Interview: Joe Satriani Discusses His New Marshall JVM Signature Series Amps and 'Satchurated,' His 3D Film
"Can't Slow Down," a song from Joe Satriani's Flying In A Blue Dream album, might turn 23 years old this year -- but it's never been a more accurate description of its creator.
The guitarist's new 3D film, Satchurated, makes its theatrical debut today -- the same day he happens to be appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno with Chickenfoot.
Later this month, Satriani will take the G3 show on the road in Australia with Steve Lukather and longtime cohort Steve Vai. As if that weren't enough, Chickenfoot are hitting the road in May for their Different Devil Tour of North America.
And then there's the new Marshall Joe Satriani Signature Series JVM amp, which will be unveiled later this month. We recently spoke to Satriani -- in great detail -- about the new amp.
GUITAR WORLD: When will we get to see your new JVM signature series amps?
The signature amp will be unveiled at Musikmesse in Frankfurt this month after a long and really fruitful R&D period. I took it out on tour with the Wormhole Tour. I had the very first one when we did the overdubs for the Black Swans album. I had it for the Chickenfoot III album and the touring we’ve been doing. I’ve put all the prototypes to really great use. I’ve made a 3D film (Satchurated), two albums, a bunch of tours and TV. I tried to put it through all its paces.
Does it differ significantly from the off-the-rack JVM410?
Yes, quite a bit. The obvious things are that there is no reverb. We have replaced the reverb with four individual noise gates that can be programmed for each of the channels. This is something I thought was important for doing TV and studio work where you need to have certain setups. You need it to be quiet, but you need to have it come in roaring with gain stages up high for certain parts. There are so many great reverb pedals. Like the little Wet Reverb Pedal (Neunaber Technology). I really love that one. You don’t want to be carrying around spring reverbs in your head.
We re-biased the presence and resonance controls to be much more effective for how guitarists like to hear their sounds. I think a lot of those controls were set decades ago and sort of got grandfathered in and people weren’t thinking about them. Some amplifier companies took a really good look at them, like Peavey and Two-Rock, and so my time with Peavey educated me that you can tailor them to how guitar players want to hear them.
The next thing to me was looking at the overall sound of the amp. It is a four-channel amp with three modes per channel. The first thing was to look at that clean channel and to make that very first mode of the clean channel and make it like the original Marshall 6100. For me, that was one of the greatest clean Marshall tones that would accept a pedal distortion. You get that up to club or concert level and it sounds almost as good as having your favorite tube amp running at its perfect level.
All of us know that if do a lot of gigs, you can never count on getting your amp up to that perfect, peculating level for every gig. You always have to reset your volume for the venue you are in. Sometimes the tubes can have you scratching your head because they react differently at different volumes. Distortion pedals are just fantastic for not only rehearsing quietly but also for all those moments when you are going to play in highly compressed environments like radio, television or recording against compressed loops.
I started many years ago using the Boss DS-1 and then graduated the to Satchurator and putting that right into that clean channel, and that sounds great. I’ve done many tours with that setup. Then we took the next two channels that were part of the JVM sound in channel 1 and made them a little more subtle. So when you go from green to amber to red, the gain grows and you get into those other colors. I wanted just that first one to just dip its toes into that world of gain. Then when you go from amber to red again, I wanted just a little bit more.
I’ve found in practical applications very often that’s what you are looking to do. You just want to go to one or one and a half numbers more gainy as you step through. Channel 1 gets you from super clean to just a tiny bit dirty to a little bit dirty. We’ve adjusted the volume of those to make sense during those real playing situations where you are going from rhythm to the same sound with a little more sting for some solo or melody playing. That’s a radical change there.
When we get into channel 2, it really is -- in my mind -- where we get into the vintage area of the amp where you are looking to emulate the JMP, the 800 and a modified 800 from the '80s. Those three modes are really fantastic for that. I used a lot of that on Chickenfoot III and in about a third of my live show I’m using that channel. I want it to be cleaner. I still need the sustain. I want that attitude and that crunch. It’s great for rhythm playing and solo playing. I do a lot of neck-pickup solo playing when using the red mode of that second channel.
