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James Hetfield’s Mesa Boogie “Crunchberries” Amp

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

Perhaps the only amp in rock and metal as highly discussed, disputed and well known as EVH’s infamous “grail” Marshall Plexi is the mysterious Mesa Boogie Mark series amp owned by James Hetfield known as “Crunchberries.”

In this article, we’ll break down the history behind the amp, dig into an analysis of the technical specs and how it received its name, as well as discuss how and when it was used.


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Hetfield’s Mesa Boogie Crunchberries Amp
 

THE HISTORY

Back in 1983, Metallica was lighting stages on fire with buzzed about live performances and riding high on a debut album (Kill ‘Em All) that helped place them at the forefront of budding Bay Area thrash scene. Despite the moderate success and spotlight gained as word of mouth about the band spread, Metallica prepared to enter the studio to record their highly anticipated sophomore album facing a few significant challenges.


James & Kirk supporting Kill ‘Em All, circa 1983

Through the course of touring, James Hetfield’s beloved Marshall Super Lead (used on Kill ‘Em All) was stolen. The amp was a modded ‘70s Marshall Super Lead, and given the varying nature of vintage amps and one-off mods, it would prove impossible to replace. In addition to the lack of availability, one other factor made securing new gear problematic - the band was flat broke.


Metallica entered the studio in early 1984 to record Ride the Lightning, choosing Sweet Silence Studios and producer Flemming Rasmussen partially because they enjoyed his production on Rainbow’s Difficult to Cure, but the locale also had one additional advantage - it was a cheap alternative the band could afford. Borrowing amps, sleeping in the studio and living day-to-day, Metallica recorded and released Ride the Lightning in July 1984 with everyone in the metal community taking notice, including Elektra Records.

Elektra signed Metallica in the fall of 1984, and with the new label came the financial means to acquire new gear. The band received an advance (i.e., a lump sum of money upon signing the contract) and knew exactly what they wanted to purchase - new Mesa Boogie amps. Wanting to shy away from the Marshall based guitar tones that had become the standard for rock and metal, Metallica turned to local CA manufacturer Mesa Boogie, whose amps they had tried, but were previously unable to afford.


The Mesa Boogie factory in CA

James and Kirk collectively purchased a few of the latest generation offering from Mesa Boogie - the Mark IIC+ amp. These amps would form the foundation of Metallica’s tone for years to come in the studio and on tour. One of the amps purchased by Hetfield was Crunchberries.

 

WHAT IS CRUNCHBERRIES?


The Crunchberries amp is a Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ long head unit, likely from around March 1985. It is a DG model, which has the Simul-Class and Graphic EQ options. It is often speculated online that the amp is a “Coli” (a 180W Coliseum model), but there are no records of Metallica purchasing or owning any Coliseum model Mark amplifiers based on conversations with those associated with the band.

What about the technical specs?


Given that Crunchberries is a DG model likely from 1985, the result is the amp is a factory original Mark IIC+ amp (i.e., was manufactured as a C+ as opposed to being upgraded to a + later in the future). This also leads to a few important differentiating factors, starting with a pair of Schumacher transformers:


Output Transformer: SC-152019B


The Schumacher SC-152019B OT

This is the standard output transformer that was used for Simul-Class Mark IIC+ amps. Hetfield, like many artists, only seemed to have a cursory knowledge of the amp, but he is aware of the Simul-Class output section, as he has frequently cited it in interviews dating back to the 1980s.


Power Transformer: 105-162318


The Schumacher 105-162318 PT

Commonly referred to as the “105 PT,” this power transformer became the standard for many factory Mark IIC+. This, coupled with the Simul-Class OT, combine to produce a tone and feel that has helped propel to C+ to legendary status.

