Loud and Louder – The Amp Thing

Part 3:  The early Cream sound.

When Baker, Clapton and Bruce got together they also uprated their gear.  Baker moved to a double bass drum kit, Eric and Jack to 100Watt Marshall stacks.  Baker played loud and they were going to match him. Marshall, in conjunction with The Who had developed the tools

At this stage (June 1966), the Stacks were only available by order as they had not entered into full production.  Marshall’s new factory to handle the production line opened that month and they also began to be advertised.  Clapton was already well known to Jim Marshall so would have had full access to what was available.  Without a doubt Clapton would have sat down and tried out the amps to find one he liked.

The early production 1959 Super Lead amps used KT66 output valves, which were changed to EL34s when full production began in June ’66.  Another change was from aluminium chassis to steel chassis.  While it is impossible to prove, it is a reasonable assumption that Eric used an aluminium chassis 1959 with KT66 output valves.  These are the same valves as in the Bluesbreaker Combo except that the 1959 uses 4 at slightly higher plate voltages.  While the KT66 and EL34 are interchangeable, they have very different performance characteristics and sound.

KT66 & EL34s

These particular 1959 Super Leads are real collectors items as are the original GEC KT66 valves.  It is Clapton’s use of this amp coupled with the 1959/60 Les Paul that gave the early Cream sound.  It must be remembered that Clapton had his Bluebreaker Les Paul stolen during the Cream rehearsals.  He had to borrow one and then hassled Andy Summers into selling him his.

In January 1967, Clapton decided to upgrade and out power Hendrix.  He moved to dual stacks, daisy chained together (thanks Pete) and KT66 valves.  Jack took a different approach and adopted a prototype or pre-production Marshall Major – a 200 Watt amp, using KT88 valves, through 4 speaker cabinets.  This was modification of the 200 Watt Super P.A. which bands were increasingly using so that the singers could be heard over the guitars (100Watt for guitar, 100W for bass, 100watt for keys or rhythm guitar – can your hear the singer?).  Speakers moved from G12 20 watt to 25 Watt – which really was needed to handle the power of the amps on 10.

The upgrade is financially obvious – a new major and stacks for Jack, his amp and stack goes to Eric and a new 200Watt super P.A.  A spare 100 Watt amp is carried which Jack/Eric fall back onto if there's a failure (Marquee Club May ’67) until a 2nd Major is bought for the US tour.

Note the cable arrangements - splitter on top?

This doubling of power would have increased Volume by 3dB for each guitar – not huge but significant when compared to the drums.  Baker was now needing to be miked up but he was still competitive in one of the loudest bands on the scene.  For Clapton it changed his sound allowing him to accentuate his normal humbucking sustain with acoustic feedback.  This was even further accentuated with the change to the thinner bodied SG. 

The next change in sound was at the start of the US tour at the Fillmore.  I have a photograph from the 1st week where the amps are daisy chained but another photo shows a splitter.  The use of a splitter meant that the pickups saw less impedance which have increased output and altered the frequency response by rolling off the top end.  The long cables further exaggerated the frequency effect. I assume an unpredictable result of experimentation but one that resulted in the magnificent sound we hear on the Grande Ballroom bootleg – massive controlled distortion and sustain at Clapton’s fingertips.

This was Cream’s configuration from February until late ’67 and that which they toured the States (minus the P.A.):

Guitar – 2 x 1959 Super Lead with KT66 valves and aluminium or steal chassis.  Cabinets loaded with Celestion G12 25 Watt speakers with ceramic magnets.

Bass – 1 x custom 200 Watt Major through 4 cabinets loaded with Celestion G12 25 Watt speakers with ceramic magnets.  A spare amp was placed on the 2nd stack.  Jack may have used the Bass version speaker cabs which used a heavier coned version of the G12 but see comment below.

P.A. - 1 x 200 Watt Super P.A. through 4  Column Speaker cabs.  Also used as a spare bass amp on the US tour.

I would hazard a guess that the roadies would have standardised on the same model Celestion speaker to make it easier for replacements ie a 25 Watt G12.  Blown speakers were a common occurrence. 


At Barbecue ’67, based on the bootleg, Clapton was using the concert gear – Marshall stacks powered by the now standard EL34 valves.  The sound is harder and hard to control after EC turns everything up to 10 while using only one stack (and the amps are cracking up!).

I am amazed at the ignorance of reviewers/reporters in modern guitar magazines.  I have read some incredible statements that rewrite the facts or show complete technical ignorance:

A 2003 article on Eric Clapton stated that EC used two stacks with Cream (no brainer!) but that one was for rhythm and the other for lead.  When did Clapton play rhythm guitar live?  And technically how could he do it with just a cable splitter playing live.  Do they do any research? It’s all on my site – must be too hard to actually read the detailed analysis on my site. 

Another one on Jimmy Page, reviewing the Led Zep DVD, says that he used 1959 SuperLeads with KT88 valves.  Wrong, Wrong for several reasons – the KT88 cannot be used in a 1959 as it needs a different circuitry, it will not fit in the valve plugs and needs different transformers (power and output).  Simply it will not physically or electronically work.  I stand corrected and was wrong - the KT88s can substitute in the 1959's however I maintain that they were not used as in this config as they would be running in clean mode ie under powered otherwise they would have blown the output transformers.  The 200Watt cabs were substantially bigger to accomodate the much larger transformers- power and output. More then likely Jimmy was using KT66s.

From close analysis of the DVD – Jimmy in 1969-70 is using Marshall Majors – 200Watt KT88 powered dual stacks, one used with the other spare (cabs with 30 watt G12s and now much more robust).  After that (1972+) he is using a mix of amps – old Superleads and a Major (?).

Pt 4 - The Official Recordings - Which amps?

ã Graeme Pattingale, 2004