Some don’t consider Johnny Ramone to be a guitar hero and to me that’s as closed minded as it gets. It might be because his playing rarely took him above the 12th fret or maybe it’s because he did the bulk of his work in eras surrounded by some of the most famous shredders in the history of the instrument.
However as far as rock history goes, Johnny Ramone was in the opinion of many, the first punk rock guitarist to become a guitar hero. The way he played also influenced many very prominent heavy metal players. Johnny did however share one thing in common with the shredding legends that surrounded him in the 70s, 80s and 90s; a big ass wall of Marshalls. On recordings, I find his tone varied in power, especially getting into their more “commercial” (using that loosely) material. However, if you listen to their grittier and live material, you will hear what we are after in this tutorial.
REFERENCE ALBUMS: Ramones, Rocket To Russia, End Of The Century, Road To Ruin, It’s Alive, Too Tough To Die.
Johnny Ramone predominantly used Mosrite guitars for all but a few brief moments of his career so when looking up his gear, you can pretty well discount any guitar that doesn’t start with Mosrite. If you are interested, Eastwood guitars sell a pretty good knock off of Johnny’s most famous guitar.
Because not many of us have a Mosrite guitar in their collection, let’s just focus on pickups here. Johnny Ramone’s most well used guitar had a Dimarzio FS-1 in the bridge and a Seymour Duncan mini humbucker in the neck. He also used p90s at times so really either will work for this tutorial. Humbuckers will work too but you will want to bring the gain and bass controls back a bit from the suggested settings below.
If you are going to use a single coil pickup in the bridge for distorted tones, it’s gotta be a good quality pickup and the tone is going to take some finesse. They don’t respond to being pushed and distorted like humbuckers do so the amp has to be dialed in accordingly. I’m not saying single coils can’t handle gain and distortion but I will say that they don’t do it as well and certainly not as quietly as humbuckers.
Like so many famous guitar tones, The Ramones tone starts with Marshall amplification, more specifically in this case, a 74 Marshall Super Lead. Several plugins on the market will get you close. There isn’t a ton of representation on the market for the Marshall Super lead, the main one is a Softube designed offering exclusively for Universal Audio users but otherwise, you might have to reach for something similar instead. The Nembrini Audio MRH810, the Mercuriall Audio Spark and Kuassa’s Amplifikation Caliburn are all options that can pull it off. Any vintage Marshall plugin you have available is workable depending on how close you want to get.
For settings, I had to remember that the Super Lead really had to be turned way up to behave the way it was known for but to do that with the Spark, I simply turned the output down to 1-2 and then turned the master and gain up to max. This way the output acts like an attenuator of sorts which enables you to turn the master and gain to max without putting your level through the top of the track fader. The same thing can be done with both Caliburn and the MRH810 but the methods differ slightly. The MRH has a lot of gain so I’d only run the gain on that one at about 3-4
After the master and gain, my settings had the presence at 2-3, bass at 3-4, middle at 7 and treble at 7. This is a good starting point but it shouldn’t be taken as the the strict settings because remember, every player is different and so are our guitars, pickups etc.
Johnny Ramone almost exclusively used Marshall 1960B 412 cabs in his career. Unlike the amp, this cab has a ton of representation on the impulse market. Several companies offer solid quality and affordable 1960B products but if not, you probably already have a Marshall 1960A 412 in your collection. They are very similar cabs but the 1960, I have always felt had a smoother sound with better bass response. In my opinion, the 1960B is a great cab for a band with only one guitarist. I tried blending A and B impulses, B and B impulses and so on.
All of the plugins I mentioned have solid cabinet sections but you may get closer with your own collection. You will need an impulse response loader for Spark but the other two mentioned products have onboard loaders if you’d prefer to keep it simple.
We really aren’t going to do a lot of processing here because it’s just not the place for it. All I really did here was add high and low pass filters then I warmed it up a bit with a saturation plugin at the end of the chain. Don’t get crazy with processing here, remember, we want this tone to stay raw, gritty and powerful. You can however add a room reverb to the end of the chain or on a bus to fatten things up. Make it some sort of studio room setting then mix just a tiny bit.
Suggested signal chains:
HASR CHAIN #1
- Mercuriall Audio Spark (Lead 68) cab bypassed
- STL / Ignite Libra with a blend of Marshall 1960B impulses
- Fab Filter Pro-Q
- Blue Cat Audio FREE amp (Cab bypassed)
- STL / Ignite Nadir 2.0 w/Redwirez FREE Marshall 1960 412
- DAW EQ