Linkin Park’s Brad Delson

Creative evolution can be a thrilling, yet angst-ridden process for an artist, and, if the band seeks to perform its new sound for concert audiences, it can also strike fear into the hearts of their technicians. For Linkin Park’s new smash, Minutes To Midnight [Warner Bros.], guitarist Brad Delson decided to mostly abandon the ’90s “Rectifier” sound of past albums and explore more articulate, less-saturated tones. Working with producer Rick Rubin on the album further sealed the quest for vintage-style guitar sounds, as Delson plugged into ’72 50-watt Hiwatt Custom, Soldano SLO, and Marshall JCM 800 heads—as well as a mysterious and extremely rare “Bo Diddley” amp with an onboard tape delay that was either made for, or made by, the early rock legend. [Note to readers: If you know the story on this amp, please e-mail us the details. We’re stumped.]

“I threw out everything I’d relied on in the past, and I started from scratch,” says Delson. “I’ve played Ibanez guitars pretty heavily in the past, but, this time, I used various Strats, Teles, and a Jaguar. The idea was to create a collage of guitar textures that evoke sounds from the ’50s to the ’80s. I also used my PRS Custom SE with DiMarzio D-Sonic pickups, because it’s such a versatile guitar.”

However, leaving one’s musical past behind is difficult on the road, where fans expect to hear your oldies along with the new material. In Delson’s case, this meant keeping the Rectifier tones and adding the amps that delivered the new guitar sounds on Minutes To Midnight. And that is where the nightmare began.

“My first idea was to just incorporate the different amp heads into Brad’s existing rig,” says Sean Paden, Delson’s tech and owner of RoadieMade—a firm specializing in front-end effects chains and pedalboards. “The first problems were how to keep the rig footprint nearly identical so it didn’t interfere with the stage setup, and how to keep the number of mic lines [to the house sound system] the same. On the previous tour, we carried four heads and two effects racks—two heads and one rack were used solely as backups. The best way to keep everything the same would have been to get a Bradshaw speaker-load switcher to route the new heads into the existing speaker cabs. But that unit is no longer in production, so that meant I’d have to add more speaker cabs for the new heads, or, at the very least, load the heads themselves—just utilizing the preamps—and then send the signals to a stereo power amp. As we were trying to use Hiwatt and Soldano heads, that would have been four heads from the original rig, and four heads for the new rig, for a total of eight—including backups. In addition, I’d have to build two complete systems—one for the United States and one for overseas. The overseas rig cuts shipping costs, customs clearances, and timing issues—such as when the band is scheduled to play a show in New York one day, and a festival in England the next. So, let’s just say that this option would have cost tons of money, and months of time assembling the pieces and doing the modifications, and I was at square one and running out of time before Linkin Park was scheduled to start its tour.”

To develop a quick and viable plan, Paden enlisted Rack Systems’ Dave Friedman—who does all of Linkin Park’s amp mods and maintenance. Friedman suggested that Delson’s expanded tonal palette could be covered with modded Randall MTS preamp modules, powered by a stereo power amp, and then run through a single speaker cabinet. The duo rented the amps Delson used in the studio, studied the session notes to duplicate the control settings, and then compared the amps to the MTS modules to determine which modules emulated the album’s tones best. They agreed the Treadplate module was very close to a plexi Marshall—as well as Delson’s Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifiers—and the Top Boost module could be a foundation for the Hiwatt tone and various clean sounds. Finally, the XTC module was chosen to provide the Soldano tones.

“Then, Dave did his magic to the modules, changing gain stages, tubes, capacitors, and resistors until the MTS modules nailed the sounds of the amps used on Minutes To Midnight,” says Paden. “You should have seen Brad’s face when he tested the rig. At one point, he asked me to turn off his old heads, and I told him, “They’re not even on.” Everything he was hearing was through the Randall MTS system. Of course, we needed so many modules, module chassis, power amps, and cabinets that we single-handedly caused the equipment to be back-ordered. I can’t thank Randall enough for staying committed to the project. The system has now survived six weeks in Europe, and a few shows in the U.S., and—knock on wood—I couldn’t be happier.”

For Delson’s part, Paden and Friedman’s tech chops allowed the guitarist to bring his sonic evolution full circle from experimentation to studio documentation to the live stage.

“We wanted to reinvent our sound, and start a new chapter for the band,” says Delson of the Minutes To Midnight sessions. “We spent more than a year-and-a-half recording the album, and I learned so much working with Rick [Rubin]. He was always turning me on to new ideas, exposing me to bands I hadn’t heard much of—such as Gang of Four and the Band—and encouraging me to find different sounds. And I’m happy that many of those sounds are with me on the road.”