This affordable, battery- or DC-powered multi-effector is a sonic smorgasbord for guitarists on the go.
A lot of old-school guitarists will turn tail and run at the sight of a multi-effects unit. But multi-effect fear isn’t altogether irrational, because, let’s face it, a lot of multi-effect pedals and rack units are bears to work with, especially when time is short and you just want to plug in and play.
With the new ME-80, however, Boss clearly prioritized ease of use, and this surprisingly utilitarian, powerful, and portable unit is relatively simple to operate, a lot of fun, and great for home demo studios, small, informal gigs, and even unorthodox tinkerers who like the straightest possible line to the most possible sounds.
Tough, Easy to Toss Around
The ME-80 is built for moving from place to place fast, and while it’s not super-light, it’s sturdy as hell, with an almost entirely metal enclosure and chassis. Apart from the knobs and switches, there’s very little plastic.
You can also power the ME-80 with six AA batteries, which means you can pick it up and move from room to room, or go from jamming through headphones in the kitchen to blasting through your amp—all with the uncomplicated glee of a kid toting around his battery-powered keyboard. If you’re a busker, play pub gigs, or perform at the farmer’s market, this kind of portability can be invaluable.
The addition of USB connectivity maximizes the creative potential of the ME-80 too. Once you’ve downloaded the ME-80 software, you can literally be writing a riff with the device in the backyard and capture the same sounds on your DAW up in your office a few minutes later.
Obviously, the ME-80 isn’t the first multi-effect unit or modeler to deliver portability and connectivity. Devices like Line 6’s POD and Boss’ own GT-100 have similar capabilities, and the ranks of tablet- and smartphone-based guitar interfaces seem to grow daily. But the ME-80 offers an interface that’s much more familiar and intuitive to the typical stompbox user, and arguably, a whole lot more fun to play with than other devices.
For starters, the ME-80’s interface is basically a little hive of stompboxes. Each of the four footswitches closest to the guitarist is a bypass switch dedicated to one of four effects groups: compression and FX1 (which includes a ring modulator and acoustic simulator among others), overdrive and distortion, modulation, and delay (which also includes a looper). Three footswitches above and to the left of the four main effect switches activate a preamp simulation section, an EQ/FX2 section (which also includes a second phaser, delay, and looper), and a reverb control.
Each effects group has a dedicated set of knobs, including one that selects a specific amp or effect type. To the right of the footswitches, there’s an expression pedal for operating pedal effects (wah, talk box, Whammy-style octave up and down functions, and more). You can also use the pedal as an expression pedal to control modulation rates and delay level.
The two leftmost pedals in the top row also let you select presets when in “memory” mode, which is activated by the upper right switch. There’s a raft of cool factory presets. But creating your own is a straightforward, three-step process.
The sounds inside the ME-80 range from really good to passable, depending on the effect or amp. Some voices, sounds, and effects—the “tweed” amp, the delays, and the tremolo effect—have a warm, organic quality and relatively natural dynamic response. Others—heavy phase settings, the ring mod, and most of the heavy distortions—more readily betray their digital roots.
The effects typically put function before freak-out potential: There’s few deep, ambient space verbs and fractured delay sounds to be found here. Still, with a bit of tinkering and an adventurous spirit you can create a lot of unusual, recording-worthy textures, and the right pairings can make the ME-80 sound very lush.
Mating the rotary effect and the spacious and spacey “tera echo” delay along with a sustain-heavy compressor and a Vox-like combo-amp simulation generates an expansive, swirling, sci-fi/psychedelic tapestry. The “harmonist” (which can be set for thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths or an octave above and below) and a little boost and tape echo will make you sound like Duane and Dickey without the expense and hassle of a second guitarist.
There are some peculiarities to get used to on the ME-80. For one thing, you have to keep effect levels for modulation and delay effects uniform with OD and comp effects if you’re using more than one effect. For example, if you’re about to launch into the Uni-Vibe segment of raging Hendrix solo and the “uni-v” effect level is too low, you’ll experience a highly anti-climatic signal cut for the whole effects chain rather than for just the selected effect level. This type of signal cut might makes sense when you’re trying to keep a hot fuzz in check, but it makes less sense for other effects. The workaround is to create a preset. But if you prefer to play without them you have to be careful about effect balance.
The features covered here represent just a fraction of what the ME-80 can do. And while the ME-80 is not without limitations (most often these are fair tradeoffs for simplicity), it’s a smart, streamlined way of getting a lot of sounds for very little dough.
