I recently uploaded a video to my channel demo’ing my attempt to get close to the guitar tone used by Johnny Marr on ‘The Headmaster Ritual’, the opening track on Meat Is Murder by The Smiths.
I started *trying* to play this song in 1985, not long after the album release, using the equipment I had at the time. I’m now in a position to acquire guitar gear that allows me to recreate these tones reasonably accurately: a Rickenbacker 330, Boss (Wazacraft) Chorus pedal for that eighties modulation wobble and a small grey box that replicates the sound of a nice Blackface Fender amp. This enables me to get pretty close to the sound Marr was working with during the early(ish) part of the Smiths era.
In the mid-80’s gear was not a thing in the same way as it is in today’s guitar culture. From memory, no other player who I knew was ‘chasing tone’. Tone was a knob on your instrument next to the volume control.
At the time, it seemed to be enough to get something that approximated the sound of your heroes.
In 1985 when Meat Is Murder was released, I was using a no-name, white, maple neck Strat copy. It wasn’t actually that bad a guitar, but for my 17th birthday shortly after, I managed a serious upgrade.
The Rickenbacker 250 was part of a ‘budget’ range launched in 83/84 as ‘A New Standard for Affordable Guitars‘. Maple body & neck, rosewood fingerboard and gold Schaller hardware. The pickups had that Rick jangle similar to its older brothers & sisters but could also function as a P90-style with a fatter mid-range sound. They are a pretty rare find these days and given the brand name, a used one from the same era will sell for circa 1500 quid, significantly more than the £300-ish they retailed for at the time.
Also – almost no Marr riffs could be played without a Capo. I did’nt have the spare change required to buy replacement strings after tuning up a whole step to F#. Instead, I invested in a Jim Dunlop model that you can still buy today for a few pounds.
It was the mid-80s so, yes you’ve guessed it, I had a solid-state amplifier.
The Session Rockette was rated 30 Watts, with a Celestion 12″ speaker and built-in spring reverb tank. It was twin channel (clean & drive) and was also equipped with FX send and return. Apparently, Eric Clapton used two of them to record his August album. You can read more about the history and specs here.
At the time this amp was also a big upgrade (from a homemade transistor amp I bought via someone at my school). The reverb was great and it was unusual for a budget UK-made small amp to have a quality speaker. I used it one time with an extension cab and it sounded *loud* & great whilst remaining cleanish. Check out this demo for a flavour of the sounds it can produce. Secondhand, you can buy one in good condition in the UK for £50-75. I should probably just get one for the nostalgia.
This should probably be titled ‘Pedal’ as I only had one:
When combined with the Rick & the Rockette, this gem gave me all the Marr-ness I needed in 1985. Apparently this model was also used by Jimmy Page. Expect to pay between £60-100 for one in good condition.
And that concludes my 1986 rig rundown. Once I had acquired this setup, at the time it seemed like all I could ever need. How times change.
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