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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Okay, I totally accept that old amps have their bad days, but this time she wasn’t coming back. We were midway through bass tracking with the band Dishwalla and my sweet, sturdy old Ampeg SVT decided to take a holiday. So we reluctantly pulled out “The Beast”—my back-up SVT, which is rarely brought out of storage because it’s just too damn hazardous!

The thing was a nightmare. Not a stitch of Tolex on it. Just a splintered bare-plywood frame around an ancient SVT chassis held together with rusty nails. One of the handles was broken—just try to carry a 95-pound SVT with one handle! There was a no-logo tattered fabric cover barely clinging to the front, and when you turned it on, it sounded like a jet engine warming up. The fan on the back was so loud you’d have to raise your voice in the room just to have a conversation, and that even without a bass plugged into it.

The Beast before its transformation, holding up a stack of other old crusties

The Beast before its transformation, holding up a stack of other old crusties

It was an orphan, an unwanted child. My dear friend Josh Gordon had brought it to the Greta sessions at Capitol in the mid-’90s to use for his bass tracks. Who knows where he got it, but the thing worked gloriously for about a day before it went bye-bye. Blown power tubes. He shook his head, and told me, “Take it, it’s yours.” I had to think a moment about how much it was going to cost to replace its six blown 6146 power tubes, and how the heck I was even going to load it into my 1970 Opel GT in the parking lot (with no trunk). But, of course, I took it. For the short time we were able to use it on the Greta sessions, its throaty squawk cut through layers of electric guitars beautifully. I knew there was a shining gem in there somewhere. I had The Beast re-tubed and it became part of my amp arsenal. A Fender Jazz Bass and the Ampeg SVT: That is what a bass is supposed to sound like. Ask anyone. The Beast worked great for years before resorting back to its bad habits and I was forced to buy a slightly newer and prettier SVT head to bring to sessions. The ugly old SVT Beast was retired to the storage locker.

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THE UGLY DUCKLING
Back at the Dishwalla sessions again, it’s one amp down, one more to go. Scot Alexander, Dishwalla’s bass player, was ready to take the challenge. We flipped on The Beast and its motors began to throttle up. We dared each other to do it. Scot grabbed the cable and jammed it in the front. He was immediately jolted with an electric shock, but it wasn’t enough to phase him! He shook it off and his Fender Jazz bass guitar roared through the amp with a ferocious voice, a song so beautiful we wept with excitement and joy. We hurried to finish tracking the bass before something else happened, but The Beast worked only about 10 minutes before it too was a smoking dead head. We sadly unplugged it. Scot said, “I can fix this thing.” I responded, “Well, you can have it,” and the old SVT had a new owner once again. After the session, Scot packed up The Beast and took it with him.






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