In The Style Of Ritchie Blackmore's Machine Head

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

We have already dedicated an exhaustive article to Ritchie Blackmore on the occasion of his birthday but this guy is so great we could dedicate one each and every day of the year.  
This time we’re going to focus our effort on more than talking about his guitars, but knowing what kind of things were going on in the mind of the dark dude of Deep Purple in late 1971 when he went to Switzerland to record Machine Head with the rest of his band, the most important album of their career, one of the best records in music history, and more specifically one of the most important records in the history of the electric guitar.

We remember some of the basic features of said Blackmore in the early 70s. The first and most remarkable is that he had shelved forever his Gibson ES-335, with which he had introduced songs like Hush to the world years before, and fully embraced the sensual forms of the Fender Stratocasters. We refer to several guitars of that model since, probably from the start of using them, he changed the pickups, necks, and bodies, among others, to his liking, to finally create the best one for his sound and way of playing.   

Besides, we know since the beginning of his career he ‘scalloped’ his frets to make extraordinary comfort for his fingers on the neck. He united the height of pronounced strings and lowered the frets to that height on the necks, and he always looked for the finest ones.
Another of his trademarks since the early 70s was the continual alteration of the bass and treble pickups on his solos, without ever using intermediate positions. This fact is so linked to the Brit’s style that you could take off the middle pickup of his Strat and nobody would know the difference.  

One of the things the young Blackmore sought and focussed on was to sound as loud as possible. We already spoke about how he drove his mate Jim Marshall half-crazy trying to get him to make an amp to satisfy his craving for decibels onstage. And from what he said many years after, it was no easy task. So much that even today that inside the cabinet and tolex of a Marshall, what Ritchie Blackmore really had a Vox amp, precisely the same combo he used on Deep Purple’s first records, however the focus of this article is on a different time, when Jim Marshall had managed to make his guitarist friend the loudest amp in the world, with a 200-watt head, and added two valves more like a ‘boost’ mode onstage.  

And indeed, as you can imagine, he turned it up to 10. What happened? He had to change the speakers of each of his amps every week. We’re not joking, he himself spoke about the problem during the 70s and it wasn’t infrequent that the amp or one of his speakers blew up in the middle of a show. So, he always had a duplicate set of amp gear in each show at that time.  

Having reread interviews of that time, and seeing how delighted he was with the sound of his Gibson ES-335 and his Vox amp, we wonder, why did he change to Fender and Marshall respectively? Well, he already said it in the 70s and says the same every time they ask him: for pure aesthetics. Yes friends, this original Taliban of the purity of sound and rigorous music was also young and wanted to be “cool”.  

Throughout his career he has criticised almost as many guitarists as he has been asked about, many times, for sure, has praised certain aspects of them but always from a ‘top-down’ perspective...and deep down, if we were Ritchie Blackmore we would all think, and would have the right to think it, that there isn’t anybody who is cool or was ever as cool as me.