New Arrivals For June 2019

I’ve spent nearly all of June away in Scotland, enjoying a much-needed break from work out on Orkney. Just before I left, I picked up a few items to enjoy when I got back.

These are my initial impressions of the gear I’ve bought this month. I’ll delve into them in a lot more detail when I’ve had more time with them.

Vox Mini Superbeetle Amp

My friends Andrew and Adam are both massive fans of the Vox AC30 sound. Andrew loves getting all his tones by going straight in, and Adam loves driving his with his growing pedal collection. I tried one, and it wasn’t for me. Too big, too loud.

I’m hoping that Vox’s Mini Superbeetle is the compromise … something that’ll be the perfect AC30 substitute for someone who’ll only use it occasionally. It’s not a sound that I need a lot; I’m mostly going to be testing pedals with it to educate myself.

It’s a nice-enough amp, but I honestly don’t know what I’m doing with it yet. The whole Vox tone is completely new to me, and I’ve no idea how to get the best out of it as a pedal platform. I guess I’ll be watching That Pedal Show videos to learn a bit more 🙂

Boss Katana 100 Head

When my local guitar store announced it wasn’t going to be a Roland / Boss dealer any longer (it’s no longer profitable for small, independent outlets like them), I decided it was time to pickup a Katana before they ran out of stock. Good job too, as I snagged the very last one they had.

Why a Katana? Not everyone in the #HomeTone community can afford a real valve amp, and not everyone wants one. The Katana’s become a mainstay of amateur home musicians – and I’m not comfortable answering questions about them when I don’t have one of my own.

In the shop, I ran this into a Marshall SV112 1×12 fitted with a V-Type speaker. As a reference, I put Fender’s Santa Ana Overdrive in front of it. It’s one of my favourite drive pedals. I loved the results: big and fat and warm, three words I’d normally never associate with a V-Type speaker!

Expect to see a bit more of this later in the year when I finally get my #CoffeeAndKemper series off the ground.

JRAD Blue Note (Tour Edition) Overdrive Pedal

Rewind to 2012. YouTube is just starting to become the place to go to learn about the vast world of boutique pedals. And the JRAD Blue Note Overdrive pedal (in its original form factor) feels like a regular guest star in many of those videos.

Since then, this is a pedal that’s largely dropped off the radar. Good for me – I was able to snag one at a great second hand price. Maybe you can too?

In person, I was surprised at just how low-gain this pedal is. Even gunned with a big fat Les Paul running into it, there’s barely enough gain to use for rhythm work. This is a pedal that needs a helping hand – or needs to be used as a helping hand itself.

As a quick test, I threw the MP Audio Brit Blue in front of it (I need to compare thees two pedals, I suspect they’re quite similar), and got a lovely fat tone out of the pair. Roll on some free time, when I can explore this pedal a lot more!

SviSound Overzoid od1 Overdrive Pedal

This is my second Overzoid. My first one died a year or so ago, and thanks to the #CoffeeAndKlon series I write on the weekend, I’ve been missing this pedal more and more. It’s such an affordable pedal, I don’t know why I waited as long as I did to buy a replacement.

I feel like I’m approaching this pedal from a better perspective than I did the first time I bought one. I think the only pedal I’ve owned for longer than this is the Forest Green Compressor. Back then, I definitely didn’t have a clue about what I wanted or stacking pedals together. You can be the judge of whether that’s changed or not over the years … 🙂

I love how I can use it to add a bit more drive to my lower-gain pedals like the Sweet Honey Overdrive, all without drastically changing the tone or slamming the front-end of the pedal with a hotter signal. Although it is a very bright pedal, it doesn’t have the ear-fatiguing top-end sparkle of something like the TC Electronic Spark.

I’m looking forward to comparing this with the legendary Timmy pedal into a cranked amp in the near future …

New Arrivals For February

February has been a very strange month for gear.

The Winter NAMM announcements are over, and now we wait for actual stock to appear in the shops. Some items – like Marshall’s new Studio line of heads, combos and cabs – have arrived quickly (and largely sold out just as quickly). Other pieces – not so much.

eBay started slow, but in the middle of the month, there was a lot of great gear up for grabs at surprising prices. I was expecting most people to be waiting for the “free for private sellers” changes coming at the start of March. I was wrong.

Here’s a list of everything I’ve picked up in February, along with my initial impressions. I’ll write up a full article on each of them once I’ve had a bit of time with them.

Mad Professor Stone Grey Distortion Pedal

I love Mad Professor. By far, they’re my favourite obtainable pedal brand. Many of their earlier offerings were designed by the legendary Bjorn Juhl (of BJF / BJFE fame), and they’re all designed with ultra-low noise floors and ultra-high headroom inputs to support stacking pedals together to find your own tone.

