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Those Rose Colored Glasses of Yore

by vaughn skow November 16, 2011 4 min read

There is an old saying that goes like this: "youth is wasted on the young".  And seriously, it would be awesome to have that uber-responsive 18 year old body that could be used and abused and bounce right back ... matched to a seasoned brain capable of rational thought and not subject to whims of fancy.  Or would it?  We’re going to take a trip back to my world, as it existed about 30 or so years ago, when I was a bright-faced teen just starting to chart my musical path.  Please, join me for this little trip...

Vaughn Skow in 1978 with Fender Deluxe Amp

So, if you have read this blog from its inception then you know that my very first amp was a brown Fender Deluxe Amp.  It was the cheapest thing on the floor at Kraft Music in Estherville, Iowa.  Soon I found myself playing with my Schoolmates David Ellefsonand Greg Handevidt(who both went on to co-found the metal group Megadeth with Dave Mustaine).  Dave and Greg were playing through the latest and greatest thing, a pair of MusicMan4x12 stacks.  My poor lil Deluxe was Sooooo outgunned, even though I removed the original Oxford speaker and replaced it with one from Radio Shack that had a shiny metal dust cap (I’m not kidding here-totally serious).  Yep, 15 year old Vaughn had not yet reached a level of maturity that allowed me to perceive and appreciate good tone. 

So, off I went once again to a local music store in search of something that could keep up with those Music Man stacks.  I walked out of Lusk Music in Jackson Minnesota with a 135-watt Fender Twin Reverb with a pair of real-deal orange-frame Fender/JBL D-120F’s ... complete with silver dust caps.  Guess what, that little (but ungodly heavy) bugger could keep up with the big stacks ... go figure!  This was my introduction to the difference a speaker can make in a guitar amp.  I’d sit my Twin beside someone else’s Twin that was identical, but without the JBL’s, and mine was literally twice as loud! I now know that it only takes about a 10dB difference for our ears to perceive something as being "twice as loud", but that’s another story for another time.

Vaughn Skow in 1980 with Twin Reverb

Okay, so, I now had enough volume to run any adult out of any room, but those darn Music Man amps still had something my twin did not: distortion!  That’s the "D" in the RD designation of those early Music Man amps.  Sure, my Twin had a pull-up for distortion master volume that seemed to make the amp a little angrier sounding, but it was nothing like the sonic assault of the distortion channel of the Music Man amps.  In Jackson Minnesota in 1980, distortion pedals were almost impossible to find, but I did manage to acquire an Electro-Harmonix Little Muff-Pi.  Distortion?  Sure, but totally unusable and uncontrollable.  It made my twin squeal like a pig headed for the slaughter house. You haven’t heard ugly until you’ve heard a 135-watt master-volume silverface Twin Reverb with JBLs in a small café when some idiot hits the button on a muff-Pi.  Holy crap batman!  I needed a better solution, how did folks get those smooth high-gain sounds that were all over the radio dial in the early 80’s, anyway?

Enter the Scholz Rockman.  Yea baby!  In about 1984 I returned from recording school and thought I knew all there was to know about sound.  I bought a Rockman and talked my entire band at the time, Crossfire, to go direct through the PA.  Take a close look at this pic and you’ll se a little silver homemade holder for the Rockman on my mic-stand.  Oh yea baby, a Kramer V guitar with Dimarzio super-distortion pickups and a Floyd Rose through that Rockman, who could ask for anything more?  All the gain you could ask for!

Vaughn Skow 1984 with Band Crossfire

Okay, so let’s run down my progression.  I went from:

  1. A sweet brown Fender Deluxe to...
  2. A loud as heck but sterile sounding Twin to ...
  3. A god-awful tone sucking device!

The crazy thing is that, at the time, I thought each step was a step UP(!) the tonal food chain.  Okay, so maybe youth is in fact wasted on the young!  Today, my favorite amps are Fenders from the Tweed, Brown, and Black-face era, and I sure do wish I still had that Brown Deluxe (although not with the Radio Shack speaker!).

I’ll end this little walk down memory lane with this:  Last week a buddy brought me his Music Man RD50, offering to sell it real cheap.  Wow, here was the sound that was the object of such desire in my little teenage heart, just waiting to be mine!  I plugged my trusty ol Strat in; the clean channel wasn’t up to my current standards, but what about that hi-gain sound that so mesmerized me at the hands of Greg Handevidt in Dave Ellefson’s basement in 1979?  Well, I engaged the distortion channel and, there it was ... the sound of a big, fat cow expelling gas.  What?  Had the sound changed that much?  Probably not, but my ears had.  I now know what good tone is, and what it is not.  I’ll stick with my uber thick and juicy ’67 Super Reverb, but man do I wish I still had my 18 year old back when it comes time to lug it to a gig.  Yep, in my case, youth was wasted on the young.

This was a blast for me!  You?

See ya next week.

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