If you’ve ever been on Tom’s side of the stage during a Boston show, you know it looks closer to the command center of the Enterprise than it does to a regular rock show. Yes, behind the riffmeister himself, a zillion lights flash on and off in green, red, orange, and yellow.
Today, we’re going to try to nail the tone of Tom’s cyberspace creations with simple, down-to-earth equipment you can buy anywhere.
This is a space odyssey right to the sound of one of the ‘80s most creative and successful bands: Boston.
So, get that big hairdo, zip up that leather jacket, and put on the tight pants. It’s ‘80s time!
Table of Contents
Understanding Tom Scholz
Before we start going through Tom’s guitars, amps, and effects, let me tell you a bit about the man himself. This will help you understand the tone we’re after.
Tom Scholz has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. In fact, while he was writing Boston’s debut album (which sold 17 million copies) he was working at the Polaroid Corporation as a senior product design engineer.
Why is this important? Well, because Tom is not only a proficient musician but also a revolutionary engineer who created the kinds of devices he needed to pursue his musical ideas. In this quest, he founded SR&D (Scholz Research & Development) and released many devices through the Rockman brand.
So, much of what you’re about to see is based on this crazy scientist and virtuoso musician’s unique perspective.
Tom Scholz Guitars
Tom has been known for being a Les Paul guy throughout his career. That said, taking into consideration what I said above, he doesn’t play stock guitars but wildly modified Les Pauls.
His main axe is a 1968 Les Paul Deluxe to which Tom peeled the gold top finish leaving the exposed maple. Gibson did a limited run of 300 copies of Tom’s main guitar for their Collector’s Choice #10.
That guitar has since been discontinued.
If that’s a huge price tag for you, you can also go for an Epiphone Les Paul Standard ‘60s, for less than a third of the Gibson price.
Finally, you can also replace the Standard for a Studio if the price tag seems too bulky. Swapping that bridge pickup for the DiMarzio is an indication valid for all these guitars.
Tom Scholz Amps
Although much of Tom’s sound comes from his quintessential headphone amp (we’ll get to that in a bit), Tom has been using the same Marshall head for the last three decades to nail his tone.
His original and trusty amplifier is a 1970s Marshall Super Lead 100. This is a timeless piece of rock and roll history that cooks tone at high decibels (it has no master volume). Therefore, to really enjoy this unit’s full potential, you have to be arena-loud.
The 50-watt version is the Marshall 1987X, a very capable, great-sounding version of the Super Lead that’s great for studio use or small venues. But you can even go smaller with the same tone with the Marshall SV20H Studio Vintage which goes down to 5 watts.
If the problem is not volume but money, you can go for the Bugera V22 Infinium. It’s important that you choose this one over the V5 because the 8” speaker can’t handle the mid-frequency you need to sound like Tom.
Tom Scholz Amp Settings for the Boston Tone
The amps discussed above will give you Tom’s base sound. Here’s a good idea of how to dial it in:
- Master Volume – 10
- Preamp or Gain (in case you’re not using a Plexi) – 5
- Bass – 7
- Middle – 10
- Treble – 7
- Presence – 6
The master volume cranked will give you the percussive element driving the power amp tubes. In other words, you’ll play with less distortion and more spank.
Tom Scholz Pedals
Tom Scholz has created his own devices to sculpt his signal analogically. Here I want to stop for a moment so you can understand the relevance of Tom’s search even today. With the Rockman Headphone Amp, he practically invented cabinet simulation in an all-analog unit that came with a belt clip… in 1982!
Nowadays, that same technology can be found in high-tech devices like the Kemper Profiler Amps, Line6 Helix, and Fender Tone Pro among others.
You can hear this amazing unit (discontinued) in this cool video.
That’s the core of Tom’s sound. Luckily for us, he also released his Analog Distortion Generator in pedal size by a brand called GOAT. That unit will get you very close to the original sound coupling it with the pushed tube amp.
These will give you all the nuance and 3-D effects that you need to replicate Tom’s sound perfectly.
The Rockman Way
Tom Scholz sold Rockman to Jim Dunlop in 1995. Since then, the giant accessory and pedal brand has been selling Tom’s signature sound.
You can choose the Rockman way and get a Rockman Guitar Ace (headphone amp) and use the headphone out to go directly into your computer or PA to get that sound without an amp.
Tom Scholz did much more for guitar than just writing and recording the most successful debut album of its time when he released Boston’s first record. He is a perfectionist always willing to push the boundaries of sound and what he can do with the guitar.
That approach and a relentless commitment to excellence have made him a tone guru for generations of players. Although it would take the entire Enterprise command station to nail his tone perfectly, above you have a close approximation that will have you playing your favorite Boston tunes for days.
Finally, here is the man himself in his studio showing his gear and playing around.