Even so, when I plugged it in for the first time, I was surprised at just how dynamic and responsive this pedal was. It’s billed as a high-gain distortion pedal for modern metal, but in seconds I’d dialled in a lovely light drive tone that really suited single coils and P90s.

I can see this pedal getting a lot more use than I’d planned on.

Mad Professor Golden Cello Pedal

With this pedal, I’ve definitely reached the point where I’m now buying early Mad Professor pedals to complete my collection. It came up on eBay at a great price for a Mad Professor pedal – possibly because it came sans original box 🙁

One thing I didn’t realise when I bought this pedal: they don’t make these any more. Looks like they weren’t a great success first time around. But a niche sound can still be a great sound in the right context.

I’m really looking forward to comparing it with the Bluebird Overdrive pedal that has been on my pedal board for several years now. Both pedals feature a built-in delay, and are aimed at lead tones. Maybe – just maybe – they’ll work out as complementary lead tones for recording?

Mad Professor Mighty Red Distortion Pedal

I’ve had one of these before, and flipped it (in part) because I was just getting into the whole vintage-voiced thing – pickups and pedals alike. I’ve picked up another one because it completes my collection of early-era Mad Professor drive pedals.

It’s Mad Professor’s entry into the whole EVH / “brown sound” world, that slightly hot-rodded JCM800 tone from the days of hair metal (and my youth!) Like many of these kinds of pedals, it’s somewhat a one-trick pony. Doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of fun with it though 🙂

Plugged it in, and I’ll be honest … not feeling the fun. It’s a pedal that needs dialling in, and today’s not the day to spend on that.

Barber Electronics LTD Overdrive Pedal

This caught my eye because it isn’t a pedal brand that I recognise.

A quick bit of research suggested that this discontinued pedal is a low-gain overdrive that folks either absolutely love or are totally ‘meh’ about. Sounded like it could be my thing, so I chucked in a minimum bid amount and left it at that.

I’m so glad that I did. It took a couple of attempts to dial it in (it didn’t like my V30 speaker, but it absolutely loved the Celestion Blue) and there it was. A wonderful, clear, articulate mild overdrive tone. Absolutely perfect for the kind of rhythm riffs I play of my Les Paul. And it sounds fantastic with a Strat too.

When I’ve got time to devote to this pedal, I’m very curious about how it compares with the King of Tone (is it the perfect complementary tone pedal?) and how it takes boosts in front of it. I’m also wondering what it sounds like in the boost role too.

Kemper DI Box

I have a love/hate with my Kemper. Back in 2017, I called it one of my 3 worst purchases of the year (along with the King of Tone!), and I promptly went out and bought a dual-amp Synergy rig as soon as they were available here in the UK.

So what am I doing buying Kemper’s own DI box for a unit I should have flipped 12 months ago?!? I ask myself that every day …

Kemper units are in professional recording studios world-wide. They’re a tool that many professional guitarists use. I feel that I can’t just ignore that, that all these folks who rely on the Kemper to pay their bills do so for a very good reason. If I want to understand guitar tone better – if I want to get better at producing great guitar tone – getting better results out of the Kemper is one way for me to learn.

Hyperion Clone Fuzz Pedal

This (and the other fuzz pedal I’ve snagged this month) also belongs in the “why are you spending more money on things you hate?” category.

It’s not that I hate fuzz, it’s just that I’ve never enjoyed playing through the kind of raspy, broken-speaker kind of fuzz tones that people buy fuzz pedals for. I’ve always gone for the fuzz-as-overdrive tones (Velvet Fuzz, The Pelt) up until now.

Meathead Clone Fuzz Pedal

One reason for picking these pedals is that I’ve had clones from this guy before, and I’ve loved each one of them. The drive and boost pedals I’ve already got are well put together, have zero noise issues, and sound every bit as good as American-made (and priced!) boutique pedals.

I might not get on with these two fuzz pedals, but I’ll know it’ll be me, and not the construction of the pedal. And that’s important. These two pedals are an affordable way for me to explore something I know little about and haven’t gotten on with previously.

OKG (One-Knob Gain) Boost Pedal

I got this from the same guy who made the two fuzz clones listed above. He also made the Little Pink Wonder (my name for it!) boost pedal that I absolutely raved about last year on Twitter. Whether or not I like the tones, all his pedals seem to be well made using quality parts. I’ve no hesitation in trying out anything he puts up on eBay.

I don’t know what pedal this is based on. I believe it’s meant to be different to the LPW boost I already have. If it’s actually the same circuit, honestly I win either way. The LPW boost is so good I would be very happy to have a spare in my collection.

This OKG boost (my name for it) is different from the LPW boost. It doesn’t sound like a full-frequency boost like the LPW does. Through the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6, the sweet spot gives this wonderful vintage vibe: crunchy on chords, clear (and a little thin) up the dusty end of the neck.

I dug out my MXR Echoplex Pre to compare it against, and whilst I can’t say for certain that the OKG is a clone of this style of circuit, there isn’t much in it to my ears. The MXR is a little warmer, a little sweeter on the top-end, but that’s not to say the OKG boost sounds bad. I think you could use both for complementary tones when recording.

It’s definitely not an EP Boost clone. This is the first time I’ve compared the EP Boost to the MXR Echoplex Pre, and I was surprised at how different they sound. That’s certainly food for thought.

Ibanez Mini Tubescreamer Pedal

This is another pedal that turned up at a really great price on eBay this month.

I picked this up because I don’t own a genuine tubescreamer atm. I’ve got a few pedals that are based on the tubescreamer circuit, but not an actual TS pedal. It’s going to be interesting to compare them, and see whether the genuine article can push the pretender off my pedal board.

The first thing I’m going to do with it? Strat + ZenDrive + TS. That combo normally sounds very special indeed.

Xotic SL Drive Pedal

I’ve had one of these before, and ended up flipping it. So why have I gone back to it? It certainly isn’t for nostalgia’s sake.

Whenever I can find them at great 2nd hand prices, I’m going to revisit pedals I’ve had before to see whether I can get on with them better now that I’ve improved my rig. (This all started with the Mad Professor Amber Drive …)

This time around, I found it much easier to dial in. It seems to react well with the Marshall Origin’s brightness and insane input headroom. It still seems to work best for driving rock rhythms, rather than more laid-back styles.

I’m looking forward to spending more time with it.

Keeley 1962x Pedal

It’s hard to get one of these for a great 2nd hand price. They’re quite sought-after, and rare enough that they might only be one going on eBay at a time – a perfect storm if you have one to sell in normal times!

Robert Keeley is a legend in the guitar pedal business. It’s past time that I finally got one of this pedals. And this gives me yet another Marshall-in-a-Box flavour to add to the palette of tones.

Online, everyone raves about the KT88 mode of this pedal. Tell you what, though, I’m loving the KT66 mode with a Strat and the gain dialled back. I don’t think my Strat has ever sounded better.

Keeley Oxblood Overdrive Pedal

Is it another in a long line of klones, or just a really great dirt pedal from the legendary Robert Keeley? It’s certainly pitched as a pedal that can kick both your Tubescreamer and your klone off your board. It can also act as your main dirt pedal too, something those other pedals aren’t so good at.

Klon klones (and their rivals) interest me a lot. I like pedals that shape the overall tone in interesting ways, as long as they stack well with whatever’s next in the signal chain. It can be as subtle or as over-arching as you want. And, increasingly, the klones are often even better as the main dirt pedal than they are doing the Klon thing.

Quickly testing it out on its own, it seemed to suit the bridge pickup of my Strat better than it did the neck pickup. Switching over to humbuckers, I was surprised at how similar they all sounded through the Oxblood. That might be a very useful thing if you’re gigging and changing guitars mid-set.

Exact same settings through my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 and the exaggerated mids from the Oxblood sound just right with a Les Paul. More experimentation needed!

Keeley Super Phat Mod Pedal

It’s rare to see Keeley drive pedals going 2nd hand (other than the D&M Drive). I couldn’t believe my luck when a third one came available at a great price.

When it comes to low-gain pedals, the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver pretty much defined that whole genre. It’s a pedal that’s been modded to death (including by Keeley), cloned to death, and rivalled almost as much as the Tubescreamer itself.

With the Super Phad Mod, Keeley have taken their original mod for the BD-2, and made it a full pedal in its own right. I’ve seen people talk about this as the ultimate BD-2-style pedal, so when one came up at a great price, I couldn’t resist my curiosity.

I plugged it in, and struggled with it a little. The drive control is clean, and then within a hair it really isn’t clean at all. With my Strat, I just couldn’t find the sweet spot on my first go. Switch over to my McCarty 594, and it was a completely different story.

Keeley El Rey Dorado Overdrive

That’s right … sneaking in at the very end of the month is a fourth Keeley drive pedal. And it’s YAPP (Yet Another Plexi Pedal) to add to my collection.

I remember when these first launched in the hand-wired format as an exclusive to Riff City Guitar. They’re now available in factory format, as it were. I haven’t seen many turn up on the 2nd hand market recently, but doing my research before buying this 2nd hand unit, it seems there’s no shortage of stock of brand new items at aggressive discounts. Make of that what you will.

What am I expecting? A one-trick pony that’ll rival the JHS Charlie Brown v2 as a JTM 45-in-a-box. One-trick because it’s widely reported to have very limited adjustment ranges.

