Kerry King: King of Pain
Originally printed in Guitar World, December 2007
All hail Marshall's new Kerry King signature amp, the 2203KK JCM800! The brutal tones that made Slayer famous are now available to mere mortals.
Produced from 1981 until l 1990, the Marshall JCM800 defined the sound of Eighties metal. Everyone from classic rockers like Judas Priest to glam hair-metal bands appeared onstage with JCM800 backlines, but one band in particular—Slayer—used its JCM800 2203 100-watt heads to spawn new extremes of distortion, establishing the sound of the next generation of hardcore, thrash and death metal guitarists.
The Marshall JCM800 2203 provided the muscle behind the massive rhythm tones of classic Slayer albums like Hell Awaits, Reign in Blood and Seasons in the Abyss, and it remains the backbone of the onstage backline for guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman. One particular 2203 head that King calls “the Beast” is unique among all others. Acquired by King in the mid Eighties, it became his main live and recording amp.
“That amp annihilates all the others,” King says. “It’s as if Satan reached up, touched that head himself and conspired with Jim Marshall to create something miles above the rest. Its sound is Herculean. It sounds 10 times bigger than other amps like it.”
While Slayer were in England during their 2005 European tour, Nick Bowcott, Marshall Amplification’s U.S. product manager (and a Guitar World associate editor), asked King if Marshall’s technicians could borrow the Beast in order to thoroughly analyze the head and create a Kerry King signature amp. King complied, and the 2203KK JCM800 is the result. After nearly two years of development this amp is finally available, and it’s generated a considerable buzz among Marshall aficionados and Slayer fans alike.
“I know and trust the guys at Marshall,” King says. “I sent the Beast over there once before to have Jim Marshall sign it. When the technicians checked it out, they discovered that this particular amp was the ‘golden child.’ Apparently it was one of the rare ones, where all the parts and variances were perfect for my sound.”
“That amp hasn’t been modified in any way, shape or form,” Bowcott says. “It’s completely stock. Component drift and tolerance deviations have made that amp something special and—as Kerry sometimes says—the ‘golden child’ when it comes to his trademark tone. Back in the Eighties, you couldn’t enforce the sort of tolerances that we demand from our suppliers today, which is plus or minus one percent. Back then, the plus-or-minus percentage was much higher. As a result, Kerry’s amp sounds different from a lot of other JCM800s made in the mid Eighties.” Originally supplied with a quartet of 6550 tubes, King’s Marshalls are beefed up with heavier duty KT88 tubes. “They have a nice, fat low end that Kerry loves,” Bowcott says. “Those tubes add a lot to his vibe and make his sound even bigger.”