By Chris Gill | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
The sad reality is that the most desirable original Marshall heads from the Sixties and early Seventies are either priced in the stratosphere, hoarded by wealthy rock stars, or butchered and modified beyond the point of no return.
The good news is that companies like Friedman Amplification are making amps inspired by classic Plexi circuits that deliver the same caliber of sounds along with modern features that today’s players need, like effect loops, master volume controls, multiple switchable channels, and higher amounts of gain. The best news is that Friedman amps cost less than a vintage Marshall, have more robust and serviceable builds, and are relatively easy to find when you want one.
Dave Friedman’s stellar reputation as an amp designer (as well as a builder of iron-clad racks for touring guitarists and other tech services) influenced guitarist Steve Stevens (Billy Idol, Kings of Chaos) to approach him about building his ultimate 100-watt head. The result of their collaboration is the Friedman Amplification Steve Stevens Signature, a two-channel head driven by a quartet of EL34 power tubes. Stevens wanted both his favorite high-gain modded-Plexi tones and pristine clean Twin and AC tones from the same amp so he could downsize his touring rig, and this head delivers all that and more.
Each of the Steve Stevens Signature’s two channels has its own independent tone stack to provide entirely different voicing. The clean channel features its own volume, treble, middle, and bass controls plus a bright switch, while the distortion channel offers presence, bass, middle, treble, master volume, and gain.
The rear panel provides a gain boost switch, footswitch jacks for selecting channels and gain boost on/off, and various 1/4-inch speaker output jacks. Here, too, is the acclaimed Metro SS effect loop with send and return jacks, a return level control, and a loop on/off switch. In addition to the aforementioned quartet of EL34 tubes, the circuit utilizes four 12AX7 tubes for the preamp, effect loop, and phase inverter.
From its distinctive styling to its bulletproof build quality, the Friedman Steve Stevens Signature is in a class of its own. The salt-and-pepper front panel cloth and offset Friedman logo (similar to vintage Park amps) provide a classic counterpoint to the silver chicken-head knobs and Steve Stevens ray gun logos on the face plate (which illuminates) and front panel. The hand-wired turret boards and robust wiring are uncluttered, providing the ideal balance of serviceability, low-noise performance, and ruggedness for gigging and touring.
But by far the most impressive feature of the Friedman Steve Stevens Signature is its sound. The clean channel delivers the tight, percussive attack, otherworldly treble sparkle, and fat, well-defined body of a blackface Twin, along with a three-dimensional presence that seems to envelop anyone within the speaker cabinet’s path.
The distortion channel is simply magical, producing tones that sound like studio recordings right out of the box. Every note in a chord retains definition even at the highest level of gain, and single-note lead lines pop out as if an engineer is riding the faders to boost solos. The voicing is dead-on perfect for any variety of humbucker- or single-coil-equipped guitars, with fat midrange that sings with rich harmonics and impressive sustain. The gain boost increases saturation and sustain, maintaining power-amp crunch and dynamics even at bedroom volume.
The head pairs well with any variety of Celestion speaker (Stevens uses Friedman 4x12 cabinets loaded with V30s) or Celestion-style models by Scumback or Weber. Players accustomed to modern high-gain amps might feel that the bass isn’t quite as big, but this is actually the amp’s strength, particularly for performing onstage, where excess bass makes tone muddy and indecipherable. The horn-like mids and crystalline treble produced by this amp paired with the right cabinet are a lead guitarist’s dream—just listen to any of Steve’s live performances on YouTube over the past year or two for proof.
LIST PRICE $3,699
Friedman Amplification, friedmanamplification.com
Heavy Horizon: Steve Stevens talks about his collaboration with Dave Friedman.
What was your overall goal with the amp?
It was a natural evolution of my basic requirements. I toured for years with my old Plexis, and I was always searching around for something more roadworthy. Dave Friedman had built racks for me, and he said that I seemed to want the basic Marshall sound but with more flexibility and aggression. He offered to build me an amp, and we refined it over the last four years.
Did you provide Dave with any amps as a starting template?
He’s repaired several of my amps over the years, but one particular Plexi and one metal-face are my favorite Marshall amps. He knew what I look for in a classic Marshall-type sound—a big, open sound. In the studio, I’d have to overdrive those amps with pedals. This amp gets those tones without any pedals. And the master volume sounds great. The amp sounds as good at low volume as it does with everything cranked.
What influenced the decision to make a two-channel amp?
I’ve been doing more and more gigs outside of Billy Idol, and logistics dictate that I bring a smaller backline. I needed an amp that could do both Marshall distortion and Fender clean tones when I couldn’t bring my rig of doom. This amp has even allowed me to simplify my Billy Idol rig. People still want great sounds, but they want smaller rigs. That’s the way of the future.