in place I don’t have any ground loops. So I can run all the amps grounded for safety purposes, and there are no issues with hums. It’s 100% bulletproof.”
> Channel one is a Mesa/Boogie Mark I 100w head. According to Santana’s website, here are the specs: “Original 100w Mark I, purchased in 1973, no serial number, no effects loop, reverb, graphic EQ (never used); four Ruby Tube 6L6s; three Ruby 12AX7 preamp tubes, one 12AT7 by Phillips.”
> The second and third channels are each custom-made 100w Bludotones.
> The amp racks have a spare Boogie head and two Dumble heads (more on his Dumble heads here). Apparently he is favoring the Bludos right now over the Dumbles.
> Adair: “Channel one on the amp selector goes to the Mark I, which drives the single- 12 cabinet [a single JBL E-120, described on Carlos' website this way: "JBL E120 Hemp Cone Designed by A Brown Sound."]. Channel two goes to one of the Bludotone tops, and that drives one PRS closed-back 4×12 cabinet with Celestion Vintage Series speakers and an open-back 4×12 Tone Tubby [cab] with red alnicos with hemp cones. The third channel goes to the second Bludotone head, which runs a separate PRS 4×12….” Each cab is 8 ohms.
> Carlos on the Dumblesque (or Dumble clone?) Bludotones, which have gotten a lot of buzz in some circles: “Brandon Montgomery from Denver makes these amplifiers that are very consistent with the middle, high and lows – and real lows.” Adair: “Brandon just gets it. Carlos describes what he wants, and [Brandon] translates. That kind of guy is pretty rare, in my experience.”
> On Rene Martinez’s website – where it looks like you can order the Big Core strings he designed – he talks about how Santana initially hired him because he wanted to sound “just like” SRV! He also tells a brief story about how Mayer’s former tech told him not to tweak any knobs, but Rene said F that, tweaked everything to his own ears and presumably Mayer loved it.
More from the VG Article
> Santana has sold more than 100 million records worldwide – wow!
> He once told a record exec, “There’s only artists and con artists, man. I know who I am.”
> Carlos: “You can’t play music coming right out of Berklee because it’s going to sound like a bunch of notes, a bunch of stuff written on paper. People want to hear slices of life, not a bunch of notes on paper.”
> “I don’t believe that you have to suffer to play the blues. I believe that there are things that you can tap into inside your heart to make you feel lamenting, but not whining.”
> Why he did it: “Not for the money, not for the fame, but I wanted to know for myself what it’s like to be respected like BB King – to be adored in the streets, like my father [a musician] was adored. And I got my dream. I’m recognized around the world. It’s a heckuva dream.” [Sounds like it was for the fame!]
Here’s a Youtubian slice of Carlos’ tone: