First Impressions: Marshall Bluesbreaker Vintage Reissue Overdrive Pedal

At the start of March 2023, I picked up all four of Marshall’s vintage reissue drive pedals. I’ve already posted my First Impressions on the ShredMaster and DriveMaster pedals.

Last, but not least, it’s time to explore the most legendary of them all: the Bluesbreaker. Here are my First Impressions.

What Did You Buy?

I bought a vintage reissue Marshall Bluesbreaker overdrive pedal.

Why Did You Buy It?

Have you seen the price of original Bluesbreaker pedals? At the time of writing, there are folks on Reverb asking £799 for an original pedal (two weeks after the vintage reissue pedal started shipping …)

They are prohibitively expensive for what they are and what they do. At least, I think so.

These vintage reissues, on the other hand … they’re not cheap, but they’re (a little!) cheaper than equivalent US-made boutique pedals like the excellent Wampler Pantheon. And I am curious to hear how the Bluesbreaker compares to the pedals that it has inspired over the years.

What Is It?

As with the other pedals, I’m going to answer that by recommending one of the product demo videos that came out when the pedals were re-issued:

Sweetwater’s demo of the Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal

tl;dw: the Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal was first launched in the early 90s. It is Marshall’s attempt to capture the sound of the JTM45 combo that was famously used on the album Blues Breakers: John Mayall with Eric Clapton. It’s one of the industry’s first-ever Marshall-in-a-box (MIAB for short) pedals.

These vintage reissues are marketed as exact reproductions of the original Marshall pedals, quirks and all.

Vintage Tone For Days

Unlike the other pedals in the series, I find the BluesBreaker to be a bit of a one-trick pony. It’s really got just the one sound … and oh my, what a sound 🙂

McCarty 594 bridge pickup > BluesBreaker > Axe-FX 3

To my ears, that’s a classic vintage rock tone right there. It’s rounded, warm, and very full in the mids. Very full indeed. Perhaps a little too full for humbuckers? I’ll come back to that in a moment or two.

Works Better On Its Own …?

I’ve had some great results using the other pedals with my Lazy J Cruiser Deuce. With the BluesBreaker … not so much. Have a listen for yourself.

McCarty 594 bridge pickup > BluesBreaker > Cruiser Deuce > Axe-FX 3

This combination of pedals (BluesBreaker into Cruiser Deuce) has ended up over-emphasising the upper mid range of the tone. It’ll probably work great in a mix, but in the room, it’s not a sound that I find fun.

Tell you what though … that upper-mids emphasis might be just right for playing in the middle position on a Les Paul or McCarty 594 …

Works Great In The Middle Position

One of the frustrating things about overdrive pedals is when they only sound great with a guitar’s bridge pickup. Too many pedals sound dull and lifeless when I switch to the middle position on my Les Paul or McCarty 594.

Thankfully, the combination of BluesBreaker into Cruiser Deuce doesn’t have that problem at all:

McCarty middle position > BluesBreaker > Cruiser Deuce

I need to experiment with the levels a bit, to see about taming that rasp that has snuck in from somewhere. But that sounds like a very usable sound for me.

Works Best With Single Coils?

I know that Eric Clapton is famous for using a Les Paul on the album that spawned the BluesBreaker name. But still. What if I took that mid-range out by switching to a guitar that doesn’t do the Les Paul thing?

I grabbed The Earl – my PRS Paul’s Guitar – and I think I’ve found this pedal’s true sweet spot:

Paul’s Guitar > BluesBreaker > Axe-FX 3

Take away the mid-push of humbuckers, and voila – plenty of clarity and detail without sounding thin at all. That is a sound that I’m excited about.

How Does It Compare To The King of Tone / Pantheon / Insert Bluesbreaker Pedal Here …

The Bluesbreaker circuit is one of the most-copied / cloned pedal circuits of all time. Heck, the whole boutique pedal industry is largely credited to the release of one of the most legendary bluesbreaker pedals ever: the Analogman King of Tone.

I haven’t had time to do any side-by-side comparisons yet. Look out for blog posts on this soon!

Final Thoughts

Of the four pedals in Marshall’s vintage reissue series, this is the one that’s much more in my wheelhouse. Having heard it, though, it’s the one that I’m the least excited by.

I think it’s because it falls somewhere in between tweed tone and that glorious Marshall rock tone. If I’m going for a rounded tone with soft attack, I’m going to reach for a tweed tone pedal or even a tweed amp.

This pedal’s attack is just a little too soft for my tastes. But maybe that’ll change once I’ve heard it up against the other bluesbreaker-circuit pedals?

2 Replies to “First Impressions: Marshall Bluesbreaker Vintage Reissue Overdrive Pedal”

  1. Through the 90s my stage setup was Les Paul Custom – Marshall DriveMaster – Music Man RD100EV. My playing was inspired by Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr. The DriveMaster replaced a Tubescreamer and I was always happy with this change. Many guitar players been jealous on my sound, so the combination worked. When I started with the DriveMaster, I also had the Bluesbreaker in the beginning to compare. For anything rock in higher stage volumes I deeply preferred the DriveMaster for being right in your face in a good way. The Bluesbreaker always sounded a bit mellow and limited. For some kinds of blues it might be the right choice, but for anything rock the DriveMaster was my clear winner. I’m just talking about the originals, had no chance to try the reissues yet.

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