Yeah … it’s incredibly limited. The gain starts at crush-your-soul and only needs a nudge to go into smoother-with-mud territory. The tone is either covered-in-blankets or brittle-as-can-be; if there’s a sweet spot in between, it’s so small that I can’t find it. And this is with vintage-voiced, low output pickups!

However … dial it in just the other side of covered-in-blankets, then roll back both volume and tone on the guitar, and there’s a really nice crunch tone waiting for you. I’ve had more fun with a Strat rather than a Les Paul so far. I think I need to stick something in front of it (an EQ pedal perhaps) to get the very best out of it.

JRAD Tim Pierce Overdrive

This is a pedal I’ve been after ever since it was launched.

Tim Pierce’s YouTube channel is one of the very best for learning how a professional musician approaches his craft. He’s played on more hit records than you can shake a stick at – and he’s been doing it for decades, one of the best indicators that he really knows why things work.

This pedal doesn’t disappoint. Right from the go, I was able to dial in a great fat clean sound for my Strat. It was warm, dynamic, articulate. I can easily see me using this and the Keeley 1962x together on tracks.

JHS Morning Glory v4 Drive Pedal

The Morning Glory isn’t just JHS’s biggest success, it’s also one of those pedals you’ll consistently see folks put on their “legendary pedal” list. A lot of folks lump it in with klone pedals, although it isn’t sold as a reproduction of the most infamous circuit in pedal land.

Hardly any of these pedals this month arrived in boxes. This is the first time I’ve received a pedal sent in a recycled takeaway meal container though!

I’ve only tried it as a main drive so far – I don’t have things wired up to try it as a Klon-style boost atm. It took a few minutes – and some swapping back and forth to compare it with other pedals – before I found a tone I liked.

With the tone knob above 10 o’clock, my rig sounds brittle and plagued with electrical noise from the mains. Turn it down to 9 o’clock, and all the life gets sucked out of the signal. Find the sweet spot, though, and suddenly it’s other pedals that sound brittle or harsh.

Very interesting.

Wampler Pantheon Overdrive

The Analogman King of Tone (KoT) is as famous for its unusual ordering procedure and lengthy waiting list as it is for how much Dan of TPS loves his. Just like the Klon before it, this kind of demand and hype has created a market for people to bring their own take on this sound to market.

After being down on my KoT for a long time (it was in my Top 3 Disappointing Purchases of 2017), I’m finally at a place where I really like the KoT. So when a friend borrowed mine to help him decide if he wants one for himself, it got me wondering what the KoT alternatives sound like. And the same night, a 2nd hand unit turned up at a price I was happy with. Fate? Coincidence? I’ll take it either way.

Holy smokes. From the very first chord, this thing impresses. There’s something about the tone – and I can’t put my finger on it atm – that just sounds quality. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Some pedals sound raw. Some sound focused. This just sounds like a million dollars.

Snouse BlackBox Overdrive 2

This pedal is another take on the bluesbreaker circuit. It isn’t as famous as Analogman’s legendary King of Tone, and it isn’t as widely-stocked as Wampler’s new Pantheon pedal (I don’t believe there’s any retailer in the UK who stocks it), but it does have its fans.

The bluesbreaker (BB) circuit was originally a Marshall design, yet (to my ears) the King of Tone is at its best through a mid-scooped Fender-style amp. I’m half-expecting the Wampler Pantheon to fall into that category too. Where will this pedal fall?

Well, I lost a whole evening playing this through my Marshall Origin 20H and a Strat. Even started coming up with some new licks whilst I was doing so. That’s always a good sign!

Empty Cardboard Boxes

One of the downsides of getting a 2nd hand bargain is that the pedal often arrives without its original box. And boxes are really handy.

The box doesn’t just keep a pedal safe from dust, it also makes it much easier to stack a collection of pedals up on a shelf out of the way. Plus, when the time comes to move these pedals on to their next lucky owner, the box offers added protection against the modern postal experience.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find anywhere around here that sold suitable boxes for keeping pedals in. So I found somewhere that makes boxes to order, and that will do so in small quantities. I’ve got 25 plain white boxes (20 standard pedal size, 5 large pedal size) on their way from Italy, and if I got the dimensions right, I’ll soon have all my loose pedals packed away 🙂

On the dimensions side … mostly right. Turns out a couple of the pedals I’ve picked up recently have protruding jacks that I hadn’t taken into account. I have managed to get them all into these boxes, but I would probably add a few extra millimetres to length and width next time.

The boxes themselves … very white, very glossy, and quite thin card. They’re definitely not as sturdy as original pedals boxes are. But for keeping the dust of the pedals – and making them much easier to stack on the shelf – they’re perfect.

