Gear Stories With Sylvia Massy: Her Satanic Majesty's SVT Beast

Oct 25, 2010 2:17 PM, By Sylvia Massy

THE DANGEROUS AMPEG TONE

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The Beast, gloriously restored

The Beast, gloriously restored

A STONES TALE
Fast-forward to two years later. Scot Alexander, now living in Idaho, called me unexpectedly. “I fixed up that old SVT, and I did some research on it. I want to bring it back to you because I feel guilty.” Huh? He arrived with the amp, completely beautifully refurbished with new black Tolex, a new replacement cover on the front and a quieter fan, but still retaining all of its original attitude. An astounding transformation! Oh yeah, and The Beast didn’t bite anymore. Scot had lovingly brought it back to life and tamed its propensity for electrically charging human flesh. He then told me a tale about the Rolling Stones and the Ampeg SVTs.

The Rolling Stones onstage with all those beautiful SVTs, circa 1969

The Rolling Stones onstage with all those beautiful SVTs, circa 1969

Apparently, in 1969 someone forgot to let the Stones know about the differences in international voltages, and when they switched on their Fender amps, brought over from the UK, they wouldn’t function. About to go out on their “Her Satanic Majesty’s Shakedown Cruise” tour, the Stones were desperate to get enough amp power for their stage show. So Ampeg stepped in with its freshly developed Super Vacuum Tube (SVT) bass amp, and as the Stones needed big, ridiculously loud rigs, Ampeg emptied out its workshop to provide SVT prototypes for the tour. These amps were basically unproven, so Ampeg gave them six of the prototypes and had a tech go along to care for them on the road. This legendary Stones tour had all the stringed instruments being played through these monstrous SVTs—both bass and guitars—and the Stones loved them!

After the tour was over, the response to the new SVT amp was so positive that Ampeg went full-bore into production on these beasts, and they have become the most recognizable bass amp in history. Today’s version of the original SVT is the Ampeg SVT “Classic,” a far steadier version of the wild SVT, but still retaining a degree of the throatiness that we love.

And then finally, after becoming intimate with the innards of The Beast, noting its lack of serial numbers and the other roughly hewn elements of the amp, Scot Alexander suspected this was one of those original prototypes. He felt compelled to give it back to me. For that I will always be appreciative. I have continued the research on finding the original Ampeg prototypes but have been unable to absolutely confirm the providence of this amazing amp. But unless someone can confirm that it is not one of the prototypes, the story will continue to be told. The Beast very well may be one of those prototype amps from the Stones 1969 tour.

And now I’m probably in big trouble. Not simply for telling tall tales, but because my dear friend Josh Gordon is gonna kill me if he ever reads this article. No Josh, I’m not going to give it back. Nope. Just not gonna.


The unconventional producer and engineer of artists including Tool, System of a Down, Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty and Prince, Sylvia Massy is a member of the NARAS P&E Wing Steering Committee and Advisory Boards, and is a resident producer at RadioStar Studios in Weed, Calif.






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