Heads Above the Rest


A sea of sound any six-stringer would swim in! A sea of sound any six-stringer would swim in!

Even though Marshall has been making critically acclaimed combos for half-a-century, and some of its biggest current sellers (DSL40C, MG10CF, MG15CFX, MG30CFX & AS50D) are combos, the company will always by most famous for omnipresent icons of rock – the Marshall stack & the subject of this piece: the Marshall head…

Marshall first entered the backline world over 53 years ago with the now legendary JTM45, all-valve, 30W (not 45, as the name might suggest!) head. In fact, that very first head (actually prototype #6) that the late, great Jim Marshall heard and immediately declared, “that’s it – that’s what I hear in my head. That’s the Marshall sound,” still exists. It has taken permanent residence in a sturdy glass case as the deserved centerpiece of the Marshall Museum at the company’s HQ in Bletchley, England. Its name? The one Jim christened it with of course: “Number 1 Amp.” A possible play on words? Knowing Jim – absolutely!

Jim with “Number 1 Amp” Jim with “Number 1 Amp”
“Number 1 Amp” & 50 year-old Scotch…a priceless pairing! “Number 1 Amp” & 50 year-old Scotch…a priceless pairing!

To understand how and why “Number 1 Amp” was born though, one has to first know some of the backstory that led up to its creation…

THE JIM MARSHALL STORY: The Life behind the “Legend of Loud.”

Fascinating Fact #1: Jim Marshall was a drummer, NOT a guitarist. In fact, he never even played the guitar! So, how on earth, did he comprehend and then create “the Marshall sound”? Read on and all will be revealed….

Prisoner in a Plaster-Cast
Jim was born on Sunday, July 29th, 1923, in North Kensington, England. His family was working class and to say that Jim’s story is the archetypical “rags to riches” story would be a gross understatement! As a young boy, Jim was stricken with a horrible, debilitating disease – tubercular bones. In a nut shell, this awful ailment rendered his bones brittle to the point that even the slightest fall or knock would result in them fracturing. So, Jim had the mind-blowing misfortune of spending the majority of his youth trapped in a full-body plaster cast. He was literally entombed or mummified…

Jim at age 13. Just out of the cast… Jim at age 13. Just out of the cast…

As a result of this drastic “preventative measure,” Jim had no formal education. He obviously couldn’t attend school and his family certainly couldn’t afford private tutors. As good fortune would have it though, Jim grew out of the disease and was eventually released from his plaster-prison in his early teens. He attended school for a while but had “no clue what they were talking about” so left as soon as he was 14 (the legal age to leave school back then). He was driven enough to educate himself as best he could by reading as many books as he could. And being driven, Jim read a lot…

Singing Sensation
Due to the muscle weakness his many years in the plaster cast had caused, Jim’s father insisted he take up tap-dancing as a means of strengthening his legs…a common trait by many boxers at that time. Jim did, and when it came time for his class’s first recital, the teacher said he should be “the Fred Astaire” of the group and sing while the girls danced around him as she’d heard Jim sing and thought he had a promising voice.

As chance would have it, one of the girl’s grandfather was the leader of a popular Big Band (back then, bands were “big” in terms of members – hence the name!) and he was so impressed with Jim’s voice that he asked the lad to audition. Jim did, he passed with flying colours and so began his long career as a professional musician, fronting Charlie Holme’s sixteen-piece Dance Orchestra.

Drumming up a Business
As good as his vocals were, Jim was blessed with an innate sense of rhythm and so he was fascinated by the drums. He played whenever he could, got really good and when the band’s drummer was enlisted for the Second World War (Jim was ineligible, due to his boyhood illness), Jim took over.

Jim was good on the drums, darned good. So much so that he was quickly hailed as one of England’s top drummers. And, as a result, a lot of aspiring young players would not only come and see him perform but would continually plead with him to give them lessons. Despite not having any real desire, Jim eventually conceded and gave a few classes. “I didn’t want to teach,” he recalled with a wry smile. “I just did it to stop them pestering me, y’see!”

Jim on his kit in the ‘50s Jim on his kit in the ‘50s
Jim with his great friend & fellow drummer – Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden fame. Jim with his great friend & fellow drummer – Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden fame.