Circuit: No Bright/Gain Reduction Mods


Not all Mark IIC+ Simul-Class heads are configured the same. Some models, particularly early issue amps, may have had a gain reducing 100k resistor placed between the Volume 1 and Treble pots. This was later replaced by a simple buss wire, giving the later models the feel of additional gain on tap. Given the timeframe of when Crunchberries was manufactured, it would have used the higher gain buss wire. This seems to be corroborated by the settings seen and gain levels found in old pics and clips.

Buss wire between Volume 1 and Treble

For a Simul-Class model, there is typically a 20pf cap across the 3.3M resistor on the board. This is stock from the factory. Some amps have a bright reduction mod by using a 10pf cap as opposed to 20pf. Crunchberries should have a 20pf cap. There is also occasionally a 1000pf cap with 270k on V4 used to reduce treble response, which would be absent in Crunchberries.

In summary, given the model and timing of manufacture, Crunchberries would be one of the brightest and highest gain iterations of the C+. If you have a C+ and you’re trying to emulate Crunchberries, please note you may have to adjust your settings to compensate if you have any of the gain or bright reduction mods mentioned above.

Where did Hetfield get the Crunchberries name for the amp?


Hetfield frequently talks about the “crunch” sound that he likes in his guitar tone, which includes the attack and low end punch when palm muting notes and chords. The name Crunchberries comes from that characterization of his tone, inspired by the popular Cap‘n Crunch breakfast cereal made by Quaker foods.

The Crunchberries logo on the amp appears to come from one of the boxes, such as an era appropriate box with similar font as seen below.


Cap’n Crunch box, circa 1984-1985

How do we know when Crunchberries was purchased and when it was made?


This portion is partially conjecture, but we’re able to make a highly educated assumption by reviewing A) when Metallica was given funding by Elektra to purchase gear and B) tracking the schedule of the band vs when opportunity would be present to purchase gear at the Mesa factory in CA.

In 1984, the band played at the Breaking Sound Festival in Le Bourget, France on August 29. Over the next few weeks, Metallica signed with Elektra Records in late September, and the Ride the Lightning tour kicked off in Rouen, France on November 16. The band did not return to the US until the end of December or the start of January 1985 for the east coast leg of the US tour. This paints a clear picture of our timeline.

In order for Metallica to purchase Mesa Boogie gear at any point in 1984, we would have to assume that the band - infamously broke at the time - would incur the expense and fly from France to the US in October, receive an immediate advance from Elektra, purchase gear at the Mesa Boogie factory, store it away locally (as it’s not seen on the 1984 tour), and incur a second expense to fly back to France (where they were already staying) all within roughly a 3 week period.

This scenario seems extremely unlikely, as well as an impossible expense for a band sleeping on couches, crashing in the studio, and sometimes only eating due to the kindness of their producer. Here, Occum’s Razor applies (i.e., the simplest explanation is usually the best one).

Metallica returned to the US for the Ride the Lightning tour in 1985, passing through CA by mid-March and concluding in Portland, OR on March 19. The band did not play again until a stint of shows later in August, including Monsters of Rock and the now popular Day on the Green show in Oakland, CA on August 31. This stint also marked the first documented appearance of the Mesa Mark amplifiers.

Day on the Green - August 31, 1985

With our timeline in place, this leaves a window between March and August of 1985 for Crunchberries to be purchased. By April, however, the Mark IIC+ was phasing out at Mesa Boogie in favor of the newer Mark III amplifiers, which narrows our window to a 4-6 week span in March to early April when Crunchberries could have been purchased.

This assumption is also corroborated by a few additional factors. Hammett has been quoted that he picked up his custom Jackson guitar(s) at the factory around May 1985. This implies that the band received their advance and were shopping for gear in our established timeline. The other two factors are related to the amps.