Some sounds, like the delays, combo, and tweed amp voices are a real pleasure to use and have a relatively organic feel. Others—most notably the high-gain distortions—exhibit a more digital edge and lack the touch and reactivity of the genuine article. The unit definitely sounds best when paired with a tube amp with a neutral EQ setting. But cleaner sounds are effective with a good PA when you use the internal speaker simulator and dial up a sweetening EQ that massages highs and mids.
The real magic of the ME-80 is it’s ability to deliver so many reasonably convincing sounds in a sturdy package you can power with a pack of AAs or DC adaptor. That means a wealth of possibilities for remote performance and production. If all you have is a set of headphones, you can practice anywhere. Hook the ME-80 up to a battery-powered amp and you can play for the rest of the world at any location—say, jams on a mountaintop—with all the functionality of a traditional, familiar pedalboard.
Taken together, the ME-80 is a set of smart design compromises in a multi-effect unit so affordable and easy to interact with that it rarely feels like any kind of compromise at all.
Watch the Review Demo:
How Marshall went to hell and back to create their first 100-watt amp.
It’s the stuff of rock legend: In the summer of 1965, Pete Townshend asked Jim Marshall to build an amp even larger and louder than Marshall’s current JTM45 model. Marshall delivered with model 1959, sometimes called the JTM45/100 due to the fact that early models featured the JTM45’s distinctive front-panel. It featured four output tubes in place of the JTM45’s two tubes. The Who first used the new model—with a colossal 8x12 cabinet—sometime around November 12, 1965. Finally, the band had amplifiers loud enough to compete with Keith Moon’s explosive drumming.
But there’s more to the story of the first 100-watt stack. Jim Marshall (who passed away in April 2012 at the age of 88) and his visionary colleagues, Ken Bran and Dudley Craven, had to surmount countless design hurdles and battle the technical limitations of available components. It’s a tale of ingenuity, dogged determination, and sheer lust for power.
But to tell it, we must back up a few years.
The Genesis of Crunch
It was probably just a matter of time before someone realized that rock ’n’ roll needed another voice for its guitars in addition to clean Fender amplifier tone. But who would have thought that someone would be a drummer? A drum teacher, Marshall began selling drums on July 7, 1960, at his new shop at 76 Uxbridge Road in Hanwell, a town in the London borough of Ealing. “All the drummers used to bring their groups in with them, which is how I got to meet guitarists like Pete Townshend and Ritchie Blackmore,” Jim later said. “They kept pestering me to stock guitars and amps, so I decided to give it a go.” As a result, Jim expanded to electric guitars, basses, and amplifiers—a wise move due to the booming rock ’n’ roll market.
In 1962, Jim hired Ken Bran as his repair engineer. Marshall’s shop was selling Fender and Selmer amplifiers, but Fenders were expensive in the UK, and Selmers broke down too often. In conversations with players who came to his shop, Jim realized many were searching for a sound they couldn’t quite get from amps available at the time. “Listening to what they were saying gave me a very good idea of what they wanted,” Jim recalled. “So, I decided to put together a small team to build a valve amplified with the specific sound the lads were after.” As a result, Marshall and Bran discussed producing their own amplifier. Bran told Marshall that he was comfortable doing repairs, but could not create a complete circuit. He recommended Dudley Craven, an electronics apprentice then working at EMI Electronics. Craven, 18, was known as the “Whiz Kid” because of his youth and skill with electronics. He jumped at the challenge of realizing Marshall’s vision of a rock ’n’ roll guitar amp. Ken Flegg also joined the team as an engineer who assembled the components on tag boards.
Marshall's 40th Anniversary JTM45/100 head and 4x12 cab reissues. Photos courtesy of Marshall Amplification.
Creating the First Marshall Amplifier
In the fall of 1962 Craven was living at 202C Uxbridge Road while working for Marshall. Behind the house was the tiny ham radio shack where Craven broadcast as “G3PUN.” Here Craven conducted most of the original testing of the JTM45, Marshall’s first amplifier. Friends would sometimes find Craven asleep at the workbench, exhausted from trying to keep up with amplifier orders.
JTM45 prototyping began in September 1962. In those early days Marshall would fabricate the aluminum chassis, preparing it for component mounting. Bran would obtain and install the bolt-on components, at which point Craven, the chief designing engineer, would take over the build, installing the circuit board, wiring everything, installing tubes, and setting the bias. The team produced about one amplifier per week. When a prototype was completed, Marshall would ask Pete Townshend or Ritchie Blackmore to demo the amplifier at his shop. After five prototypes, a sixth was chosen to become the production model. “As soon as I heard it I said, ‘that’s it – that’s the Marshall sound.’” Jim later remembered. “It was the sound I could hear in my head based on what the boys told me they were looking for.” This unit would become known as the “#1 amp.” Its circuitry essentially mimicked that of the 5F6-A Fender Bassman amp, though with some subtle departures that resulted in different gain, loading, brightness, and harmonic content.