To his surprise, Jim enjoyed giving lessons immensely…and he was clearly a great teacher as he soon ended up with a staggering 65 pupils a week! And some of his students went on to achieve much success as skin-beaters…including Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix), Micky Waller (Little Richard) and Nicky Underwood (Ritchie Blackmore). He also sold drum kits to his pupils and that led to him opening a drum shop on the outskirts of London in the early ‘60s.

What's Going on Here? I know what you’re thinking: “this is a very quaint story but what has it got to do with guitar amps?” Continue reading, we’re nearly there and all will be revealed….

Shop Talk
In the early ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy and those who played it were treated as unworthy, unwanted pariahs by all the big music shops in London. Jim was different though – even though he initially thought that rock ‘n’ roll was “a fad” (“Thank goodness I was wrong,” he once told me with a chuckle, many years later. “I was a very happy chap, to be wrong about that.”), he welcomed not only rock ‘n’ roll drummers into his shop with open arms, but their band mates too.

Fascinating Fact #2: The legendary Keith Moon not only shopped in Jim’s store, he worked there as a “Saturday boy” (meaning he worked on Saturdays only) too. How amazing must that have been to witness? A future legend working for a future legend. The mind boggles…

As a result, Jim’s drum shop effectively became an “employment exchange”/”cool hang-out place”/”speakeasy” for fledgling rockers. So, guitarists, who were unknown back then, such as Pete Townshend, Ritchie Blackmore, Eric Clapton and Big Jim Sullivan (one of the most celebrated session guitarists of the 70s & 80s) were frequent visitors. In fact, the guitarists soon started “pestering” Jim to please stock guitars, amps, strings, picks and pedals. “They told me they’d much rather spend their hard earned money with me than in a shop that treated them like second-class citizens,” Jim explained. “So, even though I know nothing about guitars and amps, I decided to give it a crack.”

Fascinating Fact #3: Jim used to be in a band with Pete Townshend’s father! Jim on drums, Pete’s dad on alto clarinet.

A LEGEND IS BORN: The First Marshall Head - the JTM45

The author, “Number 1 Amp” and the resulting JTM family The author, “Number 1 Amp” and the resulting JTM family

Listen, Learn, Leap…make History
Jim’s “crack” was a huge success. Being the gregarious, inquisitive fellow he was, Jim spent a great deal of time talking to guitarists like Pete Townshend and Ritchie Blackmore. He quickly learned that the amps that were available at the time just didn’t deliver the sonic punch the boys were looking for. “They told me the Fender Bassman was close but it was too clean and thin for them.” Jim recalled. By listening carefully to the descriptions of the sound they were searching for, Jim got a very good idea of exactly what they wanted and had it firmly fixed in his head. “I knew enough about valves (tubes) to realize that what they were after was probably the result of the valves being overdriven,” Jim surmised.

Armed with a sound planted firmly in his head, Jim decided to put together a small team with a simple goal: “to build the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll amplifier.” So, he recruited the repair man from his shop, Ken Bran, and a young “whiz kid” that Ken recommended named Dudley Craven…

As already mentioned, Jim rejected the first five prototypes his boffins built. And then came, #6 – and it quickly became the “Number 1 Amp.” Legend has it that it was Pete Townshend himself that played those first few hallowed chords that caused Jim to declare “That’s it! That’s the Marshall sound.” The year was 1962, the month was September. “Number 1 Amp” was put in the shop window and, as Jim recalled. “We took something like twenty-three orders that day.” And the rest of the story, as the saying goes, is history…quite literally!

So, by Jim Marshall simply being smart enough to listen to what guitarists wanted, understand their needs, and then striving to not only meet but exceed their expectations, a legend was born – the Marshall head. And, by continuing to listen, learn and then exceed expectations, Marshall heads (and other offerings) evolved accordingly.

The UK made, 2245THW Handwired reissue head The UK made, 2245THW Handwired reissue head

The First Ever Marshall head – the JTM45.
The first Marshall head was often referred to as the JTM45 by Jim, even though that name never actually appeared on them. The JTM is merely an acronym for Jim & Terry (his son’s name) Marshall. The 45 is a little bit of a head-scratcher as although it implies the output of the head is 45 Watts, the original, 5881-powered JTM45 actually kicks out 30 to 35 clean Watts.

