Okay, I never imagined how far this journey would take me. It started with a simple request to do a blog on Eddie Van Halen's use of a Variac. Cool, but while researching that I stumbled upon some seriously interesting tidbits about his first Frankenstein guitar, which of course led to another blog. However, as a SERIOUS fan of Leo Fender, this last gem I uncovered may just be the coolest of them all. We all know that Jim Marshall basically copied a Fender Bassman when he had his first amp designed, so in that way Eddie's famed Marshall amps are ...well ... kinda Fenders in their own right. Okay, that's a stretch, right? This however, is not: Eddie's most important amp at the time of the first THREE Van Halen albums was NOT a Marshall at all, nope, it was a blond Fender Bandmaster! Holy crap ... what?
The hands-down best Eddie Van Halen interview ever conducted was done by Guitar Aficionado Magazine in their Jan/Feb 2014 issue. There is SO MUCH great info there! Nuts & bolts stuff about his guitars and amps, the stuff we gear heads relish. Sadly, that awesome magazine has went the way of the dinosaurs, but parts of the interview are still available at this site by Guitar Player Magazine. Go ahead, take a moment to go read it right now, I won't be offended, and since Guitar Player's future is in serious question as of this writing ... do it now, before it's gone forever! Okay, on to the Bandmaster!
Here's Eddie's actual Bandmaster, the one we're talking about:
Here's what Eddie had to say about his 1963 Blond Bandmaster:
“I used that amp for years in two ways. I already had the Marshall, but I had not stumbled onto the Variac thing yet, so I would use the Bandmaster through the Marshall cabinet when we gigged at smaller clubs like Gazzarri’s. In the little house in Pasadena that I grew up in, my mom always hated what she called ‘that high crying noise’—in other words, soloing. She’d always go, ‘Why do you have to make that high crying noise?’ “If you plug the cabinet into the external speaker output instead of the regular output, it’s really quiet. I could turn everything all the way up, which is what I always did anyway, and there was this small amount of bleed that sounded exactly like when the regular output is turned all the way up, but it’s really quiet. Everyone says that you can’t do that because the transformer will blow, but the amp never blew up. “The real beauty of that amp is how many songs I wrote with it. I wrote all of the early Van Halen songs for the first three albums with that amp, playing quietly in my room. It was really quiet, so my mom couldn’t hear me, but it sounded amazing. My dog Monty would sit down next to me, and he dug it. When I wrote the intro to ‘Women in Love,’ he was sitting there with his ears perked up, like the RCA Victor dog. That Bandmaster was more important than my Marshall head, because I wrote everything with it.”
Okay, lot's of mind blowing info here, but the part about writing all of the first three albums on the Bandmaster. Yea, that's serious.
I've always considered the Bandmasters to be the most under-rated and under-valued of all vintage Fender amps;
they have almost exactly the same circuit as the famed blond, blackface, and silverface Fender Bassman but with the addition of vibrato, and they actually sell for a good deal LESS than the comparable Bassman! One possible advantage the Bandmaster has over the Bassman is it's slightly smaller output tranny, which allows the amp a little more breakup, especially at less than ear-shattering volumes; I imagine Eddie found that to be tremendously enjoyable!
So there ya have it, the final installment in my trip down the Eddie Van Halen tone trail, hope ya enjoyed the trip!