Metro Amp Interview

by Dan Kern on August 3, 2004

Metroamp.com is your resource for everything you need for repairing, restoring or modifying your vintage (or not so vintage) Marshall. Metroamp also is known for the Marshall Plexi DIY kit, and much much more! George Metropolous takes a moment out of his busy schedule to share some wisdom with all of us about his musical life, the various services and products of Metro Amp, and of course: the legendary Marshall amplifier!

Get to Know the Metropolous

SSS: How did you get involved in restoring amplifiers?

George M.: I actually started off doing repairs. Mostly because I blew up so many things! Over the years repairing amps I would see so many things done poorly and I would correct them. Then I picked up a ’70 Superlead that was in pretty bad shape. It had no tolex, wrong power trans, etc. I tore it down and started from scratch, so I guess that was my start in restoring amps.

SSS: You seem to focus on Marshall amps. Why Marshall?

George M.: I’m a hopeless Marshall fan. But I’m also most familiar with Marshalls, so it makes sense that I focus on them.

SSS: Can you give us a breakdown of the most classic Marshall amps and eras?

George M.: First off the JTM45, it started everything Marshall. Distinctive in it’s use early on of 5881’s and then KT-66’s. These amps are both sweet and nasty. Very dynamic and responsive. Clapton and Angus Young are just a few of the artists who used these amps.

Next came the 1987 50 watt. The first ones were very similar to JTM45’s but had larger output transformers. It didn’t take long to make them solid state rectified which made them more powerful and gave them more attack. Jeff Beck, Eric Johnson and Duane Allman (among many others) sing the praises of 50 watt Marshalls.

Finally the venerable model #1959 100 watt. My personal favorite. Starting in 1965 these amps set the standard in many ways for loud rock amplifiers. Early ones used two 50 watt output transformers and KT-66’s. Very soon after they were standardized with 100 watt outputs and EL-34’s. Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page preferred the extra headroom and crunch from these amps.

Of course, there are many other models and revisions. Fortunately, there are lots of Marshall freaks out there and a lot of info can be found on the Internet. Not to mention in Michael Doyle’s “The History of Marshall” book.

SSS: The Plexi seems to be your favorite, for good reason. Can you give us any technical as well as sonic insight as to why this amp stands apart?

George M.: Simply put, it wasn’t designed with the intention that guitar players would turn them up to 10. As it turns out the output transformer, tubes and power supply respond a certain way under full load that is perfect for overdriven guitar. Those low wattage Celestions break up in a pleasing way too. Mullard tubes deserve mention as well. These things all together make for a distinctive tone and feel that people have been trying to replicate ever since.

SSS: Tell us about the Custom Marshall Plexi Point-to-Point Circuit Boards that you make. Do you offer other boards as well?

George M.: Like a lot of cats, I was “underwhelmed” by the reissue amps Marshall put out, which begged the question, “Where did they go wrong?” I started comparing them to my original Marshalls and found several things. The quality of the components in the originals were much better suited for guitar amps, although they had higher tolerance ratings which made the amps all sound a little different. The filter caps were higher values. The output transformer was made completely different than originals. And the current production tubes sounded different.

OK, so what do I do to make the RI’s more like those old plexi’s? Fortunately, Mercury Magnetics offers accurate reproduction transformers and chokes. Correct filter caps are available. And current tubes are getting closer to Mullards. So what about the components? It was easier and cooler looking to replace those flimsy pc boards with a point to point terminal board, so that’s what I did. It turns out other guys wanted to do the same so I made my boards available to them.

So far, I only have Marshall boards. I’m just a small one-man shop so it takes a while to develop new products. But the list will continue to grow.

SSS: You sell Marhsall Amp Kits on your website. How easy is it for a beginner to learn the ways of building this amp through your amp kit?

George M.: I have had several newbies buy the kits and all of them have completed them. Some needed more tech support than others. Ultimately, you need to be able to make good solder joints, know how to use a multimeter and most importantly pay close attention to detail.

The kit comes with step by step instructions. Each step focuses on just a few tasks and includes a picture and description. Anyone who wants a copy of my technical reference CD can email their address to sales@metroamp.com and I’ll mail them a copy.

One of the best features of my kits is the support that is available. I can be reached by phone or email and there’s a whole forum on my site where you can get questions answered by myself and others who have built the kits.

SSS: Which tubes do you prefer in your Marshall amps?

