Tag Archives: Videos

Underrated Greats: The Marshall Jackhammer

Getting a Marshall type of distortion out of a pedal is a very common desire on the quest for the ultimate tone. Not everybody can afford to lug around a big Marshall stack or you might simply want to have several tonal options within the same rig. Another common complaint about modern Marshall amps is the relatively bland clean tone (although I have recently tried a Vintage Modern model and was quite impressed!). So using one amp such as a Fender or Vox for your clean tone and a Marshall pedal for your overdriven tone can be highly desirable.

The Marshall Jackhammer - Photo by Pia Jane Bijkerk

There are several Marshall eras: the 60s (think early Clapton or Hendrix), the 70s/80s (from AC/DC to Van Halen), the late 80s/90s (higher gain) and the late 90s/naughties with the very successful JCM 2000 range (think modern Jeff Beck)… And the very recent JVM range has apparently gained the favour of Joe Satriani… What has changed through the ages is not so much the basic character of the tone but rather the amount of available gain and various amplifier features (more channels, more eq options, fx loops, etc.). After 5 decades, Marshall still represents THE British rock tone.

There are plenty of pedals on the market aimed at emulating the Marshall tone of any era, including a lot of boutique options. Funnily enough, Marshall pedals are rarely taken as examples of “Marshall in a box tone” which I think is quite unfair. They have to be the most underrated pedals on the market. I have presented the discontinued Shredmaster in a previous post and will now present its replacement in the Marshall line: the Jackhammer.

The Jackhammer is part of a trio of overdrive and distortion pedals, alongside the Blues Breaker 2 and the Guv’nor 2. It is the highest gain of the three but is also capable of lower gain tones as you will notice in the demo videos.

I think that for the price, the Jackhammer is loaded with features: 2 modes (overdrive and distortion), gain, volume and a sophisticated EQ section with Bass, Treble as well as a mid-range section tweakable with a contour knob and a frequency knob. The Overdrive mode is reminiscent of a quite high gain Marshall amp, think JCM 800/900. The distortion mode aims at creating more modern and gainier tones, kind of a JCM 2000 simulation. The Distortion mode is dark and bassy and also quite noisy which explains why it is getting some bad reviews. Nevertheless, I think it is possible to get some interesting tones out of it. The Overdrive mode really shines and can turn my little Fender amp into a credible Marshall amp. I like the fact that it is silent enough compared to the distortion mode. The amount of gain is not super huge compared to some recent ultra high gain pedals (the Jackhammer was designed in the late 90s) but with high output Humbuckers, you can get some metal out of it! With my Gibson SG, which does not have hight output humbuckers, I can already get some fat  sustain out of the Jackhammer.

Now this all sounds wonderful but know that one major hassle with the Jackhammer is the Midrange EQ section. It has 2 knobs, one marked contour and one marked freq and it is not exactly intuitive to understand what they do. The Marshall documentation states that these two knobs allow to scoop the mids and choose the frequency to scoop. Getting the settings right is very important as the Jackhammer can sound from wonderful to just ugly just by turning these two knobs a little. You do have to experiment quite a bit as it totally depends on your amp. The EQ section also features a Bass and a Treble knob which are fortunately intuitive and efficient. The Jackhammer can produce plenty of bass so you might want to turn the bass to 9 o’clock for a start. Compared to the now discontinued Shredmaster, the Jackhammer provides more gain and is not as dark which is in my opinion an advantage should you use it with an already dark amp.

Jackhammer tone with Humbuckers

Anyway, enough of my yacking, here is how it sounds with a Gibson SG and some fat humbuckers. I show both modes here, Overdrive and Distortion:

The Jackhammer settings for this video were: Volume at 10 o’clock, Bass at 9 o’clock, Treble at 9 o’clock for the overdrive mode or 12 o’clock for the Distortion mode, Contour at minimum, Freq at 12 o’clock, various gain settings (see video).

Jackhammer Tone with single-coil pickups

With a Stratocaster equipped with relatively low output noiseless Kinman pickups, the Overdrive mode gets bluesier and not as precise as it is with humbuckers. That said, it is reminiscent of Hendrix and I find this rather cool (note that the midrange EQ settings are different from the previous video!):

The Jackhammer settings for this video were: Volume at 10 o’clock, Bass at 9 o’clock, Treble at 10 o’clock, Overdrive Mode , Contour at 12 o’clock, Freq at max, various gain settings (see video).

