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Targeting Tone with Robben Ford

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Little Walter Tube Amps Phil Bradbury shares his experience of working to achieve that special tone with Robben Ford.

Phil Bradbury: Very rarely does an amp builder get the opportunity to join one of their top endorsees in the studio as a ‘tone consultant’. I was lucky enough to get this opportunity with Robben Ford on the new “Pure” album. Robben asked me to join him at the Sound Emporium in Nashville and bring several different heads and cabinets – to be sure to be able to give Robben what he is looking for. For instance, Robben played a short clip for me in the control room that was Coltrane playing a Soprano sax and he was running it backwards. This created a very different tone for me to try to emulate. 

Robben Ford

I ended up using my King Arthur (EL84 18 watt with boost circuit) paired with my 112L (open back 12” cabinet) loaded with the Eminence, SC 64 12” speaker. Robben first opted for an early 50’s gold top Les Paul with P-90’s but at the level we needed to run the amp to get the target tone – the pickups were just too noisy.  He settled on a 60’s era SG with humbuckers.  We ran the amp wide open and just backed the variable boost back about ¾ of an inch. You can hear the result in the almost liquid lead licks on the title song PURE. For the rest of the album, we used my 59’ models. We used the 59/TS310 combo that Steuart Smith is currently using on the Eagles Hotel California Tour, as well as a 59’ head with different combinations of 12” speakers in separate cabinets so when combining them we got each individual speaker tone as well as the mix of the two.

This is just one example of the process. I can’t begin to tell you what an honor it is to get to work with an artist like Robben Ford but what is the most rewarding part of all of it is having an artist open-minded to new ways to achieve what he or she has always been looking for… The Holy Grail Tone.


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