Santana’s Simple (Pretty Much) Rig

September 16, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Carlos with the salmon Santana II (PRS photo).

Carlos with the salmon Santana II (PRS photo).

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.”

Here's his current pedalboard (VG mag photo – click to see way bigger).

Here's his current pedalboard (VG mag photo – click to see way bigger).


> 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.”

Here are the amp racks. The second Bludotone is under the first. (Can't remember where I found this photo and the one below – click to see it way bigger.)

Here are the amp racks. The second Bludotone is under the first. (Can't remember where I found this photo and the one below – click to see it way bigger.)

Santana's speaker setup. From the VG interview, it sounds like the two flame maple 4x12 Mesa cabs you see on the left have been replaced by PRS cabs. (Click to see way bigger.)

Santana's speaker setup. From the VG interview, it sounds like the two flame maple 4x12 Mesa cabs you see on the left have been replaced by PRS cabs. (Click to see way bigger.)


> 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:

Category: Bludotone, Carlos Santana, Celestion speakers, Dumble, Dunlop/Cry Baby, JBL speakers, Mesa/Boogie, Pete Cornish, Tone Tubby

Comments (4)

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  1. jeff makor says:

    I respect this techs work and his pedal board does look better made than before but like many, I favour the simple sound and set up of every other period. Carlos will always sound first class, but his tone is not that unique singing tone I hear on earlier videos , gigs and recordings. he now sounds like a lot of others, qwuite rocky and fizzy toned without the vocal quality of yesteryear.

  2. rbseven says:

    Wow… I would have to completely disagree with the last comment.

    Carlos Santana has always had a beautiful and unique tone… He has to be one of the most identifiable guitar players in history. One of the things I respect about him most is that he is always striving to be better… To make his tone better. Over the years… his tone has always been great. Recently, his tone has sounded better than ever… Absolutely gorgeous. Warm, fat, clear and dynamic. It sounds very organic and woody… It sounds very Carlos. We have all said or heard that most of a players tone comes from the player… I believe the rest comes from finding the right gear and signal path that communicates and translates what you hear, feel and want to say.

    Carlos is a true inspiration of heart, soul and tone.

    “With one note, he speaks a thousand words.”


  3. Pat says:

    Carlos sounded and played best in the seventies.No doubt about it.Way more fire-even when he used solid-state, like at Woodstock.I think my favourite Santana sound was when he used a P-90 SG through a maxed-out Silver-face Fender combo.Or the early Boogie/Les Paul period.Even the early eighties,with the fancy Yamaha guitars,his sound was awesome-check out “Europa”.
    Now,I love how PRS’s look,but I’ve never really heard one where the tone blew me away.Well,maybe one-an early 90’s all-mahogany,basic model.My tech has it now,but the tone has gone to sleep,because the previous owner kept it in a case under the bed for 10 years.But before that it was scary good-sounding-the body was resonant,even acoustically.But,I believe that PRS is one of the reasons Carlos sounds so generic now-that and the fact that he has lost most of the “fire” from his playing-(a lot like the way EC has also)-BTW,I have played through another guitarists Bludo-Tone amp-and they are very nice machines.

  4. Would love to get a complete explantion on Carlos Santana’s Pedal Board setup. Does he still use a Boogie mark 1 mars 3 effect pedal
    and does he use a Ibanez Tube screamer TS 9 and a ibanez Modulation delay and a T Rex Sustainer.
    Do we have to use all the 3 amps from the 3 way swith to get that exact sound.

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