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Sleeper Amps part 1 - the Randall RG80ES

by vaughn skow November 08, 2010 3 min read

Hi amp lovers everywhere!  This week I want to start a discussion about "sleeper amps".  This is the crusp of what WGS is all about.  We are folks who really love to take the road less traveled, and we are often rewarded with aural nirvana not known to the masses.  We’re not going to waste our time saying all the same old stuff about all the same old amps - no way, baby!  We’re talking about diamond-in-the-rough amps that can really deliver some serious tone, yet have largely managed to fly under the tone radar up to this point.  I hope this will become somewhat of a regular feature on this blog, and I welcome your suggestions on other sleeper amps.  Okay, ya ready for this weeks sleeper amp?  Drum roll, please ... Presenting the Randall RG80ES.  Okay, let’s dive in.

Let’s start at the beginning ... and in this case the beginning is a man by the name of Don Randall.  Don was Leo Fender’s right-hand man from 1946 all the way up until 1969.  If you have any question as to Don’s role in the development of electric guitar tone, just imagine this: it was Randall who named the Telecaster, Esquire, Stratocaster, Precision Bass, Twin Reverb, Bassman, and a bunch of other iconic Fender guitars and amps.  Randall is largly credited as being just as instrumental in the development of electric guitars and amps as Leo Fender himself.  Leo was the tinkerer and the fix-it guy, but Don was the real dreamer.

Don always believed that solid-state amps could be made to sound good, and in the 1970’s Randall began making solid-state Amps that proudly bore his own name, even though some of those designs really were not all that great.  The first Randall design to gain fame is the topic of this Blog, the RG80ES.  The RG80 was available as a combo, but was most often sold as a head and cabinet stack.  For the record, first came the short-lived RG80, and then the "es" model, which most believe stood for extra-sustain.  What Randall termed "sustain", is today simply called high-gain distortion.  Whatever you call it, it was a huge hit with 80’s shredders and hair-metal bands alike.  Famous RG80ES users included Dokken and "Dimebag" Darrell, and a bunch of 80's hairband shreders.  Extra-sustain was just what players were looking for in the mid eighties, and the RG80ES dished it out in spades!

Personally, I avoided the Randall amps when they first came out, shoot, I was conditioned to believe that all solid state amps were junk!  It was around 2006 that a RG80ES found its way into my all-tube stable of amps.  The RG80ES is a two-channel amp with a good old acutronics long-spring reverb.  Both channels have an input gain and a master volume control, and they share a bass-mid-treble tone stack, master reverb, and presence control.  Yep, sounds a lot like an old tube-amp layout, doesn’t it?  On the ES models, there is a little secret-weapon that is totally undisclosed on the amp itself.  The treble control, when pulled-out, engages an extra whollop of sustain (input gain).  Even without this engaged, the amps high gain channel is capable of some serious sustain; engaged, it gets insane ... even by modern standards.  In 1983 or so, this was a real game-changer.  It’s not just that this amp has a lot of gain, either, it’s the fact that it actually sounds very good.  The sustain is liquid, smooth, and very musical, and the bottom end is extremely tight and meaty.

Now, on to the clean tone.  I believe the RG80ES clean tones do not get the respect they deserve.  I have compared the RG80’s clean tones to many vintage Fender amps, and I can honestly say that the Randall hangs in there with the best of them.  The shared tone-stack makes simultaneously dialing in both perfect clean and high-gain tones tricky, but it is very capable in both arenas.  The addition of the old-world long-spring reverb makes the clean sound of this amp even more fendery.  This amp can surf as well as it can shred, not many amps can pull that off.

Don’t just take my word for it, though.  Find one for yourself and I just bet you’ll agree.  This is one very cool sleeper amp!  Video clips of the RG80ES abound on youtube, too.

One quick caveat, around 1990-something Randall was bought out by a large multi-national corporation.  Today’s Randall is nothing like the Randall of the early 1980’s. Oh, and did you notice the amp on top of my RG80es, just barely peaking out?  Yep, that’s another sleeper for another blog.  Your gonna love it.

Until next week...    -Vaughn-

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