Last weekend, I picked up one of the brand new Marshall Origin amps from the friendly folks at AStrings.co.uk. One week in, how am I getting on with it? Let’s find out.
What Did You Get?
I bought the Marshall Origin 20W head.
It’s a one-channel valve amplifier, featuring a 3-band EQ (bass, middle and treble), plus a tilt control to simulate mixing the two channels on old Marshall plexi-style amps. Preamp gain and volume are controlled by a single gain control (which features a pull-out 20db clean boost). The power amp has its own master volume control, and I believe that the presence control affects the power amp and not the preamp.
This amp also comes with a FX loop (more about that later on), and 3 levels of built-in power soak / attenuation.
Why Did You Get It?
There’s three aspects to this: why I bought an Origin at all, why I went for the 20W head, and why I picked the head over the combo.
Why Origin At All?
Friends and folks who know me through Twitter sometimes ask me advice about guitars and gear. They’re not always in a position where they can – or want – to spend what it costs to get boutique-priced gear. So I’ve decided to put together a rig that’s much more available to my friends. That way, I can feel more confident that any advice I give is going to be useful to them.
Marshall’s Origin is one of the few valve amps around the £500 price point that you’re going to be able to find in your local guitar store (here in the UK). Which means you can go and try it for yourself before buying one. That’s great, because not only can you avoid the hassle of sending the amp back if you don’t like it, I get to recommend something that’ll help and support your local guitar store.
I’m also very much into guitar pedals, and Marshall’s Origin has the potential to be the de facto pedal platform amp for a whole generation. I kid you not. Right now, there’s nothing in that price point that is the undisputed King of Pedal Platform Amps. Will the Origin take that crown? My thoughts on that are at the end 🙂
Why Pick The 20W Head?
I actually went to buy the 50W head, and if it had been in stock, I would have bought one there and then. Sadly, even though Marshall had told me that they were sending out a 50W head to the shop, it didn’t arrive. That (for me) turned out to be a happy accident.
For home use, the 20W head is more than loud enough. I’ve got the master somewhere between 2 or 3 at the most, and I’m surprised that my neighbours haven’t come round and complained yet. If I’d bought the 50W head, I think I’d be struggling to keep it quiet enough for home use.
It isn’t just that this amp is loud. You know how live guitar always seems to travel through walls a lot more than if you’re listening to a recording at the same volume? That’s exactly what this amp is like. It’s got a very cutting edge to it.
The brightness of this amp is going to be running theme throughout this article.
The only difference between the 20W and the 50W head (as far as I know) is the volume that it puts out. There’s no extra features on the 50W head. If you’re gigging, the 20W may be loud enough. The 50W certainly will be.
Why Buy The Head Over The Combo?
I don’t have the space at home for combo amps. They’re much bulkier than separate head and speaker cabs.
The weight of a combo amp can be a problem for me too. I was the victim of a careless driver some years ago, and my injuries limit how much I can physically lift in one go. With separate head and cab, I can split the weight. It’s the difference between me being able to own the amp or not.
And finally, I personally prefer the flexibility of separate heads and cabs. Speakers – and the cab that they’re in – are a big part of the overall sound of a guitar rig. It’s interesting and fun to mix and match, and explore the different possibilities.
You can do that with a combo using extension cabinets – and it’s very easy to do with the Marshall Origin combos. You just need the space at home for it.
What Speaker Are You Using?
I’m running the head through a 16 ohm Celestion G12M-65 Creamback speaker in an open-backed 1×12 cab. (It’s a stock Victory V112-CB). I’ve had it a few years, and the speaker is nicely broken in.
Historically, this style of Marshall amp is associated with both G12H Greenback and G12M Creamback speakers. There’s a lot of variety in how these speakers sound, as Johan Segeborn shows us in this video:
There’s no “best” speaker choice. It’s all personal preference. The G12M-65 Creamback has been my favourite in recent years, which was handy when I got my Metropoulos Metro Plex at the start of the year.
What Does It Sound Like?