An English made, handwired reissue of the all-valve JTM45 with a footswitchable, valve-driven Tremolo circuit is available today as the 2245THW. It is a painstaking replica of an original and quite rare JTM45 with Tremolo and can be thought of as the head version of the famous Marshall “Bluesbreaker” combo (model 1962). Just like the original, the 2245’s valve (tube) compliment is 4 x ECC83 (aka 12AX7), 2 x KT66s and a GZ34 rectifier that produces that glorious, musical “sag” when the amp is cranked.

Made in England – the 1987X reissue..a.k.a. “50-Watt Plexi.” Made in England – the 1987X reissue..a.k.a. “50-Watt Plexi.”

GETTING LOUDER & MORE AGGRESSIVE: The 50-Watt head.

In keeping with Jim’s “listen to what guitarists want” mantra, as time went on, Marshall’s got progressively more aggressive tonally. They also got a little louder with the advent of the 50-Watt head in 1966. In addition to reacting to feedback from Marshall’s rapidly growing user base, some of the changes that occurred also had to do with the following four changes:

  1. Due to the time it took to fit the GZ34 rectifier, a solid-state rectifier replaced the valve.
  2. Transformer specifications were changed
  3. Treble response was increased &, finally, a pretty pivotal one:
  4. Due to the increasing scarcity and cost of KT66 power valves, they were replaced with the now synonymous EL34s

The above quartet resulted in increased aggression, distortion, girth and output. And so the JTM45 effectively morphed into the model 1987 – a 50 Watt head. An authentic reissue of this “small box” 50-Watt Plexi head (circa 1966 – 1969) is available today, made in England as the 1987X – an all-valve (3 x ECC83, 2 x EL34) amp with a modern addition of a true-bypass Series Effects Loop.

“JIM, I WANT YOU TO BUILD ME A SONIC WEAPON”: The Birth of the 100-Watt Head…

In the mid 60’s Pete Townshend got angry – very angry. Why? Because he could see people in the audience talking while The Who were performing on stage. That, to him, was unacceptable…and rightfully so. As a result, he stormed over to his friend Jim Marshall and asked him to build him a “weapon” that was so loud people in the crowd literally wouldn’t be able to talk while he was playing. Jim and his crew obliged and two legends were literally born - the omnipresent Marshall stack (that’s another part of this historical story that we’ll get into when we look at Marshall cabinets sometime soon) and the ubiquitous Marshall 100-Watt head, And, once again, due to input from the likes of the late, great Jimi Hendrix, the 100-Watter also grew more aggressive as it matured. It name also changed – from the JTM45/100 (the very first 100-Watt Marshall which actually housed two 50-Watt Drake output transformers as no 100-Watt version was available at the time!) to the now ionic model 1959: the Super Lead “Plexi.”*

*Intriguing Fact #4: The reason the model 1959 Super Lead head has the nickname of “Plexi” is due to its front panel which people think is made of “plexiglass.” I say “think” because the actual material used was Perspex – causing some witty folk to refer to it as Per-plexi!

The 1959SLPX “Plexi” Super Lead reissue that resides in the Marshall Museum in England – and yep, that signature is Jeff Beck’s!  A legendary amp, signed by a legend for a legend!! The 1959SLPX “Plexi” Super Lead reissue that resides in the Marshall Museum in England – and yep, that signature is Jeff Beck’s! A legendary amp, signed by a legend for a legend!!

An authentic, UK made reissue of a 100-Watt “Plexi” Superlead, all-valve (3 x ECC83, 4 x EL34) head (circa 1967-1969) is available as the 1959SLPX – and like the 1987X, it features a true-bypass Series Effects Loop on its rear panel.

Intriguing Fact #5: There are two main reasons why the legendary Jimi Hendrix loved Marshalls. The first: when he first went to England he fell in love with the tone. Secondly: his full name was James Marshall Hendrix so he wanted to meet the man who made the amps he liked with the same name! And, as his drummer, Mitch Mitchell, knew Jim well, that happened and Jim & Jimi became good friends!

NOTE: the famous “Plexi” era ended in the middle of 1969 when Marshall started using aluminum front panels.

LESS IS MORE: The 20-Watt 2061 Handwired Head

The British Handwired 2061X reissue head, perched on top of an original. The British Handwired 2061X reissue head, perched on top of an original.