Shredmaster vs Jackhammer

And now for something different, here is a quick comparison of the Shredmaster and the Jackhammer (Overdrive mode) with the gain on full on both pedals:

Marshall Jackhammer Settings: Bass at 9 o’clock, Treble at 10 o’clock, Contour at noon, Freq on Max, Volume at 10 o’clock, Gain on Full.
Marshall Shredmaster settings: Gain on Full, Bass 12 at 12 o’clock, Contour at 8 o’clock, Treble at 10 o’clock and Volume at 2 o’clock

How the videos were recorded

The amp used was a 1974 Fender Champ with Volume around 3, Bass at 10 and Treble at 2.5. It was miked by a RODE NT4 and recorded with a BOSS Micro-BR. A hint of reverb and compression were added in Cubase 5 later on. The pedal settings and guitar used are indicated under each video.

How to use a compressor for guitar

The compressor is often seen as a bit of a mysterious effect. I will try here to enlighten those of you who think “why the heck should I be using a compressor?”. You will also find below a video demo showing what a compressor does to your guitar tone.

Studio Compressors vs Guitar Compressors

You have first to understand a little bit about how a compressor works. Compressors originated in studios as sound reinforcement tools. They are probably the most used studio processors after equalizers and reverbs. What they do is “reduce the dynamics range of a signal” i.e. the difference between the softest and loudest volumes. In simpler terms, when you feed a signal to a compressor, be it vocals, drums, guitar or bouzouki and the volume of this signal is louder than a “threshold”, the compressor will make it softer. The amount of reduction is governed by a setting called “ratio”. In that respect a compressor can do what a limiter does, there is a quite loose difference between the two. The original use of compressors was to avoid distorting recordings or radio emissions. But a compressor can also have the effect of augmenting the sustain by increasing the volume as the signal fades out (this is very useful with a guitar, more on that later).

The DBX 160SL is a reasonnably priced studio compressor

Beside “threshold” and “ratio” settings, there is also usually an “attack” setting (how fast the compressor kicks in) and a “release” setting (which can increase the perceived sustain). I will not really go into more details as this post is guitar oriented and studio compression is a very vast subject. Nevertheless, know that compressors are used in studios on almost every instrument as well as entire mixes to add punch, clarity, smoothness, more perceived volume, etc. If you are serious about making your own recordings, you will have to master the art of compression (see this MIX magazine article for further reference).

It is indeed quite an art to find the correct compression settings on studio compressors so that the sound does not appear too compressed i.e. so that the use of compression is transparent. On extreme settings, it will become more like an effect than a transparent sound reinforcement tool. It will generate a “squashed” sound which happens to sound pretty good with a guitar.

This is why effect manufacturers have put compressors into pedals, fortunately with simplified settings compared to their studio counterparts. They are also adapted to the dynamics and frequency range of a guitar and would not compare to their more versatile studio cousins in terms of sheer audio quality. The most famous of all compressors for guitar, the MXR dynacomp, has only two settings: output volume and “intensity” which controls the amount of compression. The more you turn it clockwise the more your tone will sound “squashed”.

The ubiquitous MXR Dynacomp compressor pedal
Where do I plug a compressor in the effect chain?

It usually goes at the beginning of the chain before overdrive and distortion effects. You can refer to my previous post about effect placement. If you look at a multi effect unit, you will actually see that the compressor is often first in the chain. I have also written a previous post about the unconventional use of a guitar compressor at the end of the chain in a recording situation.

And what does a compressor do to my guitar tone?

Used with a clean tone, a compressor will give you a bit of a “clicky” tone with lots of sustain. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd has been a long time user of compressors to get more sustain on his clean tone. He has used an MXR Dynacomp for a long time and is now using a quite expensive Demeter Compulator. Country guitarists make heavy use of compressors for their fast clean licks, adding an almost liquid quality to them. Funk and pop guitarists also use them to give some edge and volume consistency to their rhythm guitar runs.

Used before a distortion or overdrive, a compressor will be harder to notice as these effects already feature quite some natural compression. Nevertheless, a compressor can bring more sustain and fatness. Be careful about one thing though, by their very nature, compressors tend to add some hiss.