By June 1964 the first Marshall factory had opened on Silverdale Road in Hayes. The 5,000 square foot facility was staffed by 15 employees who produced about 20 amps a week. Celebrities like Brian Poole & the Tremeloes and the Who would drop by, creating an exciting work environment.
Enter the Who
In 1965 Pete Townshend and John Entwistle of the Who were trying any amp that might be heard over Keith Moon’s drums. They briefly used Vox amplifiers, though they were ultimately deemed unsatisfactory.
At the time most amplifier components were rated up to 450 volts of direct current (VDC) and would fail at higher voltages. Said Townshend in an August 1996 interview with (now-defunct) British magazine Guitar, “Fender didn’t go any further with it after the late ’50s. The theory was if you went any further, literally all the other components would melt because they’d been designed for much lower voltages.” Marshall built a 50-watt amplifier known as model 1987 for Townshend, but it wasn’t loud enough. “I went back and said, ‘No, I want it even louder, even bigger,’” he told Guitar.
Seventeen-year-old Dudley Craven in his tiny ham radio shack, circa 1961. Many of the Marshall JTM45 prototypes would be refined and tested here. Photo courtesy of Barbara Craven.
But the amp’s unique harmonic characteristics caught the guitarist’s ear. “I got very angry, very frustrated,” he remembers. “I kept pushing them. I said, ‘You’d better [expletive] do this—there’s something happening here which is really interesting. You get up to a certain pitch, and something happens between the pickup and the amp. The guitar kind of starts to sound like a symphony orchestra.”
It was almost as if Townshend could peer into the future and see that overdrive would shape the new sound of rock ’n’ roll. “I knew that in distortion there was a music of a much higher harmonic order than anything that I could play,” he said in the aforementioned interview. “So I started that whole trip off.”
Bigger and Louder: Model 1959
In mid 1965 Marshall asked Craven and Bran to begin prototyping what would become model 1959, also known as the JTM45/100—Marshall’s first attempt at a louder amp. The design team increased the power by building up the JTM45 circuit, while taking pains to prevent the components from overheating. All amplifier manufacturers knew heat was the enemy of a reliable amplifier.
The first model 1959 prototype was totally experimental. It used one 5AR4/GZ34 rectifier tube, four 6V6 output tubes, and three ECC83/12AX7 preamp tubes for about 60 watts of power. They used a Radiospares “De Luxe” output transformer, but it couldn’t handle the power. The windings melted.
The second prototype was quite different. This amplifier used two 5AR4/GZ34 rectifier tubes, four 5881/6L6 output tubes, and three ECC83/12AX7 preamp tubes. The amp used two Radiospares 30-watt output transformers, which together could handle the amplifier’s power. This prototype reassured the design team they were going in the right direction.
Third Time’s the Charm
Craven perfected model 1959 with a third prototype in the fall of 1965. The design team had replaced the 5881/6L6 output tubes with KT66 tubes, which were easier to source in England. After testing with the dual 30-watt output stage, it became clear that heavier-duty output transformers were required. Craven selected a pair of Drake 50-watt output transformers (784-74), because at the time no 100-watt output transformers were available.
This third prototype of the Marshall model 1959, serial #6406, may be the first 100-watt Super Tremolo amplifier. These early 100-watt amplifiers incorporated a unique dual-output transformer design. There is no impedance selector switch.
Texas Instruments TS107 silicon diodes replaced the inefficient tube rectifiers, increasing power and changing the amplifier’s sonic character. The mushy “sag” characteristic of tube rectifiers was gone. The bottom end was tighter. Highs were clearer. The response was faster. And there was an added benefit: The amplifier would never fail due to a bad rectifier tube.
The power transformer was a large military/industrial-grade model manufactured by Radiospares. Because this amplifier was used only for prototyping, the power transformer did not have a USA voltage tap.
The chart (right) shows the various voltages that can be obtained from the three taps on the power transformer in amplifier #6406—which is owned by the author and is one of the 12 original, dual-output 100-watt Marshalls.
