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This article was originally published in issue #30
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We couldn't interview Anthrax's Scott Ian without looking at his monster signature amp - the Randall Ultimate Nullifier. Word on the street has it that this latest brainchild of design guru Mike Fortin is one of the ultimate Metal amps. So who better to take it for a spin than GI's resident head-banger, Doug Cartwright?
A few months ago I reviewed the new Randall Thrasher head for GI and now I’m sitting down to put the new Scott Ian signature amp, the Ultimate Nullifier, through its paces. When I first got my hands on the Thrasher I was absolutely bowled over; it was by far one of the best Heavy Metal amplifiers I’d ever experienced, with the tone and level of control the amp offered over the amount and type of gain leaving most of the competition in the dust.
Based on these experiences I had high hopes for Scott’s signature Randall going into this review, and immediately there were many welcome similarities to the Thrasher. Both amps were designed by renowned amplification designer Mike Fortin and he’s clearly taken an ‘ain’t-broke-don’t-fix’ approach to the layout of the controls, switching options and outputs.
The Ultimate Nullifier is a two channel, four mode head, with channel 1 being the primary high gain channel and channel 2 as the clean channel. It’s got 120 Watts of power surging through six 12AX7 preamp tubes and four 6L6 power tubes, push/pull bias controls, a series/parallel effects loop, active and passive inputs, 3-band EQs for both channels, presence and depth controls for the power amp voicing and a footswitchable global boost.
Due to the identical control layout and specifications I was expecting the Ultimate Nullifier to sound and feel very similar to the Thrasher, however this proved to be incorrect as Scott’s amp is clearly a different and well defined amplifier in its own right. When I spoke to Scott for this issue's feature, he explained how he’d started out with the classic Marshall amps of the 1980s and had always sought to maintain that kind of classic crunch tone with the signature mid-range fizz associated with old JCM800s, whilst refining the sound to make it more powerful and full.
With this amp I think it’s fair to say that Randall has achieved this and so much more. Whilst the Thrasher was a very contemporary sounding amp, beefy and saturated, the Ultimate Nullifier somehow manages to house all the gain you could ask for while still maintaining a distinctly old school vibe. The mid-range is noticeably different on this amp, looser and wider to my ears, whilst the lower-mids are notable for their reduction in the tone overall.
That doesn’t mean this amp is lacking in power or impact, this being a Scott Ian amp after all! Thanks to the wonderfully innovative four (yes, four!) gain controls on channel 1, which I raved about in my Thrasher review, you can choose exactly how you want to bring this classic distortion sound into the 21st century. With the High-Frequency Gain cranked up there’s an absolutely outstanding level of clarity, whilst rolling it off and pushing the Low-Frequency gain up can push it into massive sludge-guitar tone territory, the polar opposites of high gain tone both nailed convincingly within the same channel! The Mid-Shift switch, another welcomed feature from the Thrasher head, really changes up the voicing of the amp as well and is another fantastic tool for really perfecting that classic rock-amp-on-steroids tone in your head.
The second channel is the clean channel, definitely a secondary requirement for most Anthrax fans, but that’s not stopped Randall from putting in the effort to make it really worthwhile. The headroom is fantastic, as with the gain rolled to anywhere before 12 o’clock the tone remains clean and bright with a fantastic sparkle that took me a little by surprise. The channel will also do a breaking clean that sounds a little more bluesy, but it’s best trick is a thoroughly convincing AC/DC rhythm tone impression created by cranking the channels gain to full. It really sounds great, much more than merely useable, and gives the amp a potential second life as a great classic rock gigging amp where channel 2 would do the lion's share of the work and channel 1 would act as a fully-saturated lead channel. The versatility of this channel is truly staggering, and although it’s a concept that’s been attempted by numerous brands before I will confidently state that this is easily one of the best efforts at cramming so much tone into one channel to date. Even better than the Thrasher's second channel, this unexpected gem of a channel is an absolute bonus that really opens up its potential for Rock and Metal guitarists.
The amp is constructed like a brick outhouse and looks every bit the Metal tone machine. Unfortunately, Scott has opted to brand the front of the amp with a massive Anthrax logo, which is quite a polarizing decision that will probably alienate as many players as it attracts. I really wish he hadn’t done this as this amp is undoubtedly one of the very best amps for Heavy Metal on the market and its awesome second channel would probably help it to appeal past just the original market, but a lot of players simply won’t want to spend over a grand on a piece of gear that brands their backline with the Anthrax logo. A slightly subtler branding of the amp would’ve been preferable in my opinion.
Nonetheless this is an absolutely quality product that I can’t recommend highly enough. Randall has got a job on its hands, re-establishing itself in players' minds after a few years in the doldrums and it is doing it at a difficult time, too, as many Metal guitarists start to look towards high-end modelling gear, favouring portability over old fashioned brute force. However, by getting Mike Fortin on board and turning amps out with as much quality, power and tone as this Randall has definitely made bold first steps and this new Randall line has got to be amongst the best gear for Metal guitarists yet produced. Rarely has an amp so successfully and so consistently brought forth the noise!