KIRK HAMMETT characteristically relies on a rock star—sized rack of amplifiers, preamps and custom-tweaked processors to generate his volcanic live sound. In the studio, this rack becomes a part of an even larger equation, where Hammett meticulously augments and shapes his iconic tones with a menagerie of specialized and vintage gear. If you haven’t guessed it, Guitar World’s first Hall of Fame inductee is an incurable tone hound that has lacked only one thing: an amplifier singularly capable of creating his current trademark tones and versatile enough to grow with Hammett’s changing tastes and needs.
Randall Amplification teamed with Hammett to devise this metalhead’s daydream amplifier after Anthrax’s Scott Ian raved to Hammett about his and Dimebag Darrell’s positive experiences with Randall amps. It just so happens that Randall’s MTS (Modular Tube System) amplifiers are perhaps the ideal platform for Hammett’s amp, because they are famous for their high-end sound quality and allow for practically limitless expansion. Amp whiz Bruce Egnater pioneered this cleverly practical system where the preamp consists of removable tube-driven modules, each designed to achieve a specific tonal goal. Kirk’s Hammett’s signature series Randall MTS amplifier comes loaded with the three modules that he and Randall’s engineers crafted over an extensive research and development collaboration.
The power section of the Hammett’s Randall uses four 6L6GC tubes to produce 100 watts of thumping power. Each of the power tubes has its own test point, bias adjustment, fuse and tube failure indicator light. Ample transformers throttle the amp’s output, and a vertical fan simultaneously blows cool air around the tubes and across the circuit boards. Two 12AX7 preamp tubes are dedicated to the amazing- sounding series and parallel effect loops, while a third 12AX7 drives the preamp input stage for all three channels. Global knobs on the front panel control master output, density (low end depth), presence and the mix level for any effects in the parallel loop.
The modular preamp section has three channels, which means that there are three ports that will accept any of Randall’s many MTS preamp modules. Of course, the amp ships with the three preamp modules that Randall developed from their measurements of Hammett’s gear and with a lot of input from Hammett himself. Each preamp module features two 12AX7 preamp tubes and controls for gain, bass, middle, treble, volume and bright boost. As a nice personal touch, Hammett’s own handwriting labels the controls on the modules and all front panel features.
Module RH-1 is intended to deliver Hammett’s unique clean tones, which sound a lot like the woody warmth of a Fender Deluxe mixed with the satiny midrange of a Roland JC120. KH-2 is aimed right at delivering Hammett’s thick and punchy Recto-based rhythm and lead tones. The third module, KH-3, is primarily dedicated to higher-gain lead sounds. It’s important to remember that these modules are not copying the tones of any single amplifier. Rather, they are encapsulating the complicated sound that results from many pieces of Hammett’s personal gear.
On the back, the amp features seven-pin MIDI In and Thru jacks, two speaker outputs, the aforementioned effect loops, a slave output and an impedance switch with four-, eight- and 16-ohm settings. The supplied three-button programmable footpedal connects to the MIDI-in jack and also features a nine-volt output for powering other pedals. Randall’s matching 4×12 cab is loaded with a pair of Celestion Vintage 30s and a pair of Celestion G12T-75s, which allows Hammett to get plenty of midrange kick and sizzling presence out of one cabinet Besides the cab’s stereo inputs, there’s also a built-in “mic eliminator” direct box that consists of two XLR outputs, a ground lift and dedicated bright, normal and dark settings.
Hammett’s RH-1 module constructs Hammett’s most elusive clean tones, which are characterized by a soft lower midrange, strong high mids and a round, defined bass. This combination of qualities makes it quite easy to nail Hammett’s tone on “One,” from …And Justice for All, and the “Black Album” track “Nothing Else Matters.” It’s a disarmingly sympathetic voice with the same foreboding charm that Boris Karloff used to mesmerize his victims in classic horror films.
The KH-2 module produced thick crunch tones, which I easily dialed into a “Sanitarium”-style rhythm focus or the massive and wide crunch that Hammett used on Garage Inc.’s “Sabbra Cadabra” cover. Most of this range is thanks to highly responsive midrange controls. Per Hammett’s request, they are more like depth controls, where even extreme midrange response curves don’t disturb the amp’s feel. On low settings, the midrange sounds like it’s firing from a distance. Cranked high, it becomes a crunch cannon that will blow your head off.
Hammett’s third module builds on the KH-2’s heavy low-end punch, adding mids, gain and a British-style leading edge. Incredible definition is maintained at the expense of long sustain. But since Hammett is known for goosing his amps with a Tube Screamer overdrive, I used the same method to make over-the-top leads possible. Randall should also be commended for the amp’s effect loops. Far from an afterthought, these loops maintain amazing signal integrity and strength.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Randall has actually managed to accurately capture the tone and feel of Kirk Hammett’s most instantly recognizable clean and heavy tones in the new RM100KH MTS signature series amplifier and matching RS412KHX cabinet. So, it goes without saying that this amp is a must have for any hardcore Metallica fan who wants to experience the closest thing to visiting Hammett’s studio. Best of all, this amp isn’t limited to these incredible Metallica tones. The three modular preamps can be swapped out in seconds for any of Randall’s other standard or artist series MTS modules. Thanks to Randall Amplifiers for the report!
Randall RM100KH MTS Review