Crunchberries has a “Gain Boost” faceplate (i.e., it reads “Gain Boost” above the Master 1 knob as opposed to “Pull Deep”). While this is typically associated with early models before the faceplate changed, the assumption is that production of the “Pull Deep” C+ faceplates had stopped for long chassis heads due to Mesa discontinuing the amp in favor of the Mark III. With Metallica purchasing long heads directly as production was shifting to the Mark III, Mesa was likely stuck using leftover Gain Boost faceplates that had been phased out in production. If purchased in October or early November 1984, the amp would have used the production “Pull Deep” faceplate.


“Pull Deep” on a Mark IIC+, November 1984

As critically important to the timeline is that Metallica was able to acquire a Mark IIC++ head unit as well during this time (see the next section for additional detail). These amps did not exist in 1984, with only a small amount - roughly a dozen, per estimates of Mesa Boogie - being made at the factory during R&D for the Mark III at the end of production for the Mark IIC+. This places the acquisition of Hetfield’s Crunchberries amp perfectly into our speculative time slot of late March to early April 1985.


Is Crunchberries a C+ or C++ amp?


This is another area where we’ll have to speculate some. A Mark IIC++ is a slight variation of the Mark IIC+ circuit with a different feel and slightly more saturation (please see our article: The Metallica Mark IIC++ Amplifier for additional detail).

Is Crunchberries a Mark IIC+ or Mark IIC++ amplifier? Based on what we know, our assumption is that Crunchberries is a Mark IIC+ head unit, NOT a Mark IIC++.


Metallica only owns 1 confirmed Mark IIC++ amplifier (outlined in our The Metallica Mark IIC++ Amplifier article), and that is a different amplifier than Crunchberries. There is a possibility for a second (unconfirmed) Mark IIC++, but that is still speculative at this time, and is also not in reference to Crunchberries.

Hetfield quickly pivoted from using Crunchberries to using the known Mark IIC++ which became the studio favorite for the next 12-15 years, and this may be due to the additional saturation and feel afforded that was different than the Mark IIC+ Crunchberries.

 

WHEN WAS CRUNCHBERRIES USED?


Hetfield routinely used Crunchberries on tour with Metallica, starting with the August 1985 shows, through the Damage Inc Tour in support of Master of Puppets, and for the next few touring cycles.


Crunchberries in Hetfield’s 1986 tour rig

Contrary to popular belief, the Crunchberries amp was not featured on many studio recordings. The only album where it was used was famously on Master of Puppets for Hetfield’s rhythm guitars, alongside the Mark IIC++ amp owned by Kirk Hammett for the leads. In the studio pic below from the tracking of Master of Puppets, you’ll see Crunchberries (rhythm guitars) highlighted with the red arrow, and the Mark IIC++ (lead guitars) highlighted with the green arrow.


Crunchberries and the C++ in the studio

After the recording of Master of Puppets, Hetfield “borrowed” the Mark IIC++ amp from Hammett, and it became the primary recording amp for Hetfield for numerous albums moving forward, including And Justice for All and Metallica (Black Album).

After numerous albums, Hetfield brought the Mesa Mark IIC+ amps back out for 2008s Death Magnetic, then using Crunchberries as one of three primary amps for his rhythm tone on Hardwired...to Self Destruct in 2016.

Hetfield with Crunchberries on Hardwired

If there are aspects of Crunchberries not covered here that you’re curious about, please leave a comment or send a message. We can edit the article to include additional information if there is a demand for it.

Also, please check out our other articles for a detailed analysis on other Metallica gear, album breakdowns, and more. Thanks for reading!

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3 commentaires


Yevhen Fedorets
Yevhen Fedorets
21 août 2022

The Crunch Berries amp that we’ve used, I think, since ‘Ride t’he Lightning’ on or at least ‘Master of Puppets’ for sure. That Mesa/Boogie C++ [Simul-Class] is a very integral part of the sound still.“ - James Hetfield.

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Hansen
Hansen
23 mai 2022

Photo of James Hetfield using a Mesa Boogie,

January 20th 1985

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Silverwulf
23 mai 2022
En réponse à

Awesome photo. Thanks for sharing!

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