If you spend any time searching YouTube for Edward Van Halen-related tones, you’ll probably run across vids by Curt Granger, who owns an amp company by the same name. His 50-watter sounds “just like” that mythical tone in many ways. When I heard it, I had to know more.
I chased him down for a brief interview, with that tone as a starting point. Here we go.
> Note that Curt and his amps will be at the Southeastern Guitar and Amp Show in Raleigh this weekend.
AmpGAS: You seem to be an EVH fan. True?
Curt: Absolutely. I first heard Eddie in 1979. I didn’t immediately latch on to his playing because I was just beginning to discover music and what it was really about. I was into KISS, Boston and Journey. After my mom died in 1980 I spent a lot more time listening to music, mostly in the afternoon after school. My first real exposure was the Women and Children First album. Then in 1981 I started riding to school with a neighbor and he would blast Diver Down everyday and I fell in love with Eddie’s playing, as well as Van Halen as a band.
When I started playing guitar the next year, I immediately started trying to learn Eddie’s music. Back then there was no internet or tab, so it was all by ear, which is something I think a lot today’s guitarist are lacking – ear training.
When did you start to try to get his sound through amps of your own, and is that why you undertook amp-building in the first place?
I suppose subconsciously I developed an ear for his tone, but I never intentionally set out to build a Van Halen amp. I love the old plexis and early ’70s metal-panel amps. I bought a 1973 Marshall Super Bass for $300 in 1990, and started modding it. They’re very versatile amps.
During that time I played in a hard rock/metal band and used to run an ADA-MP1 right into the input. I used to get really great tones, especially for the type music we were playing. But as I got older, I started appreciating the less-gain approach. High-gain amps have their place, but too many guitarist use them to hide their mistakes and poor technique. And when you really listen to Van Halen’s early stuff, the tone sounds huge, but it’s still very articulate, dynamic and focused.
I have a degree in electronics, so I really built my first amp just to see if I could. It wasn’t even a plexi-type amp – it was a Tweed Deluxe clone. Great-sounding amp, by the way. I still have it.
How did you get from modding to producing your own amps? And how long have you been making Grangers?
I finally decided to attempt to build an amp in 2006. It was just a matter of finding the time to do it since I’ve always had a full plate with various bands and recording projects, as well as an 8 to 5 job with AT&T up until the summer of 2009. After I built my fourth amp and a local guitarist heard it and wanted to buy it, I realized I might be able to make money on the side. I used to do web design on the side too and had reached a point where I was burned out on it, so the amp-building business was very appealing. I sold my first Granger amp in 2007, and I’ve built nearly 60 since then, with the business steadily growing each year.
Back to Ed: What do you think is the key, amp-wise, for getting Ed’s tone?
Any good plexi-type amp really, but it has to be cranked! So many guys neglect the effect the speakers have in creating that tone. You’ve got to get the mids turned up as well. If your mids are set below 6, it’ll never happen.
Also, do not overlook the production aspect. Ted Templeman and Donn Landee did so much for getting Eddie’s raw sound down to tape in a way that made it sound fabulous.
Finally, and I really hate to say this, but you’ve got to be able to play like Eddie. The guy had incredibly strong hands, and just man-handled the guitar. You can hear it in his playing.
You offer different tube choices and have recommended different tubes for getting the EVH tone. What are the differences tone- and response-wise between EL34, E34L, KT77 and 6CA7 power tubes?
All very subtle. The E34L and KT77 have a little more headroom. The KT77 sounds a little rounder – the highs are a little softer. Nobody makes a really great 6CA7 anymore.
Have you ever used 6CA7s, including the newer Electro-Harmonix ones?
I’ve tried the big-bottle Electro-Harmonix 6CA7s, but didn’t think they were anything special. Maybe it was just what I had for lunch that day!
Which tube do you prefer for getting EVH tone?
I like JJs and Winged Cs. The JJ EL34 seems to have the best tone, as well as being very rugged. I’ve never burned up a JJ or had one fail yet. They take very high plate voltages, red plate, and keep on going. They keep a more consistent tone through their lifespan than others too, so less frequent tube changes.
How about for other classic rock tones?
The same. I’ve got a pair of Winged Cs in one of my amps, and they sound great too.
> Check out Curt’s site at grangeramp.com.
I love the EVH-like “clank” of this tone.