Kerry King: King of Pain
While Marshall’s Slash and Zakk Wylde signature amps were essentially reissues of the original JCM 2555 Silver Jubilee and JCM800 2203 heads, respectively, the Marshall 2203KK JCM800 Kerry King head is a unique new product. “This is an exact duplicate of the Beast,” Bowcott says. “It’s a much more aggressive animal than our current 2203 reissue, which is based on the early Eighties circuit.”
The amp also includes new features not available on any other Marshall amp. A special EQ setting called “Assault” replicates the unique midrange curve generated by King’s Boss RGE-10 graphic equalizer, and a studioquality noise gate with an expander circuit provides natural-sounding gating. An on/ off switch named “the Beast” activates both of these features, which live in front of the 2203KK’s preamp.
“Part of the secret to the Slayer sound is what Kerry and Jeff do to the front end of their amps,” Bowcott says. “Kerry used his 10-band graphic EQ to push the front end of the amp harder. What’s interesting is that 99 percent of players out there think that you need to scoop the mids out to get Slayer’s guitar tone. Kerry does the exact opposite—he boosts the mids. A scoop is a smile,” he explains, referring to the shape of a scooped-mid EQ curve. “You can’t have a smile when you’re playing Slayer’s music! His EQ curve is a fairly radical frown, which makes more sense.”
Fubg gave Marshall his RGE-10, dialed in to the exact EQ curve that he uses. Marshall’s technicians duplicated the setting in a circuit whose sensitivity is controlled by the Assault knob. “The only setting on the RGE-10 that Kerry would mess with is the level slider,” Bowcott explains. “The Assault control goes from zero to 10 to duplicate the function of the level slider; it just controls how much kick the EQ curve has. If you put the amp’s signal through an oscilloscope and turned up the intensity of the Assault control, the curve it displayed would look like someone giving you the finger.”
You can either add more or less of my tone,” adds King. “You can’t adjust all 10 EQ bands individually. My chunk comes from those boosted mids.”
Hitting the front end of any amp with boosted midrange EQ can result in unwanted noise and feedback problems, especially when playing at high volume. To ensure that the Beast circuit remains tight and noise-free, Marshall’s engineers developed a special noise gate circuit with a threshold control.
Most noise gates completely kill the sound once it drops below a certain threshold,” Bowcott says. “This noise gate has an ultrafast expander circuit that’s similar to what you’ll find in a studio-quality noise reduction unit. It will work extremely fast during tight, precise staccato rhythms, giving you those desired ‘holes of silence.’
When it comes to sustained notes, though, the expander gradually attenuates the signal by following the dynamics of the note, giving you a much more natural-sounding gating that won’t prematurely cut off the end of a note or chord that you want to ring.”
“I still use an external gate in my rig for all of my other electronic stuff, like my wireless unit,” King says. “But I don’t need to put the EQ, noise gate or any other outboard equipment directly in front of my amp any more. This amp delivers my sound right out of the box, without anything else. I just plug into it and play.”
In addition to these new features, the Kerry King head is distinguished by a subtle custom graphic design inspired by King’s tattoos, and King’s signature (placed directly below that of Jim Marshall) on the control plate. Marshall completed the first prototypes of the 2203KK JCM800 in December 2005, when Slayer were in the studio recording Christ Illusion. King used the prototype as his main amp on the album, and when Slayer hit the road in June 2006, he brought several prototypes along with him to give the amps the ultimate road test, Slayer style.
I’ve been playing with it on the road for almost 18 months,” King says. “Before Marshall even started making the production models they wanted to make sure that the amp was going to stay together and not have reliability issues.”
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