The amp is ‘vintage voiced’. By that, I mean it is an amp where most of the output is in the mid frequencies. If you want to play metal or anything else that uses a mid-scooped tone (often referred to as ‘modern voiced’), this isn’t the amp for you.
If you like classic rock or blues, keep on reading 🙂
This is a bright and cutting amp. Well, mine is at any rate, and so are the other ones that I’ve heard in person. Most of the perceived volume from this amp is in the upper mids and treble.
You can test this for yourself. Take a Strat, plug it into a Marshall Origin, and roll the tone control down to zero. It won’t just sound like a blanket has been thrown over the amp – you’ll hear the volume drop substantially too. Repeat the exercise with a different amp, and you won’t hear the same volume drop.
My choice of G12M-65 plays a big part in taming the brightness. Being a 16 ohm speaker, it’s a little darker than the 8 ohm equivalent. It smooths off the highs just enough, and pushes the mids nicely.
I think the Origin 20W head works really well with a Creamback speaker. Let me know in the comments below what speaker you pair yours with.
How Do The Combos Compare?
The combos ship with a Celestion Midnight 60 speaker. I don’t know for sure what that is, as I can’t find it anywhere on Celestion’s website. I believe it’s a 16 ohm G12N-60, known as a Neo Creamback.
It may (or may not) be slightly revoiced over the stock design. Folks are reporting that it sounds closer to a Vintage 30 than a normal Creamback. These things are very subjective though, so keep that in mind until Marshall or Celestion publish something official about this speaker 🙂
When I was buying my Origin amp, I took my cab into the shop and ran the 50W combo both through its own speaker and into my cab for a great A/B comparison.
I found the stock combo speakers to be a little brighter, and have slightly reduced mids, compared to the G12M-65 in my cab. It isn’t a dramatic difference, and hopefully the combo speakers will mellow out as they break in.
If the combo amp is just too bright for you when you try one, you might want to budget for a speaker change. Or just get the head and a separate cab instead, like I did.
Can We Hear The Amp For Ourselves?
I’m going to make some sound clips over the weekend and post them up onto Soundcloud for you. Keep an eye out for them on the blog 🙂
Which Guitars Does It Suit?
For me personally, this amp suits instruments that are heavy on the mids, such as a Les Paul or a Telecaster with hotter pickups. This thing sounds lush with a Gibson Custom Shop Historic Reissue.
Plug in something with reduced mids – like your average single-coil Strat – and the amp’s too cutting for me. Maybe you can EQ it out. I didn’t try.
The Origin is fine with the bridge humbucker on an H-S-S Strat too.
What’s It Like To Play Through?
I really enjoy playing through it.
Even on the lowest power setting, the amp doesn’t feel compressed at all. There’s plenty of responsiveness to pick dynamics (how hard or how soft you pick). It’s forgiving without feeling lifeless. I don’t think it’ll be too revealing for beginner or intermediate players.
If you dig in hard and strike the strings at the wrong angle, the amp will produce sharp transients. They can be very ice-picky. After a week with the amp, they’re not happening very often, but I haven’t eliminated them completely from my technique yet.
Playing hard doesn’t really increase how dirty the amp sounds. This is not a dirty amp.
How Dirty Does The Amp Get?
The amp gets most of its gain from the preamp tubes (unless you really crank it). You have to run the preamp gain on max to get much breakup, and even that is not always enough. If you’ve got low-output pickups in your guitar, the amp is still going to sound cleanish.
I say cleanish, because this amp never gets super clean (unless you turn it down so much that it becomes anaemic and usable!) The amp tone always has a little bit of a gritty edge to it.
If you want super-clean tones (for example, for your pedals), you probably want a Marshall DSL instead. I have one on order, and I’ll do a side-by-side comparison once I’ve got it.
With some amps, you can slam the frontend to get more overdrive from the amp by running a boost, compression or drive pedal (with the pedal’s volume way up) into the amp’s input. This doesn’t work with the Marshall Origin.
This thing has tonnes of headroom on the input circuit and preamp. I’ve run an MXR Micro Amp (which has +26 db of gain) into the front of the amp, and it has stayed cleanish. That’s impressive.