There’s something to be said for having all the pedals in boxes of a standard dimension. It’s a bit like switching to pedals with top-jacks. Maybe I should get some more, and get rid of all the original boxes I already have?

Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 Amp

If you’re part of the Les Paul player community , you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only amps launched at NAMM are Marshall’s new 20W studio amps. It’s all anyone wants to talk about – or wants to bash, depending on whether or not they believe that Marshall stopped making “proper” amps back in the 70s. That’s Internet forums for you!

Blackstar also released some amps, including a line of simple (1 preamp value, 1 poweramp valve) 10W combos aimed at home volume players like myself. There’s 3 amps in the lineup – the KT88 (which I haven’t seen in the wild yet), the EL34 (does the Marshall thing) and the 6L6 (which does the Fender cleans thing).

I’ve been looking for an amp that does exactly this for the last couple of years. I’m delighted that someone has finally made this kind of amp, aimed squarely at someone like me. My only question is: why isn’t it Fender doing so? Oh, and why does nobody make something like this as an amp head?!?

In person, the Studio 10 6L6 stands out for its extended range: there’s plenty of low-end (perhaps a little too much?) and good clear highs. Dial in your volume, switch to the neck position on your Strat, and there it is – that clean tone that no Marshall will give you.

Oh, and Les Pauls absolutely rock through this thing with a pedal.

And, it has to be said, some pedals just sound better through this amp. American pedal designers predominantly play Telecasters or Strats through Fender amps. It shouldn’t be a surprise if some of their pedals suit a Fender-style clean tone more than the mighty mid-range roar of a dimed Marshall.

That’s why I wanted both styles of amp to hand. Yes, I’ve already got this through the Synergy rig, but (for reasons I’ll go into another time) it’s not a rig I want to run all the time. I’m really enjoying being able to switch between this and the Marshall Origin when exploring different pedals.

My Strat is getting a lot more playing time too.

Synergy Plexi Module

Exactly 12 months ago, I went over to Peach Guitars and built out a dual-amp Synergy rig to be my pedal platform for the next 10-15 years. It’s soddingly expensive to buy into – especially for a dual-amp setup – but by the time you’re up to 3 or 4 different preamp modules, you’re way ahead of what it would cost to own all of the original amps they’re based on.

I’ve had the Metro Plex module right from the very beginning, and it’s one of my favourite amps for dirt. I used it in last year’s “Is It Plexi Enough?” challenge involving the Marshall Origin, and everyone loved the sound of it. Synergy do their own-branded Plexi module too, and I’ve always been curious about what the differences are between the two. Just not curious enough to buy one brand new.

One finally came up on the 2nd hand market over here. I don’t believe that there are many Synergy users in the UK atm – in part because the stuff was out of stock for most of 2018 – so not only are 2nd hand pieces rare, there’s only a small pool of people around to bid on them.

From the get-go, I was surprised. The Plexi module sounds much more like the Marshall sound in my head than the Metro Plex does. And I absolutely love my Metro Plex. Just like with Synergy’s 800 module, I bet you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this and an actual equivalent Marshall in a blind test.

One thing’s for sure. Because I’ve got this and the 800 module, I can’t see me buying either of Marshall’s new 20W Studio amps. With my Synergy rig, I’ve already got those tones covered. In that respect, Synergy lives up to its promise.

Initial Thoughts On The Marshall Studio Amps vs Marshall Origin For Pedals

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.

On My Wishlist: Blackstar’s Studio 10 6L6

Earlier today, I popped round my local guitar shop to try Blackstar’s new Studio 10 combo amps. I came away with the 6L6 version firmly on my list of amps to buy.

Why Are You Looking For A New Amp?

I love my Marshall Origin 20H. In the 10 months or so that I’ve had it, it’s become my everyday amp at home. It’s been a much better pedal platform than I could have hoped for. Even now, I’m still learning how to get new tones out of it. Without a doubt, it’s been one of the best purchases I’ve ever made when it comes to guitar gear.

If there’s one ‘but’ when it comes to the Origin, it’s that the Origin’s strong personality can always be heard, no matter the pedal used. The Origin is middy, with a strong emphasis on the upper mids. Sometimes, I just feel like a change. Sometimes, I just want a break from the Origin.

Maybe it’s because I grew up playing Strat knockoffs, I don’t know. There’s just something about 6L6 / blackface-voiced amps that always draws me back to that sound. Especially when playing cleaner tones with a Strat.

And with rehearsals well underway for our first acoustic gig, I’m playing a lot of clean stuff atm.

That Sounds Like You Want A Fender Amp?

Fender doesn’t really play in this space atm.

