This is a guest post by James Abel
A man that needs no introduction, Jimmy Page is arguably one of the most influential writers, producers and players the world has ever seen. His work with David Coverdale, Paul Rogers and of course being the founding member of the biggest Rock n’ Roll band of all time, provides him with a truly monumental status among the legends and kings of guitar heroes. Though when it comes to capturing his sound, Page is possibly one of the hardest players around to land a finger on. Not only is he often secretive over the gear he has used through the years, he’s also used so much different gear it’s difficult to point to a definitive set-up. With that said, this article will aim to cover both the maestro’s earlier tone, as heard on Zeppelin I and early television recordings, as well as the tone Page is more associated with, that’s right you guessed it, a Les Paul and a Marshall.
During the early years of Zeppelin, page was often spotted using his trusty Fender Esquire, or the axe that is known as many by the ‘Dragon Tele’. Either way, when attempting to capture Pages early sound, a Tele that features vintage voiced pickups is a good way to go. A hunt around on eBay can see you pick up a Fender USA Tele for around $1000 depending on the year or model. Other models that could well be suited to wetting your appetite for all things early Page, include Fender’s 50s, 60s and Baja Telecaster models, all of which reach in around the $1000-$1300 region. For those with a slightly juicier wallet, re-creating Page’s Dragon Tele shouldn’t have you scratching your heads too much. It may be a good idea to start here with a Fender 60s Custom Shop Tele. After that, finding a luthier to apply Page’s famous artwork as well as a silver foil scratch plate shouldn’t be difficult at all. In all honesty though, you hardly need to be a professional artist to have a crack at it yourself. In terms of amplifiers, when it comes to the early page tone, two are often mentioned heavily in books and online. The first of these is the relatively well-known Supro Thunderbolt. Pushing a Telecaster through the Thunderbolt should hit the nail on the head. The cutting, biting sound heard on Communication Breakdown or the droning riff of Dazed and Confused should really hit home here, with the Thunderbolt providing enough valve driven goodness to leave you having kittens. Getting hold of an original Thunderbolt can cost you anywhere between $1600-$3000, and with some hunting around should not be too difficult to locate. The other amplifier that seems to pop-up with regards to Pages’ early sound is the Vox Super Deluxe. Originally designed for the Beatles, the amplifier earned the nickname ‘Super Beatle’ or the ‘Beatle’. For those interested in purchasing a ‘Super Beatle’ the price generally ranges from $3000 upwards, however they’re slightly less difficult to locate than the Thunderbolt. For fans on a budget, a small valve amp like a Marshall Class 5 or Vox AC4 should get you swinging in the right ballpark. It’s no secret that Page had a soft spot for low wattage amps and both of the above should get you into the general area. In terms of stomp boxes, two or three are real obvious choices; the first of which being the Vox Wah. Finding an original version of this pedal can be more than difficult, and so looking into purchasing Vox’s hand-wired Wah should certainly not be pushed aside. For those with less cash to spend it’s worth looking into both Vox’s standard Wah, or Dunlop’s trusty Crybaby. The second pedal that is a must have when acquiring Page’s early tone, is an overdrive. The first Stomp box that leaps forwards here is the MKII JMI Tonebender. Using a Tonebender to push the input of the amplifiers mentioned above will really help you to gain that gorgeous saturation that has some real clarity when using single coils. If you fancy picking up a Tonebender, JMI offer a large range of re-issues that hit in around the $300 mark. Early effects guru Roger Mayer also offers his take on the overdrive that he originally built for Jimmy, under the guise of the ‘Page 1’. Although this is not a reissue of Jimmy’s early overdrive, it should provide you with the general tone you’re looking for. This also weighs in at around the $300 price range.
During the latter years of his career, pretty much anyone could tell you that Page is synonymous with a Les Paul and a Marshall. Although a Les Paul is definitely integral part to Page’s sound, the founding member of Zep has been known to use a wide range of amplifiers, including Marshalls, Hiwatts, Oranges and amps built by Pete Cornish. But let’s take a look at the guitars first.
Due to the wide range on offer, finding a Page signature model shouldn’t be too much trouble at all. They will provide you with his famed custom wiring, his suited neck profiles, and all the raunchy, beefy tone his Lester’s exude. However, that does come at a rather painful price, depending on the model and year. A possibly more viable way of getting close to Pagey’s Lester, is to purchase a Gibson Les Paul traditional. The new 2013 model sports a non-weight relived body, as well as Bumblebee capacitors that get you slightly closer to the glory days of Gibson’s golden boy. From that point, you may want to look into having Page style wiring installed, allowing you to phase invert, coil tap and series parallel your way into Page land. In terms of pickup replacements, Seymour Duncan’s Whole Lotta Humbucker is the perfect option. A set very closely based on the pickups in Page’s number 1, they provide all the width and drive that really makes a non-master volume amp sing. I actually own a set of the pickups, and genuinely believe many people would have a hard time finding a set-up that gets closer to Page’s live tone in the 70’s than a Les Paul, those pickups and a bloody loud Marshall. Another option when it comes to pick-up swapping is Bare Knuckles Black Dog; this is a hand wound pickup that aims to capture Page’s tone. Though if you are one for hand-wound pickups, and would prefer the Whole Lotta Humbucker, the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop also offer a hand-wound version that matches the £250 the price of the Black Dog. Other noticeable axes the Englishman has used include the Gibson EDS1275 used on the live performances of Stairway, Song remains the same and Achilles last stand. For something a tad more out there, getting hold of a Danelectro 59’ reissue will give you the jangly, lipstick fuelled that’s been heard throughout Page’s career. Whether it’s White summer/Black Mountainside, Kashmir or In My Time of Dying, the Dano will give you some of the lesser-known Page sounds at around $500. A very enticing price tag indeed. In terms of amplifiers it really is down to which kind of Page sound you prefer. During his live performances, including the Zep reunion show in 2008, Page has been known to use several amplifiers at once. If you really do want to go all out when it comes to amplifiers, this is a must when getting to grips with Jimmy’s wide and layered sound. A good place to start is with a Marshall 1959 SLP (you can pick up a reissue for around a grand) and combining it with an Orange AD50. Blending the two will help to give you the roar of the Marshall, but the smoother overtones of the Orange providing you with a balanced tone. Adding a Highwatt should get you pretty close to the mark. However, for those looking to use just one amplifier, the Marshall Plexi is probably you’re best bet. You only need to listen to the Heartbreaker solo to realise how much it drips with the swagger of Page. One way in which the SLP can be made to be closer to Page’s own amplifiers, is by increasing the output to 200 Watts and fitting KT88 valves. The added volume and headroom should be enough to give you the clarity when cranked that Page’s tone is synonymous with. When it comes to pedals, the two mentioned above are still a very good bet. However, you may wish to add a few more. A script logo Phase 90 will allow you to get your Kashmir on, while in recent years, the Les Paul toting mastermind has been spotted with a Digitech whammy glued down onto his board.
There are so many avenues of Page’s playing and tone that it would take a novel to cover it. Though, with that in mind, I hope the above article has been insightful of how to get into the general ballpark for one of the world’s most popular players. Whether you desire the early barking Tele fuelled sound of the Yardbirds and early Zep, or the sound of Page’s raunchy, roaring overdriven Les Paul glued low to your hip, there are both high and low budget options out there. With that it mind, when you come to test out some of the above pieces of gear, make sure you don’t play stairway…