Engage the amp’s built-in clean boost, set the amp’s gain to 8 (I find this amp gets harsh if you dime any of the controls, but that’s just personal preference), run the Micro Amp at about the same, and there’s a nice amount of crunchy rhythm overdrive to be had. It’s quite a soft crunch, not quite your classic AC/DC tone. You might have to get the power tubes cooking to give you a harder crunch.
If you’re using this amp in a 2 guitar band, I think you’ll want to use pedals for your overdrive, and to switch between rhythm and lead tones.
How Well Does The Marshall Origin Take Pedals?
Very well – with one caveat.
Let’s get the caveat out of the way. It’s not a negative, it’s just the nature of the amp. And it’s a characteristic that many folks actively want.
Because this amp is cleanish, you’re running pedals into an amp that’s on the verge of breakup. For many people, that’s the holy grail amp setup. Watch any of the great YouTube pedal demo community, and they’re always setting their amps up like this for pedals.
There’s one consequence to that. The resulting tone is heavily flavoured by the sound of the amp. The drive pedal adds character mostly in the form of texture. There’s some colour added by the pedal, but (imho) at least half the colour of the tone comes from the amp itself.
If you’re buying pedals – especially expensive boutique pedals – and you want them to be the main source of colour in your tone, you might be happier with the clean channel on a Marshall DSL instead. Or you might need to be looking at something like the Victory V40, Fender Deluxe Reverb, or a.n.other high-end clean platform.
Now that’s out the way …
If you’re looking for a pedal amp that’s on the edge of breakup, you need to check out the Marshall Origin. Thanks to that edge of breakup tone, and the huge input headroom, this amp takes drive pedals really well.
Especially affordable pedals from Boss.
Let’s not beat around the bush on this. Run a Boss DS-1 into a 3 grand boutique amp that’s set super clean, and the results are just awful. It’s asking the pedal to do all the work, whilst showcasing it with an amp that’ll let you hear every flaw in the resulting tone. Wrong pedal, wrong platform.
Now, run a Boss DS-1 into the Marshall Origin, and you’ll hear why the DS-1 is one of the best selling pedals of all time. The DS-1 adds that hard-clipping attack to the Origin’s colour, and the result works really well. Instead of pedal and amp competing with each other, the two circuits complement each other.
It’s not just the DS-1. It’s the same story with the BD-2 Blues Driver. And with every drive pedal I’ve tried so far that didn’t play nice with the super clean boutique amp.
I’m so impressed with the results that I’ve picked up some more affordable pedals to try. I’m excited by the possibilities – and surprised that Marshall aren’t making more of this.
The pedals arrived while I was writing this article. Give me a couple of days to play with them, and I’ll get some sound clips up so that you can hear them for yourself.
Drive Pedals And The Power Modes
Many drive pedals have a bass cut in their circuits. If you run such pedals into the Origin 20W head on low power mode, the bass cut is very noticeable. Probably sounds great in a mix, but not as much fun when noodling on your own at home.
Flip the power mode up to medium, and the tone shifts. The perceived highs are less emphasised, and the effect of the pedal’s bass cut is reduced too. There’s more mids, and the amp feels more open and dynamic.
The downside is that – at home volumes – you need very understanding neighbours to crank the amp up enough to get the power tubes cooking. Or you need to run it through an external attenuator like the Two Notes Torpedo Captor to throttle the output volume back a bit.
Would It Benefit From Changing The Values?
I’ve been wondering about this. I don’t know yet.
I haven’t had mine apart to see what Marshall have shipped it with. I also don’t know very much about the differences between different brands of 12ax7 preamp valves.
Depending on what’s in my amp, a preamp valve swap could make a difference. A different brand of valves might address the amp’s brightness a bit, thicken up the mids a bit more, and maybe add a bit more natural gain to the amp.
I foresee some experimentation in my future. I’ll also be keeping an eye on the Marshall forums to see how other people get on with this.
How Plexi Is This Amp?
