CoffeeAndKlon #22: Who Needs Pedals When You’ve Got A Great Amp?

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good afternoon! I’m a bit late with this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon. There’s a couple of reasons why. And one of them does involve the Klon.

I’ve been a bit flat for most of this past week. Delivered a couple of workshops and a talk on the Saturday and Wednesday, and didn’t have much left in the tank after that.

So Thursday and Friday, I’ve mostly been finishing off the home studio revamp. A bit of upgraded gear, and mainly about getting the gear I already have back into use.

At the heart of that is the Synergy amp system I got way back in February last year. It’s at the opposite end of the scale from the home-tone amps I normally talk about here.

Since getting wired up again, I just can’t stop playing this thing: the Synergy 800 module. Designed by Dave Friedman, it’s the classic JCM 800 sound that I grew up with.

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And when you push it with a Klon that’s setup as a clean boost? Les Paul heaven right there. And I haven’t been able to put it down.

Then I had a thought: I’m a pedal guy at heart. How well does a pedal hold up against proper amp filth? That’s where the rest of today has gone 😀

Our contender this afternoon: the JRAD Animal. On its own, this pedal isn’t the most exciting sound in the world. Boost it, and man does it come to life. A bit like a real JCM 800 to be honest.

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After a bit of experimentation, I’ve ended up running it into Synergy’s TDLX: a blackface-style clean amp. I tried running it into the 800 module setup as a clean amp. Didn’t like it at all, and it made A/B testing a pain.

Oh, and I’m using the exact same 1×12 cab loaded with a Celestion G12-M Creamback for both amps. It’s a speaker that brings out the Marshall in everything I run into it. More on that in the long-overdue Marshall Origin One Year On review.

How does the Animal do? It sounds great. It feels great to play. And there’s plenty of satisfying crunch if I boost it with the Klon. There’s a couple of key differences though.

There’s something deeply satisfying about the mids of the real amp that I can’t dial in using the pedal. The pedal setup has crisper highs and crunch, and deeper lows which are addictive in the room. I wish I could borg them together.

The other difference is noise. The pedal setup is picking up so much more string noise than the real amp does. An indicator that the pedal setup is amplifying the treble frequencies much more than the real amp does.

I’ve just switched over to the Marshall Origin for the first time today. Man, this amp loves drive pedals. And I have serious ear fatigue after listening to the pedal setup for most of the afternoon.

I’ve just switched over to the Marshall DSL 20HR. Still learning how to use this amp. Had to really go wild with the dials, as you can see in the photo. Man, it sounds really good too.

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To finish off – and by now, I’m a long way away from trying to match the JCM 800 sound – what about the boosted Animal into a Vox? Here’s my settings on the Mini Superbeetle. Like the DSL 20HR, an amp I’m still learning.

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Through the G12-M Creamback, it’s not a sound I would go for. Stick it through a Celestion Blue though, and that sounds really really good. The mid-range might just be the best of the bunch. Makes me want to add an EQ unit to my studio to tame the top-end though.

(Suggestions for an affordable, rack-mount EQ unit most welcome!)

Now I’ve got real amp filth on tap again, am I going to give up pedals? No. The Klon into the Synergy module sounds fantastic, and feels great to play. And so does the pedal into the other amps, just in a different way.

And for me, that’s what it’s all about, at the end of the day: having a palette of sounds to choose from and experiment with. I’m not a one-sound kind of person.

I’ve worked for three companies that had a strong singular colour for their brand. Going into the office to see a single colour everywhere all day, every day for years … it’s not me. And I’m the same about sound.

I’ve spent the whole afternoon on this, and my ears need a rest. I’ll tell you what though: no matter the amp, it sounded better when boosted with the Klon.

Have a great rest of your weekend, and let me know what questions you have for me about today’s #CoffeeAndKlon 🙂

New Arrivals For October

Here in the UK, the online second hand gear market is in the worst shape I’ve seen for decades. Even frequent ‘sell for £1’ events by eBay haven’t helped.

So instead, I’ve decided to sit down, and sort out my home studio setup.

Marshall DSL 20HR

These were launched around the same time as my beloved Marshall Origin, as a replacement for the old Marshall DSL range. I played through the 5w combo at the Origin demo night, and loved it.

One finally turned up at a great price, and it now completes my collection of classic amp tones from affordable amps. I’m looking forward to learning how to get the best out of it over the coming months.

The Hermit’s Cave has spent most of this year as the rehearsal space for the band I’m in. I’m currently getting things sorted out and wired up for recording once again. When that’s done, and I’ve found my feet with this amp, I’ll record some clips and demos to show how this amp compares to the Origin 20H.

OMEC Teleport by Orange Amplifiers

Before there were Pods, there were Roland guitar synths.

When I worked in London in the mid-90s, Denmark Street was the place to search out great gear. Did I buy a vintage guitar, back before they cost the earth? No. I bought a piece of electronics that dated faster than fresh bread: a Roland guitar synth.

