IN THE HISTORY OF ELECTRIC GUITAR THERE are plenty of stories of how a gifted player happened to
land on the right amplifier at the right time to create
inspiring sounds. Charlie Christian with his Gibson
EH-150, Eric Clapton with his Marshall “Bluesbreaker,”
Brian May with his “Deacy” are just a few examples.
But the list narrows considerably when the crossing
of paths between a player and an amp designer ends
up having a profound impact on sound. That’s what
happened when Jimi Hendrix met Jim Marshall, and it
happened again when Carlos Santana met Mesa/Boogie
founder Randall Smith.
In Santana’s case, however, the story has to take
into account that Smith, unlike Marshall, was then
operating as a one-man operation—making a name
for himself in the San Francisco Bay Area by modding Fender Princetons and Champs. Okay, radically
modding them, with 60 or 100 watts
of 6L6 power and a 12" speaker to handle
it—all of which resulted in a super-stealthy
gig rig that could sit on the front seat of a
Volkswagen. Smith soon created the first
high-gain preamp that made it possible to
get huge amounts of sustain at any volume,
and presto, the Boogie Mark I was born.
Thanks in large part to Santana’s use of
these revolutionary “boutique” amps as he
rocketed to superstardom in the early ’70s,
Boogies quickly became the Holy Grail for
many top players of the time. There was
nothing like it in the amp market, and for a
period of time, if you didn’t have a Boogie
in your backline you simply weren’t on the
cutting edge of tone.
Santana recently had an epiphany regarding
a particular Mark I he’d played on tour
decades ago. As he explains, “Someone sent me a video of the concerts we did at Budokan
in Japan 1973, and as soon as I heard the
sound and saw myself next to that amplifier,
I went ‘Oh my god, this is my friend—I’ve
got to get that sound again.’ It was like I’d
gone out and dated the wrong woman, and
I needed to go back to my first love. So they
found that amplifier, and we gave it to Randy
and he fixed it up and took the rust out of it.
I’ve been playing nothing but it ever since.
My connection with Randy and this amplifier
is like one of my organs or body parts.
It’s that close to me. Any sound of mine you
can think of, it was pretty much with Boogie
one way or another.”
I spoke with Carlos Santana and Randy
Smith about the impact that the Boogie
Mark I had on their careers, and we also
discussed the work that went into creating
the new King Snake model, which visually
and sonically replicates Santana’s original
“Budokan” Mark I.
Watch the video