Belated Rhoads Insights, Pt 2

May 6, 2011 | By | 7 Replies More

Rhoads_Randy_V_2Variac (!), Kept it Simple

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.

Signal Chain

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 –

Category: Edward Van Halen, Marshall, Randy Rhoads, Shure

Comments (7)

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  1. Ken_A says:

    Not to bag on Randy, but I think there might be something to Ed’s comments. While I don’t think Randy ever imitated anyone out of a lack of original ideas, I think he might have done so to please the fans. Everybody knows his heart was in his meticulous, classically influenced guitar playing, but the average metal head at the time was probably more interested in screaming bar dives and tapped licks through a wide-open Marshall.

    If I’m keeping track correctly, Ed was using the Variac at least as far back as 1976. Maybe he wasn’t always so secretive (remember the story of him getting in trouble for playing the rough mix of Van Halen I for all his friends), or maybe people were snooping around his stuff in the clubs. It seems unlikely that multiple guitar players from the same scene at the same time would independently decide to turn down their amps with a light dimmer.

    A few years ago, Rudy Sarzo said in Guitar Player that Randy was using a Peavey solid state amp when he was in Quiet Riot. I don’t think he said what kind, so I don’t know if it would have made sense to use a Variac or not.

  2. Ace Steele says:

    As someone who was fortunate enough to know Randy Rhoads during his Quiet Riot days, I can tell you that Randy’s stage amps at the time consisted of a Peavey Standard solid state head & 2 Ampeg B42X 4 -12 cabinets. These cabinets are 4 X 12’s with 2 rectangular ports between the top 2 speakers & the bottom 2. Randy used an MXR Distortion +, a MXR Phase 90, MXR 10 band EQ, a Chrome Vox Wah, MXR Flanger, & 2 Maestro Echoplexes. I’d be happy to provide photos of Randy’s Amps, front & back to WoodyTone, upon request.

    “Stealing” tone info from Eddie Van Halen just wasn’t in Randy’s DNA.
    The LAST thing Randy would do, would be to try and sound like somebody else from the same scene. The Variac wouldn’t have done Randy any good with his solid state Peavey head, anyway. If anything, Randy’s interest in any “Power Soak” would be because of Tom Scholz’s tones on that first Boston LP. Randy was well known for blasting the 8track of that record in his little Karmann Ghia, long before Ed’s first record ever came out. Randy’s brother, Kelle would be the first person to confirm that.

    Respectfully, Ace Steele

    • michael dee says:

      Hello ,I’m Ace Steeles friend and a friend of Randys also taking some lessons from him that aalot of the time I was just asking questions ,ace is correct about randys quiet riot set up and when he left to england for ozzy in 79 he borrowed 2 marshall stacka from greg leon until he got his deal with marshall.the amps he took over were set up a lot like eddies and it was no secret by the time randy was with ozzy every one knew about using vatiacs ,even me! The one little thing besides the way he played was using the mxr distortion + ,that have randy a lot of his sound ,if that was out of.the. loop

      • michael dee says:

        Opps,wasn’t done,it is Michael Dee still.I was.saying the sound would have been a lot more eddie sounding and probably bigger sounding ,but,and this is my opinion having known him he took down a small practice amp either an ampeg or fender champ with the mxr distortion + amd he liked the sound and was trying to get a similar tone but bigger,from a marshall ,in fact I’ve heard he had a ampeg speaker cabinet he picked up in england and either used it as a side stage monitor or something,I found this out through bob risson who made amps for motley crue ,lita ford and me! He said he had an ampeg speaker cab. with randys name painted on it and sold it for 30,000 bucks to a wealthy randy fan. The basics are in that interview but randy was trying to make a name(that’s why the little bit of tapping just so people would he could do it ,Randy had no reason to rip off eddie and eddie got a hige ego real fast, in 78 when they would reherse in burbank at visions studio you could talk with eddienor dave no big deal,by 1980 you couldnt say anything to them and in cussed dave out for being a dick a letting fame go to his big head ,that would never happen with Randy he was kind,too kind for that lifestyle. The best ghitarist with the worst vocalist,too bad but he left a legacy!

  3. Den H says:

    Well, I just recently saw an interview with George Lynch on youtube talking about his influences. During it, he mentions that Randy Rhoads picked up the tapping riff in Flying High Again off of him. The title of the video is “George Lynch Discusses Early Guitar Influences”. Anyway, Randy’s sound doesnt sound like VH to me. But Im inclined to believe RR was influenced by VH and may have borrowed and used Eddie’s discoveries to help him achieve his sound…. considering he did show he wasnt inhibited from using riffs from Lynch nor using custom guitars like Eddie.

  4. BA says:

    It’s pretty debatable to say who did this first and that first.

    Eddie made it big first, but if you listen to the Quiet Riot records from the 70s Randy was tapping and doing similar techniques as EVH and Lynch. I believe it was probably part of the competitive environment of the L.A. club scene at the time with all of those guys playing the same circuit.

    Theoretically Rhoads’ songwriting was and still is much more advanced than what EVH and Lynch are doing. The tapped sequence in “Flying High Again” modulates over the chord progression of the solo section. Lynch never did anything like that.

    Eddie was also very insecure in those days and it’s been written that when Randy did encounter Eddie, EVH turned his back to Randy so he couldn’t see what he was playing. Don’t know if it’s true, but given Eddie’s behavior with singers it’s probably not too far off.

    • admin says:

      Yeah but…everyone around there including the guys you mention acknowledge Ed came up with it first, and Lynch said he showed Randy the FHA tapping riff one time backstage.

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