Dual-Output 100-Watt Marshall Amplifiers
Dual-output Marshall amplifiers were manufactured for a few months in late 1965 and are extremely rare. Decades later, when Marshall conducted research for the 40th anniversary of the 100-watt stack, it was determined that a total of 12 dual-output amplifiers were manufactured, including the third prototype of model 1959. Ten of these 12 amplifiers were built with Radiospares power transformers with the USA voltage tap.
The dual-output model 1959 was available as a PA, bass, or lead model. These early amplifiers were built on aluminum chassis that are prone to warping and cracking under the weight of the transformers. The front panel is gold plexi, a look borrowed from the JTM45. (That’s why some refer to the early model 1959s as JTM45/100s.) The PA amps received JTM100 gold plexi panels. The back panels were white with the “Super Amplifier” logo silkscreened in gold. The first few amplifiers used square power boards, which would have trouble clearing several of the output tube sockets and the internal fuse. Eventually the power board was cut slightly to provide clearance for these components.
Look closely at this internal view of #6406 and you’ll see that the 1959T has an extra ECC83/12AX7 tube for the tremolo circuit. To the left is the tremolo circuit board, with the main circuit board in the center and the power board at the right. This early version uses a bridge rectifier with the robust Radiospares military/industrial power transformer. When most recently acquired, this amplifier was missing some original parts, but was restored using the most accurate possible replacements. Photo by Michael Brown.
In November 1965 the Marshall team completed several of the new 100-watt amplifiers ordered by the Who. The band dispatched their roadie to retrieve their new gear. He proceeded to throw each amplifier into his truck one after the other, just like firewood. “I can’t believe he just did that!” Jim Marshall would later recall thinking.
Townshend’s 8x12 and the Birth of the Stack
At the same time that Townshend demanded Marshall build him 100-watt “weapons,”, he also asked for 8x12 speaker cabinets. Jim later shared what Townshend said when he warned him that they’d be nearly impossible to move. “I told Pete, ‘no problem, I’ll make a 4x12 with a straight front and then put an angled one on top.’ He shook his head and said, ‘No, I don’t want that, Jim, I want all eight speakers in one cabinet.’ I told him that it was going to be too heavy and that his roadies were going to complain like mad. His reply was, ‘Never mind them, they get paid,’ and off he went!” Townshend ordered four of the behemoths fitted with Celestion T652 12" speakers, which are similar to 15-watt Celestion Blue Alnico 12" speakers. The bottom half of the cabinet was closed, while the top half was partially opened.
In this clip of the Who performing at London’s Fifth National Jazz & Blues Festival on August 6, 1965, you can tell that the bass and guitar sounds aren’t great, which could explain why Pete Townshend and John Entwistle don’t look very happy. At the 2:05 mark, a frustrated Townshend fiddles with switches on his Vox amps before taking off his Rickenbacker guitar and launching it over them. This was around the time he ordered 100-watt Marshalls for the Who.
At this gig in France, Townshend and Entwistle each use one 100-watt stack. Townshend’s Fender Telecaster allows you to really hear the Marshall head’s dynamics and how its GEC KT66 output tubes work in concert with the T652 alnico speakers in the 8x12 cabinet. The tremolo model’s two additional knobs and longer control panel distinguish it from the bass model.
At the historic Pier Pavilion (it’s misidentified as “Pear Pavilion” in the video’s opening screen) in Suffolk county, UK, Pete Townshend and the Who blaze through “I’m a Boy,” “Substitute,” and “My Generation” before trashing the stage. Notice the battle-scarred 8x12 cabinets. Townshend and Entwistle each play through two full stacks, and the tone is wonderful.
Marshall presumably tested the first 8x12 cabinet using one or more of the 12 original, dual-output amplifiers. Though Marshall can’t corroborate which exact amp was used, an old masking-tape diagram on the back panel of #6406 shows where the output jacks were located and how each half of the 8x12 cabinet was 16 ohms, for a total load of 8 ohms.
The 8x12 idea didn’t last long for Townshend, though. As Marshall recounted, “A couple of weeks later, he came back and said, ‘you were absolutely right, Jim, they are way too heavy, my roadies are furious!’ He wanted me to just cut the 8x12s in half but that wasn’t possible because of the way they were made—we weren’t using fingerlocked joints in those early days, so the cabs were butt-jointed. So I told him, ‘Look, Pete, I can’t do that because the whole thing will fall apart if I do! Just leave it with me and I’ll get it sorted out.’ So I ended up doing what I wanted to do in the first place—a straight-fronted cab with an angled one sitting on top.” Jim concluded, “the stack was a combination of design ideas from Pete and myself. I don’t mind admitting that we initially built the stack with looks very much in mind, because a wall of them does make a fantastic backdrop on any stage.”