While Marshall were busy establishing Jim as “the Father of Loud” with fire-breathing 100-Watters, they weren’t ignoring the lower wattage area. In fact, in 1968 – at the peak of the Plexi period – the team released the all-valve, 20-Watt “Lead & Bass 20” head – a mighty mini that one might say in retrospect was “way ahead of its time” in view of the slew of low-wattage heads currently on the market! This was a KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) design – a point-to-point, handwired, twin channel circuit with merely two controls for each channel. With 2 x ECC83s and 2 x EL84s, this little brute is so aggressive it’s been dubbed a “mini Plexi” by many. Originally made from 1968 – 1973), this compact, “plug in and play” tone machine is available as a handwired reissue, the 2061X. When paired with the matching, mini angled 2x12” 2061CX cabinet a half-stack is created that looks as majestic as it sounds.

MASTERING & MAGNIFYING GAIN: The Iconic JCM800 2203 100-Watt Head

The Perfect Pair – a UK built 2203X JCM800 reissue head with a 1960AX 4x12” cab The Perfect Pair – a UK built 2203X JCM800 reissue head with a 1960AX 4x12” cab

As wonderful as the JTM and 1959SLP are, the only way to coax out their true tonal glory is to, in the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, turn them up to “eleven.” If you’re playing stadiums that’s fine and dandy – in fact, crank several – but if you’re performing at a smaller venue, that’s often just not possible or practical…unless you’re Motorhead as I’ve never met any soundman or venue owner with the courage to tell the late, great Lemmy to “turn it down, please!” Enter the savior for mere mortals – the magnificent Master Volume (MV) control!!

In a nutshell, what this wonderful invention allows you to do get more gain at lower volume levels than the same amp without a MV. How? By adding a Preamp Gain control (channel volume) which allows you to dial in the preamp overdrive (or not!) you’re looking for…and then you use the MV to determine the overall volume of the amp. So, you could get more gain at a lower volume. Simple…but not always great. Just like valves, a MV alone does NOT a great sounding amp make. It’s not the ingredients, it’s how they’re used in the recipe!

Marshall’s first foray into the MV arena was in 1975 with the now legendary 100-Watt, all-valve, MV head – the 2203. How did it sound? As the learned and much respected Marshall historian, Mike Doyle, once commented: “crunchier than a lorry running over a hedgehog!” The result? A simple, no-frills, one-channel amp that totally dominated the entire decade that was the ‘80s. In fact, the list of artists that didn’t use them is a lot shorter than the one containing all the 2203 (ab)users!

In 1981, the JCM800 series was born and the 2203 was cosmetically redesigned to what most people know it as, but the sonics remained the same. This groundbreaking head is available as a reissue today – the 2203X.

JCM800 – the truth behind the name: the license plate on Jim’s car!! JCM800 – the truth behind the name: the license plate on Jim’s car!!

Intriguing Fact #6: Contrary to certain people’s perceptions the “800” part of JCM800 had nothing to do the ‘80s. The fact the series came out then was a mere coincidence! So, what does JCM800 mean and from whence did it come? Well, the “JCM” part is easy – it’s merely an acronym of Jim’s full name: James Charles Marshall. As for the “800” – believe it or not, it came from Jim’s car license plate which said JCM800. The 800 just happened to be on the one he found that had his JCM initials on it!!

A SILVER CELEBRATION: The Jubilee Series of 1987

1987 was a special year for Marshall as it marked two notable landmarks: the company’s 25th year in business, and Jim’s 50th year as a performer in the music world. To celebrate these two anniversaries, the Silver Jubilee series was released and the heads (3), cabs (8) and combos (2) were clad in silver vinyl and the amps sported a silver front panel for the whole year. When 1988 hit, the amps remained but lost the “Jubilee Series” name and reverted back to gold panels and black vinyl.

Jim and a Silver Jubilee in 1987 Jim and a Silver Jubilee in 1987
Jim vs. Yngwie for a 2555 head – it was a tie! Jim vs. Yngwie for a 2555 head – it was a tie!

Of this acclaimed family, one member rose to global fame – the 100-Watt, valve 2555 head. Why? Artist use…and one guy in particular. Who? A British born guitarist named Saul Hudson. He is of course, now better known as simply “Slash” and is probably the most famous hard rock guitarist on the planet today!

Some fella known as Slash! Some fella known as Slash!