That old unit brought me years of pleasure. I wrote a whole album’s worth of music on it, veering off from writing guitar music to writing music for other instruments. I can’t remember what happened to it – whether it died or I sold it on – but I still miss it. And the two? versions that Roland brought out since were IMHO inferior. Roland seems to have completely given up on it in recent years.

The OMEC Teleport is a little pedal that acts as a USB audio interface. It’s just another way to get your guitar signal into a computer. Combine it with Jam Origin’s Midi Guitar 2, and I’m hoping it’ll give me renewed access to the guitar synth world.

And if it does, I’m planning on taking all that old music I wrote, revising it, and re-recording it. Fingers crossed 🙂

Synergy Friedman BE Module

I’m always on the lookout for extra modules for my insane stereo Synergy pedal platform. Many of the ones I don’t have yet don’t clean up enough to use with most pedals. Sometimes it’s great to simply go straight into a filthy amp, so if I can get those modules 2nd hand, I will.

ART XLR Patchbay

There’s a part of me that would love to have a Universal Audio Apollo rack unit, partly for the extra processing power, and partly because I hate recabling before I can sit down and record stuff. They’re serious money, and completely overkill for my situation. Processing power on my Apollo Twin is an issue, but I hardly ever need more than two preamp inputs at a time.

So what if I simply made the chore of cabling a lot less of a chore? That’s where the two patchbays I’ve bought this month come in.

The idea is to have (nearly) all of my gear wired up permanently, and then I just need to jumper a few ports to pick the gear I want to use.

Neutrik Patchbay

As well as the XLR patchbay (above), I bought a traditional 3.5mm jack patchbay at the same time.

When I want to switch amps, one of the things that’s a real pain is switching over the FX loops. They’re not always easy to reach without moving the amp, and sometimes I can’t find the right length cable to reach my pedal board.

For convenience, I’m hoping that I can run the FX loops of all my amps into this patchbay, and then it’s just a case of moving a couple of cables to plumb in my preferred delay and reverb pedal chain. It should also be possible to jumper the cables for when I don’t want anything in the FX loop either.

If that works, I’ll also try patching in the input to each of my amps. That’s just out of curiosity though 🙂

Kemper Remote Footswitch

Another thing the patchbays are for is for me to get my Kemper wired up once again, so that I can start using it a bit more.

One advantage of using the Kemper for practice is that it means I’m not using up the life of my tube amps. Another advantage is that it has a built-in looper – but it seems that you need to pair it with the proprietary footswitch unit to use the looper.

These footswitches have shot up in price recently, so when a 2nd hand unit came up, I decided to grab it while I could.

Universal Audio Apollo x6

I got fed up of juggling inputs on my trusty Apollo Twin, so I traded away my Taylor T5z to help fund this new unit.

I’d been waiting for a Apollo x4 of some kind for the best part of a year now. Historically, there’s been a huge gap in the Universal Audio hardware lineup: you had the Apollo Twin with two preamps, and then had to jump up to the Apollo 8 with four preamps. Four preamps would be a good sweet spot for a home studio setup.

They’ve just announced the Apollo x4, and while it does have four preamps (yay), it’s still a desktop unit (boo!) with potentially limited processing power … that’s launched at around the same price as the Apollo x6.

The other thing with the Apollo x6 is that it currently comes with a free UAD Apollo Satellite. That’s a unit that provides additional DSP processing power. Together, the bundle is far better value for money than the Apollo x4.

CoffeeAndKlon #18: Covering All The (Amp) Basses

This conversation was originally published on my Twitter feed.

Good morning! Hope you’ve been having a great weekend. I’ve got another #CoffeeAndKlon for you today, and it’s all about guitar amplifiers.

But first: coffee!

Today’s Coffee: Mexican

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This morning’s (much needed!) coffee is a batch of Mexican beans from the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve.

I think it’s got a very inviting taste – an easy coffee to neck. A bit more bitterness in the aftertaste than coffee chains serve (this is a good thing).

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It’s definitely a coffee that I’d have again, and one I’d happily serve to guests. It’s sold by Bantam Beans, and we found it in our local Sainsbury’s. And by the time I’ve finished writing and posting this, that cup will be very empty 🙂

Why *Did* I Buy Another Amp?

So … amplifiers. I was in @astringsuk yesterday to pick up a Marshall DSL20 HR. While I was there, Adam asked me what my thinking was behind getting this particular amp.

It’s a really good question.

There’s two parts to this: my approach to amps in general, and then the DSL20 HR in particular. Let’s start with amps in general.

I’ve now got 5 “affordable” amps in my collection:

  • Blackstar Studio 10 6L6
  • Boss Katana 100W head
  • Marshall DSL 20HR
  • Marshall Origin 20H
  • Vox Mini-Superbeetle

Between them, they cover all the classic amp tones for players on a budget.

And they all deliver good tone at home volume levels.

Tones We Can All Afford

Many great pedal demos that l watch online use fantastic amps. Amps that many home players simply can’t afford. Amps you’re not going to find in your local guitar shop.

