Interview with Marek from MLC

Marek Laskowski of MLC

Meet Marek Laskowski — the brain behind the MLC line of amps. MLC is becoming increasingly well-known due to design collaborations with guitar players such as Silenoz from Dimmu Borgir, and Vogg from Decapitated and Machine Head.

MLC — Mark L Custom Guitar Electronics and Amplifiers — is hardly what you’d call a household name. Rather, it’s one of those brands that a select number of connoisseur users know and love but fly below the radar in the mind of the general public. A “those who know, know” brand, if you will. Jens Bogren, renowned producer and founder of Bogren Digital, is one of those who knows, and that’s how the partnership between Bogren Digital and MLC came about in the first place.

Based in Gdansk in Poland and founded by Marek Laskowski, MLC is a high-end boutique brand that primarily makes tube guitar amplifiers, although the brand also carries five different guitar pedals and a number of guitar cabinets and switching systems. It was the latter product category that started it all — MLC began designing custom guitar systems for professional musicians in the early 2000s. Marek soon included servicing and custom modifications of existing amps to his offering. This led to Marek creating his very own tube amp design from the ground up — the MLC S_Zero 100, which is now available as a plugin from Bogren Digital.

Designing an MLC Amp

The first thing we wanted to ask Marek once we were able to catch him for this interview was — in terms of sonic style, where does the MLC S_Zero 100 sit? We all know Fender amps for their clean tones, Marshalls for that present upper mid thing, Mesa Boogies for their gain. What does the MLC S_Zero 100 bring to the table? Marek says:

"Most of all, I wanted to create an amp where each channel had a really strong tone. The majority of amps come with some sort of compromises. They can have an amazing clean channel, but the distorted channel is lacking. Or vice versa — the distortion rocks, but the cleans are weak. So I started designing S_Zero from the angle that I wanted to figure out just the right components to make every channel is powerful, creating the ultimate, flexible amp. I ended up designing separate preamps to make it all work together, and picking the right transformers was a big task. Furthermore, I’ve found that the midrange tone is very important for the guitar to poke through. When done right, it can help the guitar parts stand out and work well with other instruments on stage and in the mix. So that’s something I’ve put a lot of effort into perfecting. My goal is that once someone tries our amp, it will be very difficult to go back to anything else. I also think the visual design is very unique, which to me, is very important."

Marek Laskowski of MLC

Apart from your regular amp models, you also create custom one-off models for specific players. Where do you begin when you start on a new amp design? What does the process typically look like?

"This may sound funny to you, but I often start with the look of the amp! As I just mentioned, visual design is important to me, and it helps determine the direction for the sonic character. For the design work, I work with a designer called Tomek Gacek. I communicate the ideas in broad strokes, and he does the remaining 90% of the design work. But with the design in place, I focus on how the amp is supposed to sound and how I can best achieve that goal. The number of channels is also an important factor in setting the direction of the project. I recently designed a model for Silenoz of Dimmu Borgir called the S_Zero 93, and I just had this very specific tone in my head. I knew I wouldn’t need a clean channel for this one, but it had to offer some variation to the distortion characteristics — one channel should be more compressed and the other more vibrant and dynamic. So that informed my decisions on what tubes and transformers to use. Once those things are in place, I start figuring out the knob placement so we can design the chassis and the PCB board."

Do you have a large group of testers and people providing input, or is it mostly you and your ideas for tones and features?

"I don’t want to come through as this big ego guy, but sure — it’s mainly my ideas. I’m a musical person, and I often imagine a tone in my head before creating the amp. But as most of my amps are custom designs for a specific user, I’m obviously always open to their feedback. The S_Zero 100 was 90% me and 10% feedback from artists and users. But when I made the Subzero V, a custom amp for Vogg from Decapitated and Machine Head, it was a much more collaborative process. Vogg knew exactly the tone he wanted from the amp. When we first met to talk about the amp, Vogg tried the Silenoz S_Zero 93 amp and absolutely loved it. But there were also specific things he wanted, which started as small tweaks and ended up with major changes to the circuit."

The amps are feature-rich and cater to players who are very specific about their tones. Would you ever try making a more simplistic design, or do you just not bother with that category of players?

"When I was younger, I really loved amps with a ton of knobs, like the Mesa Roadking, and I wanted to add as many options as possible to my own amp designs so that everyone would be able to find their own tone. But with time, I’ve come to realize that too many options can be distracting and make you focus on tone chasing rather than staying creative. So, some of my newer designs, like the Silenoz S_Zero 93 and S_Zero X, are much more straightforward in that sense."

Pedals, Players, and Sound Advice

Marek Laskowski of MLC and John Petrucci

Apart from the amps, MLC offers a range of pedals, including the flagship Vanilla Sky. The Vanilla Sky has also been modeled as part of the MLC S_Zero 100 plugin. What can Marek tell us about that pedal?

"It’s a low-gain overdrive, which is great in front of any amp, however clean or distorted it may be. With clean amps or the clean channel of the MLC S_Zero 100, you can get a creamy and juicy crunch. With higher gain amps or channels, you get a wide drive with a lot of midrange that doesn’t cut a ton of low end. I wanted to design the Vanilla Sky pedal so that it always maintains the characteristics of the guitar, even at the highest gain settings. So, it’s a completely analog signal path based around a Burr-Brown class A amplifier. I was actually able to get a Vanilla Sky to John Petrucci, one of my favorite players, just before a show."

"We had a long chat about tone and gear, and John ended up adding the pedal to his rig and played the whole show through it! It was also the Vanilla Sky that sparked my work with Silenoz. He had one and loved it, it was a permanent part of his rig. It was only later he realized that MLC made amps as well, and then he got in touch so we could make a custom amp for him."

You mentioned you’re a fan of John Petrucci. Are there other players who have inspired you and whose tone you like?

"I'd have to mention Adam Jones from Tool. He is well known for his creativity when it comes to guitar parts, with a focus on atmospheric, progressive, and polyrhythmic sounds. My first design, the S_Zero 100, was inspired by his tone. The Edge from U2 also inspired me to get into building guitar effects. And then, of course, Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin."

What current products and projects are you working on?

"I am currently working on a new amp with two variants — S_Zero 20 and S_Zero 45 for those who want a more portable amp or be able to jam at home. They will still have three channels, but with fewer knobs and switches. The 20-watt one is wonderful for blues. As for the pedal side of things, I’m looking into designing pedals with dual functions, such as combining a boost and a distortion or a compressor and a boost. I’m also in touch with bass player David Ellefson, formerly of Megadeth. So perhaps a line of bass-oriented products will emerge; we’ll see."

MLC S_Zero 100 amps

To round it off, do you have any tips and tricks for getting a good guitar tone other than using MLC products? Any particular things you wish guitar players stopped doing or things you wish they did more often?

"Well, there is no such thing as the best tone in the world. The tone is a very individual and personal thing. What I do see a lot of young guitarists do is to use too much gain because it feels better. This is a very deceiving thing because your notes lose definition and disappear in the context of the band. So turn up the mids, turn down the gain, and use a boost pedal in front of the amp when you want to kick it up a notch."

MLC S_Zero 100

S_Zero 100

A zero-compromise powerhouse

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