Nailing Led Zeppelin Tone at Royal Albert Hall, 1970
Jimmy Page is one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. He revolutionised pop and rock music scene during those crazy late ’60. Together with Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, he linked America and Britain, British pop and American blues. He did create a new sound, a new way of behaving on stage. Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk and Pop merged together, increased the volume and gain and established the roots of what we call today Hard Rock. Jimmy Page played with The Yardbirds and yes, he did create Led Zeppelin!
In this article we will find several clues on how to nail his tone during the Live concert at Royal Albert Hall back in 1970.
As a musician, Page is a very straight forward guitar player, relying his tone on his fingers and his knowledge of harmony and melody. He is a very dynamic player, using his picking technique as a way to create overdriven or very clean sounds. If we put his technique aside, we can get close to his tone very easily using a big amount of money. But, if we have a limited budget, spending smartly a couple of hundred pounds should be enough. Moreover, if we are skilled enough with the soldering iron, we could even go cheaper manufacturing our own gear.
I will briefly mention that you need a good Les Paul style guitar with PAF humbuckers. “Good” depends on our budget, of course. Regarding the amp, a Marshall JTM-45 (or similar) will help, but, as probably you do not play at Wembley Stadium very often, we can forget the amp for a while.
So, how can we achieve his tone without having the chance of cranking our beloved Marshall amp? Well, the best way in my opinion is using some pedals used as foundation, a kind of overdrive pedals that became very popular lately. As we will shape our tone using pedals, we need to set our amp as clean and plain as possible, with as much headroom as we can. We do not want to interfere with our plan of nailing Led Zeppelin’s lead sound!
The fastest and most sexy way to achieve this is using a Catalinbread RAH, a pedal that was created precisely to nail the tone of Jimmy Page’s Hiwatt/Marshall combo at Royal Albert Hall show. Other option involves using other foundation pedals that nail Marshall JTM-45 sound: Wampler Plexidrive, Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret, Tech 21 British, Z.Vex Rock of Sound… the market is loaded with options. If we choose the Hiwatt road, as far I know there are only two options: Tech 21 Leeds and Catalinbread WIIO.
Focusing in my research in the ’70 Royal Albert Hall show, Jimmy Page used a VOX Wah, the very original pedal. The closest one should be a VOX Wah 846-HW, but a Dunlop Crybaby, a VOX 847/848 or, if you want greater quality, a Fulltone Clyde Deluxe will bring you the wah filtering you want. Page used the wah mostly as a kind treble booster, just turning it on and letting it at toe position, which mean that filter reduces the bassier frequencies. These settings are perfect to be in front of the band mix during a solo.
To increase the overdriven tone he used a Solasound Tone Bender MKII, the most successful British fuzz pedal at that moment. We have some nice options like the Fulltone Soulbender, Earthquaker Devices Tone Reaper (both MKIII implementations), Throbak Stone Bender or, my favourite, Del Rey Pro MKII. MK refers to the version, being the MKII the second version of the effect and, guess what, MKIII the third. Otherwise, if you want to getting in the world of DIY pedals, this could be a great option to start.
In order to find the right atmosphere and “epicness” in his tone, Page relied on Maestro Echoplex EP-2, but there is more than repetitions in those units. The preamp section of the Echoplex gave him something extra (sparkling highs, softer mids, creamier bass). There are some nice pedals out there to get this tape echo formula, like the well regarded Strymon el Capistan, Mad Professor Deep Blue Echo or Wampler Faux Echo.
But as I stated before, what makes the Echoplex special is not only the echo itself but its preamp section. There are many pedals out there that try to copy this special tone, like the Xotic EP Booster or the MXR Echoplex Preamp. Having a stand alone preamp gives you an extra option: to use it as a booster. Despite of that, in my opinion, instead of having two different pedals to achieve one unit sound, the best way to nail Jimmy Page tone could be to use a Catalinbread Belle Epoch, a pedal which reproduces all the wonders of a real Echoplex EP-3 unit (remember that Page used the EP-2 at that time, although an EP-3 is regarded the best version).
We should consider that during those days the amps had no effects loop, so everything was in front. It can get messy so easily, but a great tape echo in front of a cranked Marshall amp is the quintessence of classic rock, in our case the order of pedals should be:
As final summary, we could consider that Jimmy Page’s guitar tone is moderately easy to recreate, you just need a small bunch of pedals through a clean amp. What we cannot copy is the way he used that tone. We will never be able to nail his fingers. Even if we could, unfortunately we will not have John Bonham or John Paul Jones covering us neither Robert Plant in front screaming poems. Probably we will never be able to play at stadiums, life is unfair, I know. Perhaps getting close to his tone and being able to understand his technique, we can find our own tone. I think there is nothing better than play a simple chord or scale and smile because “there it is, MY tone”.
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