The 100-Watt 2555 (3 x ECC83, 4 x EL34) was a pretty simple amp but it did have a few notable characteristics:

  1. The “Input Gain” control for the “Clean/Crunch” mode cascades into the Lead mode too…making the two footswitchable sounds somewhat symbiotic but also offering a superb “punch you in the chest” crunch when both “Gain” controls are dimed!
  2. The “Input Gain” control is a push/pull pot…when pulled a “Rhythm Clip” kicks in, adding more drive.
  3. It had a Series Effects Loop on its rear panel
  4. It was the first Marshall to feature a HIGH/LOW OUTPUT switch on the power stage. What did this do? It offered two output options – 100W (HIGH) or 50W (LOW). How? By switching the output valves from Pentode (5 elements) to Triode (3 elements). Doing this not only halved the output of the valves (in terms of Watts, not decibels!), but Triode mode was also warmer and slightly less aggressive sounding too.

Due to massive public demand, this revered and much sought after head was reissued in 2015 as the 2555X. Made in England, this offering is identical to the original with the following improvements which have no tonal bearing whatsoever.

  1. All wires have been upgraded to high voltage/high temperature resistant ones.
  2. The switching and heaters have been beefed up
  3. External bias points are present – for ease of service and adjustment
The critically acclaimed, UK made reissue of the 100W Silver Jubilee head: the 2555X The critically acclaimed, UK made reissue of the 100W Silver Jubilee head: the 2555X
“None-more-black” – the glorious guts of the 2555X reissue. “None-more-black” – the glorious guts of the 2555X reissue.

Also, the PCB is black, most wires are black and the chassis is powder-coated black too…making the 2555X’s sleek internal view “none more black” in true Spinal Tap tradition!

THE JCM900 SERIES: Amps that Go to “20”!!

The 5881 Powered reissue of the High Gain Dual Reverb 4100 head. Made in Britain? Of course! The 5881 Powered reissue of the High Gain Dual Reverb 4100 head. Made in Britain? Of course!

In the hard-rock/heavy-metal/thrash-metal dominated ‘80s, a cottage industry of “amp modding” sprung up. The main motive of these gurus (some brilliant, some the polar opposite)? To add more gain to a head. In keeping with Jim’s MO of “listen carefully to what our users want and then strive to exceed their expectations,” Marshall addressed this with the JCM900 Series in the ‘90s. As per usual, one of the offerings rose to the top of the heap and was loved by players, press and public alike. The winner? The Hi-Gain, Dual Reverb, 100-Watt 4100 head. This valve offering features two footswitchable channels; Reverb (footswitchable) controls for both channels; Series FX loop and Pentode (100W)/Triode (50W) switching.

This fine head is available as a UK made reissue and boasts 3 x ECC83, 4 x 5881 valves.

IF IT’S GOOD ENOUGH FOR JEFF BECK…: The DSL100H head

After a great run, the JCM900 Series was replaced in 1997 by the UK made JCM2000 line which boasted two family units: the DSLs (Dual Super Leads…read: 2 footswitchable channels) and the TSLs (Triple Super Leads……read: 3 footswitchable channels). Both did well but the DSL100 100-Watt, all valve head proved to be the most popular with one prestigious American reviewer declaring: “James & Co. might just have just reinvented their own Holy Grail with the JCM2000 Dual Super Lead head.”

The Best-selling, 100-Watt, all-valve head in America – the DSL100H The Best-selling, 100-Watt, all-valve head in America – the DSL100H
The DSL100H’s baby brother – the DSL15H. Mini but Mighty!! Perched proudly on an affordable MX212 2x12” cabinet The DSL100H’s baby brother – the DSL15H. Mini but Mighty!! Perched proudly on an affordable MX212 2x12” cabinet

When the JCM2000 period came to an end and the JVM series arose in 2007, many continued to lust for the sonic sear and simplicity of the DSL100 head. So, in 2012 Marshall offered an affordable, offshore version of this great head. Named the DSL100H: the tubes (4 x ECC83, 4 x EL34s) and tones stayed “as was” but some features were improved. They are:

  1. The DEEP button (which instigated a resonant low-end boost in the power-amp) was replaced by a Resonance control for more, er, “girth” control!
  2. The spring reverb was replaced by a far superior sounding Digital offering
  3. The channel and Reverb footswitching was controlled by a single supplied, 2-way footswitch – not two (one supplied, one not) as on the original
  4. A Pentode/Triode switch

Used by artists as diverse as Slayer, A Thousand Horses and the living tone legend, Jeff Beck, the DSL100H is a best seller all over the globe.