Their high-end amps like the Deluxe Reverb Re-issue (DRRI) are lush. They’re also big, heavy, and expensive. I haven’t really found anything in their lineup that brings that beautiful blackface clean tone to home players on a budget.

So it’s no wonder that other manufacturers are looking to fill the gap in the market that Fender’s left for them.

Enter Blackstar Studio 10

New for 2019, Blackstar has launched 3 new 12” combos: Studio 10 EL34, Studio 10 KT88 and Studio 10 6L6. As the names suggest, each is focused on bringing a specific kind of tone to home and home studio players, in a 10 watt format.

I can’t comment on the Studio 10 KT88 at all, as I’ve not played one yet. When they turn up in the shops, I will go and check them out.

My local shop did have both the Studio 10 EL34 and Studio 10 6L6 in stock. I spent the best part of an hour playing through both with a couple of the new American Performer Strats and Fender’s The Pelt Fuzz pedal. I love that pedal so much!

What Was The Studio 10 EL34 Like?

It sounded good.

It’s got that mid-push EL34 thing going on. Clean, the tones from the Strat were cutting, with good clarity. The kind of clean tones that would work really well in a mix.

With The Pelt, the mid-focus was really apparent. There isn’t a lot of bottom end / extended range on tap. I couldn’t find any warm tones in the amp. It struck me very much as an amp to rock out on, without the excessive brightness of Marshall Origin combos.

I’ve already got the Origin 20H. If I didn’t, then the Studio 10 EL34 would probably be on my wishlist.

What Was The Studio 10 6L6 Like?

Mmm. There it is. That lush blackface clean tone that I’ve been looking for.

This amp has both the extended range and mid-scoop that I remember from the last time I played a DRRI. Clean sounds have that piano-like ring that I want, and The Pelt was warm and chewy.

If anything, sat next to it, the amp was a little boomy. There’s a single tone control, but that’s more for matching the amp to your guitar. You might need to budget for an EQ pedal in the FX loop if you find the amp a little boomy too.

I had no trouble at all imagining this amp sat in my office all day as an alternative to my Marshall Origin. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen come pay day.

Did You Mention The American Performer Strat?

Yes, I did.

I tried both the maple and rosewood fretboard versions, and they both were great to play. I’ll talk more about them at pay day, when at least one of them is coming home with me.

Fearless Gear Review – Marshall CODE 25

Glen Fricker has posted his thoughts on Marshall’s CODE 25 amp. Given his infamous Line 6 Spider review, this should be good 🙂

I’ve heard the Marshall Code live, being demo’d by Marshall themselves. There were plenty of folks in the audience who not only liked what the CODE offers, they went out and bought one. There’s clearly an audience for this amp.

Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment.

How Rabea Makes Kemper Profiles

Rabea Massaad has posted a video showing us all how he makes profiles for his Kemper.

This video is perfect timing for me perfectly. We have a long weekend coming up here in the UK, and I’m planning on spending all three days with my Kemper. Any tips I can get will save me a lot of frustration.

I hope we see Rabea’s Kemper profiles available soon. Is there going to be an official Victory Amps profile pack, I wonder?

Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment.

How Great Is The Laney Tommy Iommi Boost Pedal?

Henning has taken a look at the Tommy Iommi boost pedal by Laney.

If you prefer to get your filth from amps rather than pedals, boost pedals are an interesting way to get a bit more from your amp and shape the tone in the process.

The basic idea is that a boost pedal slams the amp’s input with a hotter signal. This causes the preamp to react differently. Exactly how depends on the boost pedal and the amp you’re using.

I own several boost pedals, but I don’t know much about them or how to use them yet. My mate Andrew has offered to lend me several more and teach me all about them. I just need to find the time to take him up on his generous offer!

This video is trademark Henning. It’s a good look at what the Tommy Iommi boost pedal sounds like through several amps set at different gain levels.

Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment.

Final Thoughts On The Marshall Origin

I’ve just spent two days hiding from unseasonably warm weather, locked in a room with the Marshall Origin 20W head and my Les Paul. Two days of writing, recording, re-recording, and mixing 12 demo tracks.

Now that it’s over, what do I think?

It’s Damned Loud!

This amp needs cranking to get the best out of it. Yes, it has built-in power scaling so that it’s usable at home volumes – but it isn’t the same amp when its held back like that.

To make the demo tracks, I ran the Origin 20W head through a Two Notes Captor and into to my audio interface. Instead of using a real cab, I used an impulse response from Celestion – their G12M-65 in a 1×12 open-backed cab. The end result sounds very close to how the Origin sounds through my real cab.

That meant I could run it with the Master on 8, and the Gain between 5 and 8 depending on whether I was using pedals or not. That seems to be the sweet spot for this amp. With the amp cranked, the power tubes get to contribute to the overall gain.

