RF’s very first amplifier was a Watkins Westminster (most likely the 10W version), which was then replaced by the 17W Watkins Dominator (1, 2, 3). Much of the equipment from the early years is in storage.
King Crimson 1969-1974
Two different amplifiers were used in this period – a Marshall Super Lead 100 and a hotwired Hiwatt Custom 100 watt head (DR-103 model).
I am convinced I have read in an interview somewhere that the Marshall was a Super Lead, and also more exactly when he went Hiwatt (around Islands/Lizard, possibly), but now that I look for it I can’t find it, so any help here would be great. The 1974 GP interview only refers to “a Marshall” with no specifics given.
Still, it is the Hiwatt that is mostly connected with RF in the 70s King Crimson. This particular model has two channels, normal and brilliant, and the guitar was plugged into the brilliant channel, after which the signal was was sent into the normal channel. The sound this produces is described on this page (which also gives clues to what happened to the amp after KC ended in 1974): “the amp is very very very Clean…..i mean crystal clean even wide open….with not distortion at all and very very loud” (sic). Since what appears to be the main amp is for sale on the GC website this is probably a spare. One should not expect to achieve immediate RF-ness when plugging a Les Paul into a Hiwatt, though – this amplifier, after all modifications, may have little in common with those that came straight from factory.
Most pictures show the ampflifier being blasted through two 4×12″ Hiwatt speaker cabinets.
For No Pussyfooting with Brian Eno, no amplifiers were used, they plugged their guitars straight into their Revoxes (see, for example, press clipping in the Red reissue booklet). The “Evening Star” solo was recorded on a Fender Champ with everything maxed out: the playing famously got so hot the speaker blew. Both the speaker and a tube have later been replaced and it was used as a practice amp well into the 1980’s. It is now for sale.
Later 1970s/New York
Given the amount of various session and production work that RF did in this period, it is likely that whatever sufficiently good amp was availiable in the studio or for rent was used on these occasions – when an amp was used at all and not run through synths or recorded directly somehow.
As a theory, could the Roland JC-120 have been used for, at least part of, Exposure? Certainly during the quiet songs without the heavy distorted guitar parts, a lovely subtle chorusing effect can be heard. As seen in the photo referred to in the guitar section above, it certainly was used for the League of Gentlemen. And later, of course, the JC-120 would be the amplifier of choice for the next lineup of King Crimson.
Presumably for the Frippertronics touring, an amp was rented for the occasion by either the venue or RF himself as the model of amp seems to vary from photo to photo from this period. Generally they are Fender amps.
Chris Smith offers the following: “during [this] time, I saw him play a few times and his amplification set-up was a JC120 and the Marshall 100w SuperLead head running in tandem, presumably all feeding through the JC’s speakers. I’ve no idea how these were wired, but I do recall an interview of the time when he confirmed this, referring to the Marshall ‘gurgling away in inimitable fashion’. The League of Gentlemen of that period, he used this set-up.”
King Crimson 1981-1984
The Roland JC-120 was used by both Adrian and Robert (there’s even one behind Tony on the DVD) for the entire duration of this Crimson lineup. The JC-120 is a solid-state amplifier which has a vibrato and highly regarded stereo chorus and is still manufactured to this day. It is a very clean-sounding and loud amplifier.
Well, I have no idea. Anyone who does? Most likely for session work, whatever was at hand was used. In the 1986 Guitar Player interview RF mentions being dissatisfied with the JC-120 and on the lookout for a good valve amplifier.
1990s and onwards
With the introduction of the Lunar Module, the miking up of speaker cabinets stopped and straight-to-the-board wiring started – with the Fernandes Sustainer system, very loud speakers in close proximity to the player were no longer needed for sustain and feedback. The GuitarGeek rig places two Carver power amplifers in the Lunar Module, possibly they drive the two Bag End 1×12 speaker cabinets that are placed in front of RF, facing him? This would give him a small, full-range personal monitoring system, which makes a lot of sense if you play very difficult music in a very loud rock band. These cabinets are seen in pretty much all live photos from ca the mid-1990s to the present.