MINI-ME DUAL SUPER LEAD: The DSL15H

In keeping with the increasing demand for low wattage, all-valve heads, the compact 2-channel, 15-Watt DSL15H (3 x ECC83, 2 x 6V6) is also available. And, to make it even more neighbour-friendly and also perfect for home-recording too, the Pentode/Triode switch knocks the DSL15H’s output down to 7.5-Watts.

REDEFINING ALL-VALVE VERSATILITY: The Multi-Channel JVM Series

The incredibly versatile JVM410H, 4-channel, 12-mode, all-valve 100-Watt, UK made head The incredibly versatile JVM410H, 4-channel, 12-mode, all-valve 100-Watt, UK made head

After a glorious ten-year reign of the JCM2000 Series, it was time for Marshall to ring the bell of changes for their UK-made, all-valve, flagship series. So, in 2007 the JVM Series was unveiled. The first head offering was the JVM410H – a 100-Watt vessel of all-valve versatility that boasted no fewer than 4 totally independent channels; 3 modes per channel; Studio quality Reverb for each channel; 2 FX Loops (1 series & 1 parallel); 2 footswitchable MVs; a 6 button LED footswitch with memory; MIDI switching and 9 valves (5 x ECC83, 4 x EL34)!!

Because of all the above “bells & whistles,” the head featured an intimidating 28 control knobs and no fewer than 8 LED switches on its gold front-panel! Once a deep breath is taken though, believe it or not, the JVM410H is remarkably logically laid-out and is actually intuitive as opposed to intimidating. Let’s do some elementary math.

  • Each of the 4 channels has 5 controls: Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble & Volume. That accounts for 20 of the 28!
  • There’s an individual Reverb control for each channel – that’s another 4 accounted for. 20 + 4 = 24, leaving only 4 more to explain.
  • There are 2 Master Volume controls (footswitchable). 20 + 4 + 2 = 26. Leaving only 2…
  • There are master controls for Presence & Resonance. That’s all 28!!
The slightly simpler but equally impressive, 2-channel, 6-mode, all-valve JVM head… available in 100W or 50W versions The slightly simpler but equally impressive, 2-channel, 6-mode, all-valve JVM head… available in 100W or 50W versions

See, not too bad at all!

The programmable, 6-way LED footswitch is equally elegant and is connected to the amp via a regular guitar cable…simple yet brilliant. So length, loss or breakage of the cable is no longer an issue – all you need is a guitar cable.

Professional players, the press and the Marshall loving public welcomed the JVM410H with open arms. In fact, Guitar World magazine proclaimed that the JVM Series was “the most significant Marshall amps since the JCM800.”

And, for those who don’t quite need the JVM410H’s unprecedented feature set, it has two, 2-channel siblings: the 100-Watt JVM210H head and the 50-Watt JVM205H.

NOT OF THIS EARTH: The JVM410HJS Joe Satriani Signature head

In the words of the world-renowned, “CEO of Shred,” Joe Satriani: “Having a signature Marshall is an elite fraternity & I feel honored to be part of it.” Why does Joe say “elite”? Slash, Zakk Wylde, Kerry King, Jimi Hendrix, Randy Rhoads, Lemmy, Yngwie Malmsteen & Dave Mustaine – that’s why!!

When Joe formed Chickenfoot with Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony & Chad Smith, he realized that his “other amps weren’t up to it.” So, he contacted Marshall and tried out the JVM410H. “We just loved them,” he revealed. After a tour, Marshall approached Joe with the idea of doing a signature head, an offer he happily accepted. Using the JVM410H as a platform, Joe dove in deep. He had the amps 12 Modes re-voiced & he changed the Reverb controls for studio quality Noise Gates. After 3 years of prototyping and rigorous testing both on the road and in the recording studio, the UK-built, all-valve, JVM410H Joe Satriani Signature head was unleashed to a wave of critical acclaim.

The one-and-only Satch with a trio of his signature heads – including a limited edition, blue one. The one-and-only Satch with a trio of his signature heads – including a limited edition, blue one.