A 2005 40th Anniversary JTM45/100 (left) head cabinet and chassis, complete with dual Drake transformers. The late Jim Marshall (right) with the first JTM45 head in 2011. Photos by Matt York.
40 Years Later
In 2005 Marshall celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 100-watt stack with a limited run of 250 full-stack replicas of the original amplifier and speaker cabinets. Finally, more guitarists could gain access to the dynamic tones of a dual 50-watt output stage. The 40th anniversary cabinets recreate the 8x12 look and sound via two 4x12 cabinets loaded with Celestion T652 alnico speakers.
Two basses on one song? The technique is more common than you may think.
Guitarists often get to layer many parts while recording. The same player may play the rhythm parts, leads, acoustic, swells, etc. We bassists, however, usually only get to play one part per song. That’s because more than one bass part sounds like a bass solo, or is too muddy, or too weird to get on the radio, right?
Modern music is filled with songs that use stacked or alternating bass parts for unique sounds that no other combination of instruments can create. In instrumental music—especially solo albums from bassists—multiple bass tracks are very common, but it’s an important tool in pop music as well. This month’s column covers the multi-bass approaches most commonly encountered in popular music featuring vocals. We’ll try to dissect how the different parts work together.
In country music, the method of doubling bass parts has been around since the ’50s. Named after the sonic effect it creates, the classic “tic-tac” sound was first achieved by doubling the bass part with a 6-string bass or a baritone guitar.
Having the bass double a piano player’s left hand is also very common in country music. This is a great-sounding technique that forces you to really commit to a part. Listen to the Shania Twain shuffle “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” for some excellent-sounding note-for-note doubling.
Another technique is for two basses to play opposite parts. A great example is Lou Reed’s classic “Walk on the Wild Side,” where bassist Herbie Flowers played the changes on an upright bass, and then overdubbed the part in 10ths using an electric bass. A similar-sounding track is “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” by John Mayer. Willie Weeks handled the business end by playing a relaxed root-note pattern with upbeats emphasized, while Pino Palladino added the little pops and the 10th intervals. It’s possible to achieve a similar feel using only one bass, but the song is a masterful example of bass blending and a minimalist approach.
Another commonly used technique is mixing a synth bass with an electric bass that’s mostly popped rather than heavily slapped. This creates a natural separation between the bass sounds—one high and one low. The main trick is to pop in the holes where the synth bass is silent, creating a sort of simple, in-between-the-notes solo. There are many great examples of this, though I’m a sucker for this technique on pop stuff. Swedish pop producer Max Martin has used this on countless hits, such as “Oops! … I Did It Again” by Britney Spears and “California Gurls” by Katy Perry, to name just a couple.
Sometimes this technique is most effective when the pops are so short that the actual pitch becomes almost indiscernible. I often find myself using such super-staccato pops to add energy, and recently used the technique while tracking pop singer Anthony Rankin’s new single, “Phoenix in Vegas.” In the verses I also played a P bass with a pick for a dirtier sound to blend with a round synth-bass tone—kind of a modern-pop version of the tic-tac technique. The balance between the clean, modern Marcus Miller-like tone used for the finger pops and the warmer, vintage-rock tone really gives the track its own identity.
The next step from popping between the synth-bass notes is to double the actual synth-bass part with thumb slaps, while still filling with pops as described above. British pop/funk/fusion group Level 42 ruled the arenas of Europe in the ’80s, thanks in part to the musicianship of Mark King. King was known for doubling sequenced synth bass with his thumb and performing almost impossible parts while effortlessly singing lead. Check out “Hot Water” or the mega hit “Running in the Family.”
The aforementioned methods focus on two different bass instruments combining forces to create one bass part. But even on some pop tracks, bass is occasionally used as a lead instrument on top of a bass part. To successfully achieve this effect—especially if using only one bass guitar—it’s crucial to EQ the two tracks differently. This can make the melody stand out as much as if it were played on a guitar or piano. (Proper EQ is also a must in order for the whole track sound clear.) Paul Simon’s Grammy-winning Graceland features Bagithi Khumalo laying down the bass lines and overdubbing melodic hooks and vocal-like phrases and fills, producing wild and fun counterpoint to many of the vocal melodies. One has to be very careful not to overplay when venturing into this approach, but using the bass as a second lead singer of sorts can yield amazing results.
Until next time, happy listening and playing!