I normally run the amp in the middle power setting, with the Gain on 5 and the Master at around 2 or 3. Set down there, the amp needs pedals to help it rock out. The results are fun, and it does sound good for home volume levels.

But if you can’t turn it up, you’re missing out.

It’s Damned Bright!

Another reason to crank this amp is to do with how bright it sounds at lower volumes.

This amp’s energy is somewhere up in the upper mids. At low volume, those frequencies dominate our hearing, and the amp sounds very bright. It’s only when the amp is turned up that we start to hear the wider frequencies that the Origin produces.

It is the nature of these vintage amp designs. Even the famed Marshall Super Lead amps were originally very bright amps.

But … the community has spent the last 50+ years moving away from amps that behaved like this. Today, most of the community doesn’t have any experience with those original, unmodded amps, and as a result, Origin’s brightness has come as a bit of a surprise to most folks – me included!

When the inevitable Origin v2 comes along in a few years, Marshall should consider revising the design so that it’s not so bright at lower volumes. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see if the community comes up with ways to mod the Origin to help address this in some way.

It’s Very Clean(ish)!

This amp is never super clean. There’s always a bit of grit in the signal, and that helps it work really well with affordable overdrive and distortion pedals. It stays that way until you really crank it. I haven’t played another amp with this much headroom before.

From demos I’ve seen, and other people I’ve talked to, I think that there’s quite a bit of variety between different examples of this amp. Mine seems to be at the lowest-gain end of examples that I’ve come across. It’s certainly go nowhere near the gain that you’ll see in Marshall’s official demo video up on YouTube.

So soon after Origin’s launch, there’s not enough examples out in the wild to form a reliable picture. Are all 20W heads very clean(ish), or do they vary? Do all the 50W amps have more gain on tap? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Get Over The Plexi Thing!

Some folks saw Marshall’s branding and pre-release promotion of this amp, and assumed they were getting a 2 grand Super Lead for 500 bucks. When Origin turned out to be something else, they were very disappointed … to the point that they just couldn’t get over it.

And yet, when I’ve invited people to take the Plexi challenge, and pick out the real Plexi from Origin (or Origin + plexi-voiced pedals), so far no-one has successfully done so. I think that says it all.

Now, to be clear, I have never seen Marshall market this as a budget-plexi amp. Nor has anyone been able to produce a single example of Marshall doing so. It’s just a case of folks convincing themselves that it’s the only thing Origin could possibly be. And, with a little bit of help, it can be.

Maybe you prefer the “plexi” tone, or maybe you’re building a budget rig to gig with so that you can keep your expensive Plexi-style amp safe at home. Just run a plexi-style pedal in front of the Origin amp, and you’ll be close enough.

And if you’re not chasing the exact “plexi” tone, save yourself a bit of money and use affordable pedals from Boss or TC Electronic in front of it instead. It’ll still sound great.

It’s Not A Pedal Platform Amp

If you want to get most of the tone, and all the dirt, from your pedals, the Origin isn’t the right amp for that. The Origin has too strong a character for that role. I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work.

It does take many pedals well – especially pedals that are designed to run into an amp that’s on the verge of breakup. The end result is a tone that sounds largely like the Origin, and feels largely like the pedal.

I’ve been impressed with just how good the Origin works with affordable pedals in particular. It’s perfectly voiced for these pedals. You don’t have to spend a lot to tailor the sound to suit.

You just can’t tailor it a lot.

Update 2019-06-26: I was very wrong about this. The Origin is a great pedal platform. When I wrote this article, I was running the Origin through a Celestion Creamback, and it was that speaker which was making all the pedals sound similar. Since then, I’ve switched to using a Celestion Blue and a Celestion A-Type together, and that’s made it a much better pedal platform.

It’s A Keeper!

I bought the Origin because I wanted to build an affordable rig that I could recommend to friends. The blog posts this week have been a big part in me figuring out what I’d recommend, and why.

I’ve had a blast recording with it. I thought it sounded pretty good – and excellent for the money – and it gives me a way to get at sounds that I didn’t have before.

Those affordable pedals I’ve tried sound great through this amp. They’re meant for an amp just like this. They really suit the kind of simple bluesy rock that I enjoy. I’ll be doing more with them later in the year for sure.

In the meantime, the Origin has become my main practice amp. There’s something about playing through a real valve amp that the Kemper doesn’t replicate (well, there’s several somethings, but that’s for another day!) Since I got the Origin, I haven’t switched the Kemper on once to practice with. And I can’t see that changing any time soon.

Should You Get One?

If you:

  1. like vintage tones (everything before the hard rock tones of the late 70s onwards)
  2. can crank it up, or
  3. are happy to use pedals to make up the difference

then the Origin is an amp you’ll enjoy.