George M.: Mullards whenever possible, of course. But for modern production I like JJ’s alot. Winged “C” are very good sounding EL-34’s. I recently tried the Groove Tubes Mullard 12ax7 copy and I have to say it sounds closest of all the current tubes. Very nice.

SSS: Tell us about your experiences as a musician. You say you played with Kid Rock?

George M.: I did, back in ’94 and 95, playing college campuses around the mid-west. It was a cool gig and a great experience. But at that time I wanted to focus on my own group and business. Go figure. I knew he was a great talent, but I obviously didn’t expect him to blow up like he did.

Later I toured full time in a 11 piece funk/rock band. We played several industry showcases and wound up in a development deal on Atlantic Records. Later we were bought out by legendary producer Nile Rogers. He produced and shopped several cuts for us, but there weren’t many deals going down in the industry at that time. We didn’t get one.

Finally, I had enough of the road and came home to concentrate on my amp business. I still play locally 3-5 nights a week.

SSS: How about as a tech. Any tips you can offer musicians as they hit the road for their next line of gigs?

George M.: Take two of everything! Get a road case for your amp. Don’t set drinks on your gear. Use new batteries. Really, high quality gear just needs some maintenance from time to time. If you play every week, once a year have a good tech check it out. Take extra tubes with you and use good cables.

SSS: What are your impressions of boutique pedals that attempt the classic Marshall crunch? Or, any classic amp tone for that matter?

George M.: You have to see pedals for what they are to accept what they can realistically accomplish. Solid state components running at 9 volts will never be as dynamic as tubes with 500 volts on the plates.

Having said that, pedals are incredibly useful. And some of them are awfully good. Tons of records have been made using the Sansamp pedals, for example. It’s still hard to beat Boss overdrive and distortion pedals for certain things. I have to admit that I haven’t tried many of the boutique offerings. I do have a Klon Centaur that someone brought in for repair and never picked up (wasn’t that nice of them?). And I recently got a Time Machine Boost which is great. But technically it’s a boost, not an overdrive.

SSS: Are Metroamps pedal friendly? Or, are they more of the plug-in-and-play type?

George M.: The amps I build work great with pedals. Especially since they’re clones of the original amps that were used while designing a lot of pedals.

SSS: What are your thoughts on power attenuators? Obviously some are better than others, but can they offer the same sound as a purely cranked amplifier?

George M.: Any attenuator is a compromise by it’s very nature. You will always lose dynamics when you absorb some of an amp’s output. That said, if you can minimize the compromise the results are really good. As long as you only attenuate by a click or two, you can keep a lot of that cranked amp tone and feel.

One inherent problem with attenuators is that they clamp the output level of your amp. If you step on a boost for your solo, the sound level stays the same but the tone gets mushier. That’s what led me to mod Power Brakes for a second level control. That way I can raise the overall level for solos.

SSS: Being the Marshall lover you are, I’m guessing you go for 4×12 cabinets. Is this true?

George M.: I am a 4×12 guy, for Marshalls. I also love a Fender Super Reverb with four 10’s in an open back. Low wattage speakers are important in either case.

SSS: Do you have a preference of speaker choice?

George M.: I have a couple old Marshall cabs with greenbacks that sound great. But also have the characteristic farty-ness that greenbacks are known for. I just started carrying basket weave replica cabs. I loaded one with current G12H’s and it rocks! A little stiff sounding at first, but once broken in they take on a great vintage flavor.

I’ve been wanting to try some of Ted Weber’s speakers too.

SSS: What’s the greatest tone you ever heard? Who was it? What gear was the guitarist using?

George M.: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. The guitar player for Lenny Kravitz sounded devilishly good with a Les Paul and a Smallbox 50 watt when I seen him. Certainly one of the best tones I’ve ever heard in person.

Another time I was front row center, right between Dicky Betts and Warren Haynes with the Allman Bros Band. Each of their half stacks blasting in my face. What amazing tone. So musical and warm. Dicky was playing through an old 100 watt Marshall and Warren had an ENGL and a Soldano (not sure which he was using).

SSS: Aside from soul, what is the most essential ingredient to good tone?

George M.: Finding the combination of instrument and devices that inspires you to express yourself. When you play a guitar that feels like an extension of you, that’s going to sound how ever you’re feeling. Whether that be happy, sad, angry, etc.

SSS: If someone left you alone on a desert island with just your favorite guitar and a Fender amp, would you go nuts!?

George M.: Nope. But I would have to tune to open G and play Stones tunes!

For more information, please visit the website for Metro Amp.

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