Reverb Spotlight: Mike Fortin on the Randall 667

For most metalheads, Mike Fortin needs no introduction. His line of hand-made, high gain amps have become lore in some circles, recognizable from a distance for their slatted metal faces and fierce signal. So when metal god Kirk Hammett recently played a show playing what looked like a Fortin amp with a Randall logo on it, people knew change was in the air. Soon after it was announced that Mike would be joining forces with Randall to help them redesign their offerings. Now, with the release of the 667, he and the Randall team have unveiled their flagship, an amp that is usually described with superlatives but can be nearly anything you want it to be.

We recently caught up with Mike about his background, his new work with Randall and the monstrous 667. He was even gracious enough to let us take the amp for a spin, which may or may not have resulted in massive property and hearing damage throughout the north side of Chicago. Check out our run through below and read on to see what Mike had to say.

Reverb: The announcement that you would be designing amps for Randall got a lot of people very excited. Can you tell us a little bit about what got you into the amp-making business and, particularly, what led you to the world high-gain amplifiers?

Mike Fortin: As far as my background, I started playing guitar in 1985 and have been in tons of bands and projects since then. I graduated from university in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Electronic Engineering Technology. After graduation, I started my career in the music industry. Fast forward to the Randall era. When Joe Delaney took over the Randall brand, he realized that he needed to reinvent the brand and find an engineer who could take it where it needed to go. He asked around and, through a mutual friend, I was referred to him.

He looked at my line of hand-wired amplifiers online and asked me if he could check them out. Two of my customers who lived an hour and a half away volunteered to drive my amps over to Joe’s studio to check them out. Joe thought my amps' sonic signature was perfect for Randall. So Joe and I started discussions and I signed on with Randall. Randall purchased my Natas and Meathead designs, and from there we dove in together and redid the brand from top to bottom.

R: What sort of elements are you bringing to the new Randall lines from your previous experience building amps?

MF: Well, I bring my twenty years of experience working in the [music] industry. I’ve spent a good portion of that on the bench servicing all kinds of gear. Working with Randall has given me new perspective and experience in a much larger manufacturing environment than what I am experiencing with my own company. There are so many more considerations on this type of scale. Operating a boutique amp company is easy in comparison. I very much enjoy working with my Randall colleagues. It has been nothing but a pleasure.

R: The newest amp you helped Randall design is the 667. What was the inspiration and vision for this amp?

MF: The 667 is based on my Meathead design, which Randall purchased from me. If you look at a lot of pros, they’re bringing in two, three, four amps. What we did was make a switchable amp with a wide enough range of tones between the six channels. Even though it’s really MIDI-intensive, it’s a really simple amp. The channels are laid out like console strips, if you will. All the MIDI implementation is simple push-a-button stuff. MIDI can be scary sometimes, but this is guitar player MIDI. You set up the scene and press store.

R: You also worked with Randall to release three new amp lines last year - the RG, RD and Thrasher series. How does the 667 differ from those offerings?

MF: The 667 is part of the Thrasher Series, and it is currently the flagship of the Randall amp line. It has the most flexibility of any amp we make. The amount of channels, knobs, switches, channel voicing options, dual loops and master - all of it MIDI programmable - makes it different from the rest of Randall’s offerings.

R: What would you say to the players who see all the knobs and buttons on the 667 and get intimidated or think there's no way they would need that many channels and parameters?

MF: Randall has a bunch of amps to pick from in the Diavlo RD Series as well as the solid state RG Series, from simple three-knob low wattage amplifiers to three channel 100-watters.

R: Randall was known in the past for pioneering solid state amplifier technology with FET-driven units and innovating with its MTS modular amp designs. Are there wild new technologies we might see from Randall in the near future?

MF: We are always working on a multiple projects in the background. Unfortunately we can’t talk about anything in detail. I can say that what you’ve seen is only the tip of the iceberg.

R: Fair enough. The RG Series continues to use high-gain solid state transistor technology, which stands in contrast to the back-to-basics boutique tube amp craze of recent years. What led Randall to stick with solid state tech for these models?

MF: Solid state FET technology is Randall’s legacy sound. It is the main reason why Don Randall started Randall. So the RG series continues with that legacy as well as adding some modern touches.

R: Do you have any advice for players just getting into the metal scene who are looking to play with ultra high gain?

MF: Work on your technique. Get a good boost pedal if you aren’t using a Randall. Look to Ola Englund as a role model.

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