I should introduce a very important part of the modification of this amp in general to all of the gain channels. This had to do with my impressions of doing a full-on Chickenfoot tour with the stock JVM210 and the JVM410. At quiet volume, it was very appealing.
It had high-end emphasis and had a lot compression that made you feel good when you were playing quietly. But up really loud, sometimes I thought [Chickenfoot drummer] Chad Smith could dominate this amp just by his dynamic playing. I thought I couldn’t just keep turning it up. When I was sitting down with Santiago Alverez, the head engineer for Marshall, I told him that everything about the layout of the JVM410 is really intelligent and intuitive to have these four channels and three modes.
The one thing I really wanted to not have was all that compression. I don’t really spend all that much time huddled in the corner of the room playing quietly. I’m actually in front of thousands of people all the time. I need this thing to stand up to Chad Smith, Jeff Campitelli and all the drummers I play with. We figured out that we needed to remove all that compression.
Every time you move another number into the world of gain, the amp is going to naturally compress. The sound wave gets smaller and rounder. I wanted it to be natural and nice and open when I wasn’t hitting the strings hard. Then when I was really digging into the strings, I was ready to accept that that beautiful round sound you get when the tubes are cringing at the aggressiveness of the player.
That was the biggest thing we did. In my mind, it was like taking the blanket off. We allowed those strong dynamic moments to not just be pointy treble ones. We focused a lot on OD1, which is to me the biggest, most forceful overdrive channel I’ve ever heard in an amp. But it has all those hallmarks of that Marshall sound. It gives you everything, and you'd better have your parts together. Marshall amps make you hear everything about what you are doing. They don’t smooth anything over, but that’s what we love about them.
We carried those changes over to OD1 and OD2. Here’s where the other big change is between the stock JVM and the signature. In the stock one, OD1 and OD2 are quite different. All three modes have a bit more mid-range. For obvious reasons, OD1 was the most popular channel from the stock amp. Then OD2 was scooped a bit in kind of a nod to the nu-metal sound. I had no use for that at all.
What I really wanted to do was to work it out so if I had the perfect sound at 95db I could go up just a couple decibels and maybe have just a little more mid-range. So what I did was ask Santiago to just make OD2 a carbon copy of OD1. That sounds sort of strange and weird. Generally when they are making amps, they want every channel to be different to throw in as much as possible. We were able to accomplish two things. By having those two channels identical, it affords the player the ability to have the same setup at so many different volumes.
Also I was thinking that I didn’t want to throw away that slightly scooped sound. There are people out there that like having a little less mid-range. Maybe they have another guitar player in the band, maybe their guitar has a little more mid-range, or maybe they are trying to fit in with keyboards. We decided to make the channels identical with a scoop switch that emulates the original JVM410 had on OD2. But now it is programmable. You can use that switch on both channels.
This has been really helpful to me because I can have the same sound at different volume levels. I know from years of playing in clubs that is what you want. Sometimes you just need to go to 11!
Do you find yourself using that scoop much or was that a feature that you put in there for other players?
That’s a very interesting question. What I noticed in the short time I’ve been in Chickenfoot, we wound up doing a tour and a live DVD with basically that scoop sound. I was using OD2 for that entire tour. When we went out on this new tour and made the new record, I used the amp in an entirely different way. It was already modified. It was a thicker, heavier, more aggressive tone, and the clean sounds were more full and natural sounding. But I realized that some songs can benefit from having that little scoop.
On this last road-test tour, I started to utilize that feature. I’m starting to use the first production run with the blue vinyl in my home studio. It’s not a feature I’m going to ignore. It looks like I’m dipping into it now and then.
You have a G3 tour in Australia with Steve Vai and Steve Lukather coming up. Will you be in the States for the theatrical release of your film Satchurated?
It’s going to play in San Francisco on March 1. I will actually be in Los Angeles with Chickenfoot doing Jay Leno's show. It has started this week. It’s going to be in a little more than 500 theaters. I’m new to the movie industry. It just sort of unfolds. Every 24 hours we see a whole new list of theaters.
I wouldn’t go anyway. I’d be so embarrassed to see myself in a movie theater. I barely survived seeing myself in For Your Consideration and Moneyball even for the few moments I was in those.