SOLID-STATE OF THE AMP ART: The MG100HCFX 100-Watt head

For the longest time the claim “this solid-state amp sounds and feels like a valve amp” was up there on the believability charts with the likes of “the check’s in the mail” and “we’ll fix it in the mix.” Simply put, the vast majority of solid-state amps sucked! They were two-dimensional, cold and stiff. What a lot of designers weren’t taking into the account was the vital relationship between a valve-amp’s power stage and the speaker(s) it was pushing. In a nutshell, there’s a 2-way communication going on that ultimately effects how the amp feels to the player and also how the speaker(s) behaves…or in this case, misbehaves. Jim always employed guitarists in R&D for that very reason – the way an amp “feels” to the player is just as important as the way it sounds. So, Marshall’s crack team found a way to accurately emulate that all-important relationship without valves...the sound, feel and success of MG is proof that they succeeded.

Because of the sound, feel, weight (all-valve amps are heavy due to the transformers) and price, the MG100HCFX 100-Watt, solid-state head has been a best seller for years. What adds further to its appeal is its impressive versatility…it not only has 4 channels and built-in digital effects (Chorus, Phase, Flange, Vibe & Octave), digital Reverb (studio or spring) and Delay (4 types) but has a “digital brain” which allows you to store all the chosen settings for each channel and recall them instantly. Add to that the optional PEDL-90008 programmable footswitch and you have a powerful sonic weapon that’s both versatile and affordable.

Analog tone with digital FX and a digital brain….the affordable, 4 channel MG100HCFX 100-Watt head. Analog tone with digital FX and a digital brain….the affordable, 4 channel MG100HCFX 100-Watt head.
Armed with this intelligent footswitch, the MG100HCFX’s versatility just gets vaster! Armed with this intelligent footswitch, the MG100HCFX’s versatility just gets vaster!

NEW KIDS IN TOWN: Brand New Marshall Valve Heads

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: The AST1H Astoria Classic all-valve, handwired 30-Watt head.

The UK made Astoria, all-valve Classic 30-Watt (or 5-Watt) head: the AST1H and its matching 1x12” cab The UK made Astoria, all-valve Classic 30-Watt (or 5-Watt) head: the AST1H and its matching 1x12” cab

The new Marshall Astoria line is made in England and marries a 100% handwired, all-valve signal path with post handwiring era features and switching such as Master Volume and Power Reduction. To this end, the handwiring is done using turrets on a black PCB board, while any switching circuitry is on the other side of the PCB and is not in the all-important signal path.

The 30-Watt AST1H features 3 x ECC83, 2 x KT66 and a GZ34 valve rectifier and was designed for the player that loves to use stomp boxes, including Overdrives, Distortions and/or Fuzz to produce their dirty sounds. To that end it has a lot of headroom and stays a lot cleaner than your typical Marshall MV amp. The input gain is controlled via the “Sensitivity” control and has minimal break-up, even on high settings. In addition to the usual controls for Treble, Middle and Bass, the AST1H also has an Edge control which attenuates (reduces) very high frequencies in the power section. The Master control is a push/pull pot, and when it is “pulled” up, the output of the AST1H drops from 30-Watts to a home-studio and neighbour friendly 5-Watts.

“MINI-ME”: The Mini-Jubilee 2525H 20-Watt Valve Head

The much sought-after mini-Jubilee, UK made head. Tonal proof that sometimes the adage “less is more” is 100% true! The much sought-after mini-Jubilee, UK made head. Tonal proof that sometimes the adage “less is more” is 100% true!

This brand new, British made, 20-Watt mini head version of the acclaimed Silver Jubilee 2555X 100-Watt head has a serious buzz in the world of guitar. Unlike many “mini” amps, the 2525H doesn’t just look like a mini version of the 2555X, it is one! This is achieved by:

  1. Having the same exact valve preamp circuit and front-panel features as the 2555X
  2. Using the same output valves as the 2555X – EL34s. EL84s are wonderful sounding tubes but they do not sound like EL34s…ditto 6V6s and 6L6s.

To add to its “mini-me” vibe, the 2525H can also be switched to 5-Watts output!

CONCLUSION: Signing-off, for now…

We sincerely hope that this “Heads Above the Rest” piece was both entertaining and informative…plus maybe made your search for the Marshall head that’s perfect for you a little easier. So, to quote Warner Brothers: “That’s all for now folks!” BUT, if you liked this, more Marshall stories (like the already hinted at “Hail Me a Cab”) will follow…

Cheers,

Nick Bowcott

Nick Bowcott

In Memory of the late, great Jim Marshall – a true pioneer who left a legacy that will live forever.

In Memory of the late, great Jim Marshall – a true pioneer who left a legacy that will live forever.