I think it suits vintage-voiced Les Pauls and the bridge position onTelecasters really well. These guitars have their strengths in the same upper-mids where Origin’s energy is.

Everyone else will probably be happier with the 2018 version of the Marshall DSL amps. It has a really nice clean channel that suits clean guitar as well as pedals, plus a great modern-sounding gain channel. I have one on back order, and once it’s here, I’ll do some in-depth demos of that to help you decide for yourself.

Marshall Origin: Vintage vs The 80s

Marshall’s new Origin amp is best described as “vintage-voiced”. But what does that mean?

It’s easier to explain when you can hear it next to something else. So here are two demos. The first one is the Origin, and the second one is a JCM 800 – the sound of 80’s rock.

Have a listen, and then I’ll describe what I hear.

Sorry for my ugly mug. I’m too cheap to pay SoundCloud for access to their mini player 😀

What Are The Differences?

There’s three areas where the Origin sounds noticeably different to the JCM 800.

  1. where the energy is in the mids
  2. how hard the clipping is
  3. saturation

These are the same three differences between the Origin and a Plexi amp. The JCM 800 is simply further along the gradient on all three measures.

The differences are a little starker to my ears, because the JCM 800 has a tighter sound. You can hear that by comparing the performances, and how much closer together in timing the two guitars sound from track to track.

What do you think? Comments below!

Marshall Origin And MIAB Drive Pedals

This week, we’ve been looking at the new Marshall Origin amp. It’s an affordable, vintage-voiced amp that can get close to a classic Plexi tone with a little bit of help from pedals. Today, we’re going to look at two pedals to do exactly that.

The two pedals I’m featuring today are both boutique pedals, with prices to match. You could buy all the Boss pedals I’ve featured so far, and all the TC Electronic pedals, for less than the cost of these two pedals. Will you hear the difference between them?

Carpe Diem

If you watch That Pedal Show, you’ve probably seen the Carpe Diem pedal by now. It’s a MIAB – Marshall-in-a-Box – and a firm favourite of Dan on the show.

I’ve had mine quite a while, and it’s spent most of its time on my pedal board acting as flavouring, rather than being a source of main drive tone. Origin prefers to act as the colour with any pedal, so will the Carpe Diem add enough texture to be a good choice?

Oh yes.

I have a confession to make. I threw this pedal into the demo pile because I was getting frustrated with folks on forums complaining that the Origin wasn’t Plexi enough. I was hoping that this pedal would get the Origin closer to that hard-edged sound of the Super Lead amp.

Boy, did it deliver. Compare it to the sound of a Super Lead clone – my Metropoulos Metro Plex.

The Carpe Diem brings the harder clipping and saturation that the Origin can’t do on its own. There’s still a difference in the mids between the two, but to my cloth ears it’s close enough for government work.

It’s an expensive pedal that’s become very hard to get – 2nd hand via eBay seems to be your best bet at the time of writing. Both budget and availability make it a difficult recommendation. But if that’s the sound you want, this pedal will get you there.

What about something a little less unobtainium?

JHS Charlie Brown v3

I picked this pedal because I happen to have it in my pedal cupboard. I got it at the tail end of 2015, and I’ve been using it for the last few months as my main Marshall-in-a-Box sound.

How well did it do? Judge for yourself:

If the Carpe Diem gets you 90% of the way to a Plexi tone, I’d say that the Charlie Brown is a good 80% of the way there. There’s just a little less of everything – a little less crunch, a little less aggressiveness, a little less saturation.

With the Carpe Diem, you dial it back. Maybe with the Charlie Brown, I just didn’t quite dial in enough when I made the demo.

That said, the Charle Brown is aimed at reproducing the JTM 45 sound, which isn’t quite as in-your-face as the Super Lead sound commonly associated with the plexi tone. I think it’s a perfectly usable sound, especially if you’re the rhythm guitarist in a band or recording group.

Origin + MIAB = More

Both of these Marshall-in-a-Box pedals work great with the Marshall Origin. Instead of trying – and failing – to overpower the Origin, they fill in some of the characteristics needed to get it closer to being a Plexi amp.

They cost a lot more than the other pedals we’ve looked at this week, but if you’re chasing that classic Plexi tone, you’ll be happier with one of these than with the generic overdrives and distortions.

These two particular pedals may be hard to find, but the good news is that there’s a lot of alternatives out there to suit any budget.

I don’t have any other MIAB pedals to try right now.  Based on how well these two have worked, I think there’s a good chance that other MIAB pedals will work also turn the Origin into a rock monster at reasonable home volumes.

Have you tried any MIAB pedals with the Origin? I’d love to hear how you got on, and what you recommend. Comments below!