To anyone in the guitar-centric world of the late 70’s-80’s LA studio scene, Michael Landau is THE name that continually comes up. I saw him play in 1983, in Joni Mitchell’s band; with Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Larry Klein on bass, and Russell Ferrante on keys. It was Joni’s ‘Refuge of the Roads’ tour; the crème of the crop of LA studio musicians, Michael had a rig that was put together by Bob Bradshaw, who later went on to found Custom Audio Electronics. Literally, 2 refrigerator racks filled with processing gear, in addition to a tri-amp set-up. The group, as a whole, had one of the best live sounds I’ve ever heard, and Michael’s sound? Like God playing the guitar, only better(ha!!) Joni’s music is art set to music, and Landau was the perfect foil for this period of her work.
This period was the time of processing, multiple amp set-ups, and custom guitars. Bob Bradshaw was the man who worked with Steve Lukather, Eddie Van Halen, The Edge, and countless others.
But then, a curious thing happened. Grunge hit in the late 80’s and completely changed the music scene. Pretty much overnight, pop music went from really slick production with a host of songwriters and studio musicians to a stripped down, bare bones rock sound. The way of the huge rack effects was quickly diminishing. Fender re-introduced their vintage amp, the 59 Bassman 4×10. And people started to go back to pedals on the floor and have the amp itself be the template. The Bassman was and still is, a resounding success. Pure, simple. Just plug in and play. This idea worked for guitarists touring all over the world to the local guys playing local gigs. It simply made more sense.
Fender introduced the Blues DeVille amp in 1993; a 4×10, 2×12, and a 1×12. The idea behind this was to give a guitarist the Bassman/Super tonality, with the addition of a useable FX loop and reverb. A more refined approach to the amp-pedal combination. The DeVille is Fender’s biggest selling tube amp of all time, and quite possibly, the biggest selling tube amp ever.
Back to Michael. He has been in the position to play and use whatever he likes. And he has used a number of boutique amps built by the world’s best custom amp builders. Over the past five or so years, however, he has requested Fender DeVilles when he tours. The reality of touring today is that, like the simple amps, touring has had to be stripped down as a result of the financial reality we live in, outside of the mega touring acts.
He runs 2 DeVilles in stereo, wired to his pedalboard.
Fender approached Michael last year and asked for his input on how to further refine the DeVille. To that end, they removed the overdrive channel, making it a single-channel amp with 2 clean inputs. Clean 1 has a bright switch, Clean 2 has a boost of 6 dB. They also swapped out the stock speakers for 2 Celestion V70’s, and kept the reverb and the FX loop.
My sense of the new ML DeVille is that it is very open and pure. I’ve been using one since they came out, and can’t say enough good. In fact, my board sounds better than it ever did hooked up to the ML.
Fender has also produced 2 Custom Shop Strats for Michael; a 1963 and a 1968. Both are reliced, with a vintage 7.25” radius and Dunlop 6105 frets, along with Fender’s Fat 50’s pickups. So for Michael, being a part of Fender is like ‘being home’. As he said in an interview, he’s been playing Fender Guitars and Amps for over 40 years.
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