Here is an MXR Dynacomp compressor in action with my trusty Stratocaster and Fender Champ amplifier. I have set the OUTPUT and SENSITIVITY at 2 o’clock on the compressor which is quite high, the idea here was to exaggerate a little to demonstrate the effect. In the first part of the video, I show how it sounds with a clean sound. Note the “clicky” tone it produces as well as the increased sustain. In the second part, I show how it sounds used with a Tube Screamer placed after. Not so obvious to spot but it does fatten the tone and give it a little more sustain:

Short list of compression pedals
  • The MXR Dynacomp is a very common compressor and was used by almost everybody in the 70s/80s including David Gilmour.  It is still widely used by pros today. MXR sells two different versions: the modern one and the 76 reissue. The latter is a limited run and is meant to be closer to the early Dynacomps (and also unfortunately lacks a LED). I personally own a “modern” one from 1995. The Dynacomp is neither the most silent nor the most hi definition piece of gear but it has real character which is why it is so popular. Mine tends to be a bit bassy also which means the tone gets quite fat.
  • The BOSS CS-3 is a quite clean compressor but does not have much character in my opinion. I had mine modified with the Opto plus Monte Allum modification and it has turned it in an almost studio grade compressor.
  • Electro-Harmonix has several compressors in their line-up including the tube based Black Finger and the compact Soul Preacher.
  • The Keeley Compressor is effect guru Robert Keeley’s most popular pedal. This boutique compressor has quite a following now.
  • The Analogman mini-Bicomprossor is another powerful boutique pedal featuring two compressors in one (I don’t have one but it is no secret I am a big fan of Analogman’s stuff so it must be pretty awesome).
  • The Demeter Compulator is another high end compressor pedal, notably used by David Gilmour after he ditched his Dynacomp.

This is not by any stretch an exhaustive list as virtually every pedal manufacturer has at least one compressor in its range.

Hopefully this post will encourage you to experiment with compressors.

Anti-Shred contest at Guitarnoize

Guitarnoize has organized an Anti-Shred contest. The rules are pretty simple: Guitarnoize provides the background music (downloadable here)  and you have to post a video response including a solo of your making over it.  You have until June 3rd to do so. Check out this video for more information, and to view the other entries click here. As the name suggests, shredding is not allowed! The prize for the winner is a yummy MXR Micro-Flanger. Anyway, here is my entry (gear details after the video):

Gear used:

  • Gibson SG 61 Reissue
  • Amp: 1974 Fender Champ with VOLUME at 3.5, BASS at 10 and Treble at 2.
  • Proco RAT 2 Distortion with DISTORTION at 1 o’clock, FILTER almost on FULL, VOLUME AT 2 o’clock.
  • BOSS DD-3 Digital delay with E.LEVEL at 11 o’clock, F.BACK at 10 o’clock, D.TIME at 2 o’clock and MODE at 800ms.

The amp was miked with a Rode NT-4 and recorded with a BOSS Micro-BR. The recordings were transferred into Cubase 5 to add some reverb and compression.

Using a slapback echo to fatten your tone

I recently watched a video featuring Eddie Kramer, the sound engineer of acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and occasionally the Beatles. In this video, he explains how he has worked with Waves to create a series of “plug’n play” software plugins, each dedicated to the processing of either guitar, drums, bass or vocals. The guitar plugin features compression, slapback echo, flange and reverb. And he goes on saying that the slapback echo brings a bit of an “analog” feel but that it is not an effect that is very popular anymore.

So this got me thinking. The slapback echo, also known as slap echo, was very common in the 50s and 60s. It was created by recording with a tape recorder and playing back the same tape a fraction of a second later using another “head”, generating a single repeat type of short echo. Its use is very obvious on early rock’n roll and rockabilly records, particularly on vocals. It can also be heard on the guitar on a number of Hendrix tunes like “Voodoo Chile Slight Return” where a slapback echo augmented by an old plate reverb creates a really cool dripping kind of tone. It is easy to reproduce with today’s analog or digital delay pedals as well as software plugins.

I experimented with my recording software (Cubase 5) and put together this video that shows the same tone without and then with a slapback echo. I think it is pretty cool, I might use it more in the future!  See after the video for some slapback settings for the Cubase delay plugin and the good old BOSS DD-3 delay pedal.

For the basic tone I used my 1978 Telecaster with a Fender Champ tube amp and then kicked in a Pro Co RAT 2 distortion pedal (settings on the RAT 2: DISTORTION at 2 o’clock, FILTER at 3 o’clock and VOLUME at 2 o’clock).

In Cubase I used the following delay settings:

Slapback Settings

With a BOSS DD-3 digital delay pedal, the following settings will give you a nice fattening slapback echo: Mode 200ms, E.LEVEL at 12 o’clock, F.BACK at 9 o’clock and D.TIME at 4 o’clock. You might want to vary the E.LEVEL or D.TIME to taste.

It would be easy to reproduce this effect with any other model of delay, just set the “delay time” between 70 and 200ms and the “feedback” quite low to have just one repeat.

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