Custom Cornell amp for Brian Molko of PLACEBO

Brian Molko PLACEBO 120

Latest Update

We’ve just heard back from Adi via an e-mail from Mexico:

“Brian loves the tone, power and the extra dynamic that they are giving him. Our Front Of House engineer is extremely happy with the improvement it has made to the overall guitar sound and balance and everyone thinks they look very cool.”

The inside story


It all started when I needed a 12AT7 reverb driver valve for a classic Rivera era Fender Super Champ I had sold on e-Bay.

Popping in to see Denis Cornell to buy the valve, we discussed the possibility of working together on some sales and marketing ideas.

As luck would have it, the buyer of the Fender combo turned out to be Craig ‘Hoppy’ Hope, the guitar tech for Chris Martin of COLDPLAY!

Rather than just send it to him, as I’d had dealings with COLDPLAY when I worked at Marshall, I decided to get on a train and meet up with him in London. I thought he might be interested in doing something with Cornell.

During our two hour catch up meeting at the Brewhouse & Kitchen microbrewery on Corsica Street, Islington, Craig happened to mention that he had recently done some tech work for PLACEBO, as Adi Vines, Brian Molko’s guitar tech had taken a couple of weeks off to get married. I said that I’d give him a call as I hadn’t spoken to him for ages.

Standing outside The Garage venue in Islington, I called Adi only to get an overseas ringtone. He was in Frankfurt doing a show with PLACEBO.

I explained that I was helping Denis Cornell, and that if he was interested, I’d love to go through the Cornell range with him when he was back in the UK.

About a week later he called me from Hamburg. He said that he was having trouble with Brian’s Fender ’65 Twin Reissue that was struggling as it was being run flat out with a bunch of distortion pedals, pushing it to its limit, and that it was starting to make some strange noises of its own!

With this in mind, he asked if Denis would be interested in quoting against another custom amp builder…

After a few consultations it was a natural decision to select Cornell for the Placebo project. Denis Cornell has such a solid understanding of the issues and how to solve them, and has decades of experience building touring-grade equipment that world class artists can rely on.

The Diagnosis

In order to understand a customer’s requirements, it is vital to find out the shortcomings of their existing amplifier. To do this, we need to evaluate exactly what appears in the signal chain. Everything used, affects everything else on its way through to the speakers.

In this case, the chain consisted of:

Electro Harmonix Hot Tubes Fuzz, into an Empress Germ Drive and then a Way Huge Saucy BoxGibson SG (Humbuckers) or Fender Jaguar (Single coils) into an Electro Harmonix Hot Tubes Fuzz, into an Empress Germ Drive and then a Way Huge Saucy Box, into a Fender ’65 Reissue Twin (amp section only) into a Marshall 1960BX cab (Re-fitted with Jensen 12’s).

As the Fender ’65 Reissue Twin was struggling to deal with so much front end distortion coming from the pedal board, it would seem that more power and head room was required.

The Solution

With the ’65 Twin as a starting point, we took out the potentially tone robbing features not used, in this case, Tremolo and Reverb, and added an extra pair of 6L6 power valves. A selector switch to choose between 6/4/2 power valves and a Stage/Studio feature were also offered as special features.

Denis Cornell then produced a set of front and rear panel drawings.

The Prototype

Once the prototype was constructed we set up an initial sound test meeting. The preferred ’65 Twin Reissue and Marshall 1960BX Jensen loaded cabinet and two contrasting guitars were hooked up for an A/B test.

With Denis Cornell’s vast experience of making custom amplifiers and know how tweaking Fender circuits, together with Adi Vines’ intimate knowledge of Brian Molko’s guitar tone, components were added, removed and or had their values substituted again and again until the desired result was achieved.

Stylistically, with the 6/4/2 Valve selector and Stage/Studio selector relocated to the rear panel, there was enough room to incorporate a Brian Molko logo in an imagined Fender font.

Two further sound test meetings yielded further tweaks and changes until the Placebo 120 was signed off. Now with huge headroom, additional power and the highest grade components available, the Placebo 120 was ready to be launched, but here’s the killer twist… can 4 of these beauties be made in 2 weeks ready for shipping out to Mexico for the next leg of the tour?



Cornell delivered a stunning set of custom amps and the smile on Adi Vines’ face tells it all.

Andy M

Call Cornell on 01702 610964 to discuss your custom amp requirements.

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