Leslie West's Sunn Amps

Barquentine

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This is from his Wikipedia page. Interesting I thought:

The Sunn amplifiers that West used were of the late 1960s era and were not factory stock. The 4-channel amplifier heads' preamps were wired as cascading preamps to 1 channel, out to the amp's power section. That's what produced the long compressed sustain and distorted overdrive of the great Mountain sound that he is well known for. This is years before Mesa Boogie Amplifiers with a similar idea got their amps on the world stage, but Boogies do have their own sound comparatively.
 

tmac

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They were stock Sunn PA amps. Not what Leslie was expecting when he opened the shipping box,he was expectinga guitar amp. . But he realized that they were cool amps for his tone. Happy accident.
 

zombiwoof

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They were stock Sunn PA amps. Not what Leslie was expecting when he opened the shipping box,he was expectinga guitar amp. . But he realized that they were cool amps for his tone. Happy accident.
The main thing he liked was that the P.A. head had a master volume, and each of the channels had a volume for that channel. So, it was a master volume amp before guitar amps had that feature, allowing him to overdrive it at lower volumes. However, it must have still been loud, as I recall it was a 300 watt amp. I think the master volume thing is what the writer of that Wikipedia page is mistakenly calling "cascaded preamps".
Al
 

Rc7321

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This is from his Wikipedia page. Interesting I thought:

The Sunn amplifiers that West used were of the late 1960s era and were not factory stock. The 4-channel amplifier heads' preamps were wired as cascading preamps to 1 channel, out to the amp's power section. That's what produced the long compressed sustain and distorted overdrive of the great Mountain sound that he is well known for. This is years before Mesa Boogie Amplifiers with a similar idea got their amps on the world stage, but Boogies do have their own sound comparatively.
Randall Smith & Frank Levi were repairing & modding amps in the 60's.
Randal west coast, Frank east.
If there were any modded amps in the industry on the east coast you can bet Frank either had a hand in it or knew about it.
Waddy Watchel would be the one to ask about Leslie West's amps.
Unless you can bring Frank back [deceased] and/or get me Randall on the phone we will never know who did what exactly & when in the 60's. And even then its a maybe.
I grew up in the 1960's and can tell you nobody aspired for a Sunn amp [or very few].
It was mostly Marshall & Fender who led the pack.
I had a Sunn Alpa lead in 1982' right before i got my first JMP and even tho i was glad to have the SS Sunn at that time looking back it wasn't all that.
There were many in my area that were gigging with Alpha & Beta Leads.
They just didn't really cut like a Marshall.
 
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teemuk

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Since mid 1960's there were several solid-state amps that cascaded a built-in "fuzz" effect circuit to the signal path. Same thing.
 

Rc7321

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Are there any amps known to have cascading pre-amps prior to Randall Smith's work ?

In guitar amps im not sure.
Smith got his start building Ham radios from scratch in the Boy Scouts. Who did what when in the age of the Apollo Moon missions is inconsequential IMO.
There is more IC chip speed/storage/memory in the typical Iphone than there was in the Saturn V Rockets but alot of what we enjoy today got its start in the Space Program.
Including but not limited to Velcro.
 

Barquentine

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In guitar amps im not sure.
Smith got his start building Ham radios from scratch in the Boy Scouts. Who did what when in the age of the Apollo Moon missions is inconsequential IMO.
There is more IC chip speed/storage/memory in the typical Iphone than there was in the Saturn V Rockets but alot of what we enjoy today got its start in the Space Program.
Including but not limited to Velcro.
I wasn't trying to make a point. I just have a very amateur interest in the development of guitar amps.
 

tmac

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The main thing he liked was that the P.A. head had a master volume, and each of the channels had a volume for that channel. So, it was a master volume amp before guitar amps had that feature, allowing him to overdrive it at lower volumes. However, it must have still been loud, as I recall it was a 300 watt amp. I think the master volume thing is what the writer of that Wikipedia page is mistakenly calling "cascaded preamps".
Al
Yes the cascading thing was definitely wrong in the wiki. Master volume - yes. I really believe what Leslie liked (since he cranked them anyway) was the little extra gain that circuit had over their standard guitar amp circuit. He told Sunn to make the same amp with "guitar amp" on the front panel and not change a thing. They didn't listen.. The Sunn Studio PA amp is the same amp with two power tubes in the output for a little less volume. They can still be found on Revefb and ebay from time to time.

Also, Hi-Watt amps had master volume controls too at that time.
 

whateverdude

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Nothing to add but I do love Leslies guitar tone from the old Mountain days. And old Sunn Amps, I’ve owned a few. They had there own thing going on.
 

willie k

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When I saw Mountain in the late ‘70s, West was playing a Flying V with the neck pickup removed. I had never seen a picture of them playing, and didn’t know about the Jr.
Side story: That was also the first time I had seen a V, and I was hooked. I sent a letter to the editor of Guitar Player, the only source I knew at the time, asking to buy if anyone had one for sale. They printed my letter and I got responses. I could have bought an original V for about $1200. It might as well have been $12MM. Oh well...
 

Rc7321

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When I saw Mountain in the late ‘70s, West was playing a Flying V with the neck pickup removed. I had never seen a picture of them playing, and didn’t know about the Jr.
Side story: That was also the first time I had seen a V, and I was hooked. I sent a letter to the editor of Guitar Player, the only source I knew at the time, asking to buy if anyone had one for sale. They printed my letter and I got responses. I could have bought an original V for about $1200. It might as well have been $12MM. Oh well...
My buddy owns a local shop. He sold an original 50's era Korina V in the $460,000.00 range earlier this year.
 

tmac

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Good article
 

drbob1

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Randall Smith was working at Prune Music and doing master volumes well before the SUNN thing. But the cascaded gain stages, with individual volumes, appears to have happened in 1970 building a preamp to drive Crown power amps. At least according to his own story.
 

Loudguitar

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I saw Mountain in 1971, right before "Nantucket Sleighride" was released. He played the Jr. through the Sunn amps. Three stacks. Cab, head, and cab on top of the head. His guitar solo was spectacular, but Felix Pappalardi's bass solo was awesome. I can't recall if he had the V or if I have just seen so many pictures of him with it.
 




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