In The Box: Jimmy Page "Heartbreaker" Tone

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As a kid, I sat for hours in front of my turntable constantly dragging the needle to the middle section of “Heartbreaker” (on Led Zeppelin II), trying to learn what Jimmy Page’s nimble fingers were athletically accomplishing, as well as how to recreate the devastating attitude of his guitar tone. Today, thanks to digital amp modeling, I can emulate the sounds of my favorite players from “inside the box” with a computer and software.

First, I zero in on the components of the tone I’m trying to emulate. To achieve Page’s “Heartbreaker” lead tone, I determined that I had to craft a sound emulating the following:

Heartbreaker Tone Characteristics

  • Biting tone of the Marshall Plexi
  • Singing quality when using a double humbucking bridge pick-up. (This especially true with Page’s picking style, where you can really taste the bite of the treble frequencies.)
  • Full mid-range tone

There are many excellent amp plug-ins out there, but I used IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 4 (via an Avid Fast Track Duo interface). If you use another plug-in, you can probably approximate my choices, as many manufacturers provide a “usual suspects” menu of similar amp flavors, even if they go by different patch names.

After establishing my “sound goals,” I decided to use my 1997 Gibson Les Paul Custom and AmpliTube’s 1985 Mesa Boogie Mark III head and a 4x12 Closed Vintage cabinet to chase Page’s tone.

Mesa Boogie Mark III head (See Pix 1)

  • First activated the amp’s lead tone and set Lead Drive to 4
  • Set the Volume to 6
  • Set the Lead Drive at 5
  • Set the Lead Master at 7
  • Both the Volume & Lead Master knobs had their Bright function selected. I found using the bright settings gave the tone more of the biting characteristics of Heartbreaker.
  • Set the Rhythm 2/Middle knob to 6.5
  • Leave EQ sliders off

For those of you who may not have access to a Les Paul, I was able to achieve this tone with single coil pick-ups using my Fender Strat (Seymour Duncan active Blackout pickups)

Soldano SLO100 Head

  • First activated the amp’s crunch tone and set Overdrive Pre Amp knob to 4
  • Set Presence control to 5
  • I rolled back the Strat’s Treble knob about half way to get rid of the twang
  • I boosted the low mids on the Soldano’s controls to give the tone more body. The cool thing about AmpliTube is they included the inherent amplifier hiss for each amp. Hey it is all a part of the overall sound.

What I really enjoy is the flexibility of using amp modeling “In The Box” because it gives you flexibility with miking the cabinet speakers. I fooled around with the following microphones Shure 57, AKG 414, Royer 121, and Beyerdynamic M160.

Cabinet & Microphone Settings (See Pix 2)

  • Choose 4x12 Closed Vintage1
  • Choose Room Type “Studio A”
  • Place a Shure SM57 or Beyerdynamic M160 just slightly off axis to the left of the speaker cone
  • Use 2 Room Microphones, one left and the right to pick up the fullness of the room

So go to work and get your Jimmy Page tone on!