At Winter NAMM 2019, Marshall made a major announcement: they launched not one, but two 20W amps based on classic designs. The Marshall Studio Vintage 20 is based on the famed plexi-era amps, and the Studio Classic 20 is based on the JCM 800 – the amp of 80’s rock.
And, by all accounts, both of these amps absolutely nail those tones.
Where does this leave last year’s big new amp, the Marshall Origin? Will the Origin finally find its audience, or is it going to disappear?
The Marshall Origin Isn’t A Plexi
When the Marshall Origin launched, everyone was hoping for Marshall plexi-era tones on a budget. They wanted that Marshall dirt tone from their amp, not from pedals. They didn’t get that. And the Origin’s reputation has (unfairly, I think) suffered ever since.
Personally, I think Marshall’s just as much to blame as anyone. In their initial marketing and demos, they got carried away with trying to pitch the Origin at the plexi-on-a-budget crowd. They set this amp up to disappoint. It’s no wonder it has.
Somewhere along the way – maybe due to all the delays – the message got lost, and by the time this amp was out, just about the only place talking about this amp as a pedal platform was Marshall’s own website. And in the 10 months since the amp started shipping, nothing’s happened to correct public perception.
It’s a shame, because the Origin might just be the best pedal platform in Marshall’s line-up today.
The Marshall Origin Is For Pedals
The Origin is a great amp if you like both vintage tones and dirt from pedals.
I always describe it as an opinionated amp. It colours everything you run through it, in a way I’ve not found with clean channels on other amps. The results are fantastic, but there’s a limit to how radically you can change the tone just by changing pedals. The Origin’s colour is always going to be part of the final tone.
That might sound like a negative. But, if I look at my pedal shelf, there isn’t a single drive pedal on there that doesn’t sound great through the Origin.
Although it’s a dead-clean amp, with an insane amount of input headroom, the Origin somehow sounds like it is on the edge of break-up. How many pedal demos has Pete Thorn done where he’s set his amps up on the edge of break-up to get the best out of the pedal?
It’s a thing many pedals are designed for, and it’s what the Origin utterly nails.
Other Marshall Amps? Not In The Same Way
If we switch out the Origin for a JCM 800, one of two things emerge.
Some pedals just lack life unless they’re running through an amp on the edge of break-up. With the JCM 800 set on the edge of break-up, those pedals will sound very similar to how they would sound through an Origin. There are differences – and they may well be important to you. If they’re not, the Origin’s much better value for money than the new Studio Classic, the JCM 800 in a 20W format.
(The 80’s thing was to crank a JCM 800 and use pedals like the Boss SD-1 and DS-1 as boosts to push it over the edge. You’ve heard that sound on untold classic rock albums of that era.)
The other thing you might find is that some pedals are voiced for Fender blackface-style clean channels. I find this is especially true with older boutique pedals from USA-based pedal makers. The signature mid-focused Marshall sound can make it difficult to dial these pedals in. To my ears, they often end up sounding harsh, or nasally, or too bright and brittle. Sometimes, those tones can work in a mix. If you’re just noodling at home (we’re the HomeToneBlog, not the OneHundredThousandSeaterVenueToneBlog!) not so much.
Don’t get me wrong – the Origin sounds like a Marshall. It’s just got more of its energy in the upper-mids in a way other Marshalls don’t (which is why it sounds too bright and harsh to many ears), and that difference – that shift – is just enough to make it work well with Fender-voiced pedals.
And even actual Fender pedals sound amazing through the Origin. Two of my favourite pedals through the Origin are Fender’s Santa Ana Overdrive and The Pelt fuzz.
Conclusions So Far
If you want classic Marshall amp rock tones, go and try the new Studio Vintage (for plexi-type tones) and Studio Classic (for the JCM 800 thing). They’re already shipping, and new owners seem delighted with how they sound.
If pedals are more your thing, then don’t overlook the Marshall Origin just because people have been disappointed with it. They hoped the Origin was a plexi-on-a-budget. Of course they were disappointed.
Will I Buy A Studio Vintage or Studio Classic Amp?
I’ve already got amps that cover the same territory – the Metro Plex, Plexi and 800 pre-amp modules for my Synergy rig. So I probably won’t. These Marshall amps simply came out too late for me.
But you can be damn sure I’m going to go and try them out when they’re in stock locally. Who doesn’t love a Marshall?
Speaking of Synergy … if you want both of these new Marshall amps, it might make more sense to buy the Synergy equivalents instead.
At the time of writing, the Studio Vintage 20H and Studio Classic 20H will together cost you £1724. You can buy a Synergy 30w head, Plexi module and 800 module for £1909. That’s £185 pounds more.
If you go down the Synergy route, you also get a dedicated clean channel built into the 30w head, giving you a two-channel amplifier. (The new Marshall’s are all single-channel amps) And you can add completely new amps for less than the cost an Origin 20H, by buying additional modules when you’re ready.
We’re living in a golden age of tone choices right now, whichever way you want to go.