A plexi amp is simply any Marshall amp made with a plexi-glass front instead of a brushed metal front. These amps were made between 1965 and 1969. There has never been a single Marshall ‘Plexi’ amp model. When someone talks about a plexi amp, they often mean a 100W Marshall Super-Lead, but they can sometimes mean a Marshall JTM 45.
There’s folks out there who have been hoping that this amp would turn out to be an affordable Marshall plexi-style amp. Wouldn’t it be nice to go and take an affordable Origin to a gig instead of a vintage Marshall or an expensive reissue or clone?
The only experience I have with plexi-style amps is with the Metropoulos Metro Plex module for the Synergy amp. In my opinion, that’s a special amp. If I ever had to downsize to just 1 amp and no pedals, it’d be the Metro Plex. It’s my desert island amp.
The Metro Plex is a reproduction of a specific 1968 Marshall Super-Lead amp. The Synergy module has two channels with a shared EQ. They’re basically filth and more filth. It does not clean up with the amp controls, and it is not an amp to run pedals into.
Even dimed, the Origin 20W head is much cleaner than the Metro Plex module will go. There’s no overlap there at all. Which means (for me) that the Origin plugs a huge tone gap. That’s a big win.
I haven’t yet done an A/B comparison with the two amps. (I’ll add that to the list of sound clips that I’m promising you!) Until then …
For me, both amps are in the same territory, but the different levels of gain make comparison tricky. A lot of people like plexi amps for the amp’s overdrive. The Origin just doesn’t have that kind of gain.
At the moment, I’d say that the Origin has much more top-end, and the mids are not as thick as the Metro Plex. Throw a pedal in front of the Origin, and I think you can get into the same ball park, as long as you’re not after an identical tone.
For me, that’s the key point in the Origin-vs-plexi debate. If you want to get your gain from the amp, like you can with a Marshall Super Lead, then the Origin isn’t what you’re looking for. If you’re happy to pair it with pedals, then it’s a much cheaper option than a vintage Marshall plexi-style amp, or any of the reissues or clones. I imagine its much lighter too!
One last word on this debate (for now). Marshall Super Leads were originally very bright amps, and it was common for them to be modified by their owners to tame that brightness. At this stage, we don’t know how mod-able the Origin amps are. Will we see equivalent mods appear for Origin amps, to reduce their brightness, I wonder?
Any Problems So Far?
The only problem I’ve had so far has been with the FX loop.
The FX loop only works if the (included) footswitch is plugged in. Unplug the footswitch, and the FX loop switches off. There’s no switch anywhere else on the amp to switch the FX loop back on. I’m not aware of any switch inside the amp’s chassis to change this behaviour.
There’s nothing about this in the manual (or on Marshall’s website), so I contacted Marshall directly about it on Monday. They’ve confirmed that my Origin amp’s FX loop is meant to work like this. It’s not a fault.
To be clear – the FX loop works. I just have to leave the footswitch plugged in to use it. It’s annoying. It stops me using the gain pull knob on the front panel, and it adds to the clutter in the room a bit.
It’s a bit weird, isn’t it? Was the FX loop always meant to work that way, or is it actually a screw-up of some kind that wasn’t caught early enough to rectify?
I haven’t had any other problems with my amp at all. Everything works, it isn’t noisy, and I think it sounds great.
I’m only a week in. This is very much still the honeymoon period. I haven’t yet done any recording with this amp. There’s a lot still to explore.
I’m very happy that I bought this amp. I’m getting more out of it than I expected. It gives me something I don’t already have.
I’m already covered for pristine cleans and crazy pedal platforms for the best in boutique drive pedals. I’m already covered for that quintessential Marshall amp gain tone. This amp nicely slots in alongside all of that.
I love how well this amp takes drive pedals, and I love that affordable pedals work great with this amp. It’s given me access to a whole bunch of tones and textures that I didn’t have before.
Is it going to take the crown of undisputed King of Affordable Pedal Platform amps? No. It colours the tone a little too much for that. But I tell you what – it might well end up sharing that crown with the 2018 version of the Marshall DSL amps. I’ll let you know once I’ve got my hands on both amps to compare.