Do you remember reading Eddie Van Halen’s comments about Randy Rhoads “ripping him off?” I believe those comments were made and published after Randy’s death – though after listening to the transcript of that tape (on the web somewhere) it sounds like Ed didn’t know his comments would be used that way.
Anyhow, we all read it, and I remember thinking: I guess he’s talking about the right-hand-on-the-fingerboard thing.
But maybe not just that. Both guys were known SoCal guitar-slingers, both knew of one another and both in some ways had similar rigs: custom guitars, non-master-vol 100w Marshall Super Lead heads, Marshall cabs, MXR EQs and who knows what else. EVH also used Randy-like efficient speakers (though in combo with Celestion cabs) in the clubs and on Van Halen I.
So who’s to say who did up what first?
Then I read in a 2009 Guitar World interview with Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman producer Max Norman that Randy used…a Variac!
GW: Did he use basically the same guitar rig for both Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman?
Max: Yes, and it was a pretty advanced rig for the time, I suppose. He’d read somewhere about using the Variac. He had a 100-watt Marshall amp, and we dropped the voltage down to 90 or 92 volts. That smokes up the distortion, gives it a creamier edge. And of course a lot of the effects came from his pedal board, the “chip pan.” [Ozzy gave this name to the setup because it created so much hiss and noise that it sounded like French fries—which the British call “chips” – sizzling in a pan.]
Hmm. Blizzard was released in September 1980. EVH’s first Guitar Player interview was in 1978, and in it he doesn’t mention a Variac but does mention “voltage generators” and turning UP the voltage.
Ed’s second guitar gear interview was when he was on the cover of Guitar Player in April 1980, and in that interview he does mention a Variac by name – but talks again about cranking it to 140 and watching the tubes melt.
Now we all know he lowered the voltage to about 90, but how did Randy know?
According to Wikipedia, Blizzard was recorded March 22 to April 19, 1980. So either Randy jumped right on that second GP interview and figured out that lowering the voltage to exactly EVH levels was the ticket, or – more likely – he somehow found out what EVH was doing. And maybe Ed found out.
End of speculation….
Randy’s Recording Rig
In these excerpts from the GW interview and the 1982 Jas Obrecht interview of Max Norman, you’ll see that Randy kept his rig simple. In the studio he used his stage rig, and apparently didn’t mess around with ton of guitar or amps as often happens now.
Jas: Did Randy run his guitar into his effects board and then into his Marshall?
Max: Yeah, yeah. Pretty much all of the time.
Jas: Did he use the same pedalboard he used onstage?
Max: Yeah, exactly the same one.
GW: His pedals were just an MXR chorus and things like that, right?
Max: Yeah. MXR chorus, Korg stuff, a wah…all that stuff. It was a real menace because it would make so much noise.
GW: Did you have to use a noise gate on it to cut down on extraneous noise?
Max: Well, we tried to gate it. You had to gate it to stay sane. Mostly we gated it on the return end of the signal chain, so it wouldn’t chop the sound up. Gating is a pretty messy business. In the end, I basically had to ride the signal in and out manually using faders on the mixing console.
Jas: Was Randy using a 100-watt Marshall stack?
Max: Yeah, a straight 100, a real nice sound, actually. Both cabinets plugged in and stacked up too. We tried it a number of different ways. I prefer the Marshalls with both cabinets, and stacked. They have a somewhat different sound than if there’s just one sitting on the floor.
Jas: Did you have the amp’s back against the wall?
Max: No, it was in a lower room which has concrete walls, in fact. It was about three feet away from the back wall. The sliding doors open to the rest of the studio, which is on a slightly higher level, so the sound would funnel out of the concrete chamber into the rest of the studio, which is an old 16th-century barn, in fact. So I’d have a close mike, a Shure SM-58, down on the Marshall in the concrete room, and then an AKG 451 mike just outside of the room as it’s hitting the stairs, and then a couple more Shure SM-87s out in the room there.
Jas: How would he set the controls on the Marshall?
Max: That’s a difficult question. Pretty much flat-out, I think. [Laughs.] I’m sure the volume was flat-out, because Marshalls don’t really work unless they’re flat-out anyway. But it wasn’t a new Marshall with a preamp; it was one of the older ones without the preamp and just the straight gain.
- > [Here’s a good article (pdf) on how his Marshall was modded and how he set the controls: Pr = 6, Bass = low, Mid = 5.5, Tr = 6.5, Vol1 = 6-6.5, Vol2 = 6-6.5.]
Max: Very few D.I. [direct input] guitars on the tracks – mostly through the amp, turned down to get a clean sound. It was all done through a Marshall. He had a polka-dot Charvel that we used – pretty much all the guitar tracks were done with that guitar. Plus he had a creamy white Les Paul. We used that too. That was pretty good, pretty chunky.
Max: We would do the whole thing, including a guide [track], with all four people there playing in the same room. As long as we had a good bass and drum track, we would take it from there.
Jas: So you’d lay down the drums, bass, and rhythm guitar simultaneously?
Max: Yeah. Vocals too.
Jas: And then the guitars were overdubbed?
Max: Yeah. Same thing for both albums.
OTM and the Diary Album Tones
Jas: “Over the Mountain” has a lot more presence. Was that recorded differently?
Max: No, all the backing tracks were recorded the same way. There’s a lot of different things we did on the guitars [on Diary]. We got into very curious extremes with recording some of the guitars. The basic setup was always the same, but we did a lot of stuff in the control room to change the sound around and get different kinds of feels.
Jas: You mean change the actual tonal quality of the sound?
Max: Yeah, the tonality of the sound. Sometimes I would run him through a little compressor on the board before going to the amp, and stuff like that. I would help the EQ on his guitar by putting it through the board first, and then send it down to the amp downstairs. But generally the miking setup and the speaker setup were the same.
(WARNING: Ozzy lets off at least one F-bomb in this one.) This recording sounds like Randy had his tone control down.
– End of part 2 of 2 –