Carlos Santana, Randall Smith, and the Mark I "Budokan" Amp

See how a gifted player found the right amplifier at the right time to create inspiring sounds.
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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.

For Santana's story, click here.

For Smith's story, click here.

Watch the video