Studio Diary #27: A New Lease Of Life To My Old Amps

I’m supposed to be rehearsing the four (possibly five) songs for acoustic guitar that I’m aiming to record by the end of the year. However, for the last few weeks, I’ve been lured away by the seductive purr of my guitar amps.

Here are three short narratives on the sirens that have waylaid my acoustic adventures …

Marshall DSL 20HR Is A Great Pedal Platform

I promise, I’ll do a full article on this one soon. I just want to get my thoughts out on this quickly.

Round about the start of July, I decided to try using my old Marshall DSL 20HR as my main pedal platform amp for a bit. I’ve owned this amp for almost two years, but it’s always taken a back seat to the fantastic Blackstar Studio 10 6L6.

I think it is a great pedal platform amp.

There genuinely is a trick to it: learn to use the clean channel’s Gain control as a low-mids EQ control. Once I figured that out, I found it really easy to dial in the amp for every single pedal and/or guitar that I’ve thrown at it so far. Some of the tones I’ve had out of it have been very inspiring.

The one caveat is that I’ve found myself having to dial the amp in pretty much each time I swap guitar and/or pedal. That does make it hard to reproduce a sound when I want to go back to it.

I need to find some time to go back and forth between the Studio 10 6L6 and the DSL 20HR, before I can share any opinions about which amp is best for which guitars and pedals.

My Marshall Origin 20H *Can* Rock Out

Full credit here to the Fryette Power Station. Seeing as I now have one, I wondered what my Marshall Origin 20HR would sound like when it was cranked – and then the overall volume tamed to practical home tone limits!

Finally, I can understand why some people have said that this amp is a rock monster. With the Gain and Master up, it does indeed produce a very usable vintage Marshall drive tone. This amp can rock out.

Only problem is, I’ve had to use a £900 attenuator to make my £400 amp achieve this potential in a home setting. That’s just bonkers, and it sums up why I’ve always recommended against this amp for anyone who wants an overdriven Marshall amp for use at home.

Even using an affordable, quality attenuator like the Two Notes Captor, I can’t make my Marshall Origin 20H breathe fire. It needs cranking to achieve this. The preamp’s got so clean headroom, I’m guessing that all the drive is coming from overloading the phase inverter and the power amp section?

Now that I can hear my amp like this, do I still feel that the overdrive character doesn’t quite live up to the hallowed plexi tone? While it does sound soft to me,

  1. this amp has more than the one tone in it, and I’m still exploring the different ways to dial in overdriven sounds; and
  2. I don’t have a Marshall plexi to compare it against

I was hoping to borrow a Marshall plexi for the Origin review I was writing in 2020. The pandemic put paid to that plan at the time, and the amp ended up getting sold before restrictions were lifted. On top of that, there’s a severe shortage of Marshall amps in the shops right now. Studio Vintage amps not expected back in stock until sometime in 2022 😱

Once I’ve got a Studio Vintage amp head, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of both amps. Until then, I’m going to have to reserve judgement on this one.

The Tweed Deluxe Amp Is Like Having Another Instrument

The main amp that has distracted me from my acoustic project is my Fender 57 Custom Deluxe amp. Since getting it, I used any of my overdrive pedals. I’ve just been using the amp.

(Again, this is thanks to the Fryette Power Station. It’s got to be the frontrunner for Purchase Of The Year right now.)

It’s the feel of the amp that’s got me hooked. I’m sorry, I don’t know how to describe what I mean here. I’ve just written (and then deleted) several different attempts to tell you about it, and none of them would have left you any the wiser 🙁

When I’m playing, I’m finding myself playing each note with more variety of technique. Different playing techniques – different picking techniques, I guess – produce different responses from the amp. With pedals, I’ve often talked about dynamics. This is that, and it is somehow more.

For me, the Tweed Deluxe amp is quickly becoming part of the performance. It’s like I’m playing two instruments at once: the guitar and the amp too.

God, that probably reads as such pretentious twaddle. It would sound bad enough coming from a touring artist or YouTuber; it probably sounds even worse coming from a home hobbyist hack like me.

You’re probably getting ready to post in the comments about what BS this is, because your valve amps aren’t like this. Well, I agree: my other valve amps aren’t like this either. Whether it’s the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6, the Marshall Origin 20H or the Marshall DSL 20HR, none of them feel like the Tweed Deluxe does.

And I’m having far too much fun to care right now.

Final Thoughts

I will get back to the acoustic project this month. I’ve got a lot more practicing to do, and that’ll be the subject of my next Studio Diary entry.

But I thought it was important to be honest, and talk about where my time has actually gone recently. I don’t know what it is like for you, but for me, I play guitar for fun. Recording projects are cool ideas, but sometimes they can feel a little too much like extra work at the end of an already tiring and stressful week.

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