And even if you did get one, they’re not amps you can use at home volume levels.

Why do they do this? Because it’s fantastic to play through really great amps – and it helps the pedal shine to its full potential. *thinks wistfully about the DRRI that got away …*

That DRRI got away because it wasn’t an amp I could use at home. Physically didn’t have the space for it, and there’s no way I could ever have cranked it enough to bring it to life.

And that’s the whole point of this little amp collection.

When it comes to electric guitar, I’m a home hobbyist. When I talk about electric guitar, it’s with friends who are also home hobbyists. And when I answer questions about gear, I want to be able to talk about amps they can get for themselves if they want. And use at home.

And – even more importantly – I don’t want to talk about stuff I haven’t used, or setups that I haven’t tried. The online forums are full of folks who already do that. And that’s where the DSL 20HR comes in.

Vintage Guitar Tone Is An Acquired Taste

It’s fair to say that the Marshall Origin is an amp that plenty of folks don’t like. It isn’t what they expect, because it isn’t a plexi. It doesn’t work how they expect, because it’s a clean amp. And there’s no sense picking a vintage-voiced amp if you’re after modern tones.

The DSL 20HR is the flip-side of the coin.

It delivers modern tones. It has a separate gain channel that delivers heavy rock and metal tones. It’s the home amp for anyone who doesn’t like the Origin, and who can’t afford the Studio line of amps.

(In my brief testing, Marshall’s line of Studio amps are just far too loud for home use. If you want one, budget for an Ox Box or a Waza Tube Expander too.)

I’ve been recommending the DSL amp to anyone who wanted Marshall but didn’t like the Origin. There was a bit of push-back, with folks rightly saying that I didn’t have one of my own.

So now I do.

I’m looking forward to testing pedals through the DSL 20HR. Especially boost pedals, now that I can run them into a dirty amp.

There’s another reason too.

At some point, I’ll finally get back to profiling with the Kemper. And when I do, I can make profiles of pedals through all the classic tone stacks 🙂

That’s my thinking behind my choice of amps, and why I’ve finally added the DSL 20HR to the collection. Whatever pedals I have – or get in the future – they’ll sound great through at least one of these amps. And I’m going to have a lot of find finding out which.

What about you? Are you a single-amp kind of person? What do you play through? And are you interested in me starting to talk about the Kemper regularly? Let me know.

New Arrivals For March

So March has been and gone. In the end, February’s absolute deluge of available 2nd hand gear wasn’t repeated this month. But a road trip later in the month brought a chance encounter with something a little bit different …

These are my initial impressions of this month’s new arrivals. I’ll do full articles on each of them when I’ve had some time with them.

Fender American Performer Strat – Maple Board

I have two motives for buying this guitar.

My best-sounding Strat isn’t a Strat at all: it’s my American Deluxe Tele. I had the stock N3 Noiseless pickups (shudder!) replaced with a set of Twisted Tele pickups, and it gets very close to that Strat neck pickup tone. I’d just like to have that from an actual Strat. Preferably one with a maple fretboard.

(I do have an Elite Strat with the stock N4 noiseless pickups. With a little bit of help from the right pedal, they’ll give you a very nice Strat tone in a mix. They can sound a little dull outside a mix, especially if you’ve been playing true single-coil pickups first).

The second motive is all about making memories. I’m currently celebrating 4 years of starting my own business. It hasn’t been easy – and thanks to these historic times it’s about to get much, much harder – but it has definitely been one of the happier periods of my life.

Now, it just so happens that the Performer comes in a shade of blue that’s very similar to the colours I use in my business. A guitar that’ll last for decades and remind me of these moments in years to come? Yes, please.

It took a couple of hours to find a sound for me out of this guitar. I’m not sure why. This is not a deep, booming, Brian Blessed kind of Strat sound. It’s punchy, with a bit of bite, without quite straying into that Tele sharpness.

In the end, I found it by rolling the neck tone down to 7, and backing the neck volume off to around 9. Once I found that sweet spot, I didn’t want to put the guitar down for the rest of the evening.

I tell you what – being able to have both the neck and bridge pickups active at once … Fender should make that a standard wiring setup on all of their Strats. It sounds great on this guitar. I think it sounds even better on the American Performer with a rosewood fretboard.

Fender Vintage Tremolo Springs

My playing style relies on a lot of string bends, and that doesn’t fit so well with the new Strat’s floating trem. I don’t want to block the trem off by putting a piece of wood in the cavity to prevent it moving. There’s another way to tackle it.

This is a tip I got from Texas Blues Alley. I’ve used it before, and it worked well for me.

The basic idea is to replace the three stock tremolo block springs with five Fender Vintage tremolo springs. The Fender Vintage springs are lower tension, and if you use five of them, it’ll deck the tremolo and keep it decked during string bends. You can still do dives using a trem arm if you want.

Sadly, the first place I ordered from – Rich Tone Music in Sheffield – didn’t have any after all (grrr), despite their Amazon marketplace profile claiming that they do hold stock for immediate dispatch. Hopefully the next place I’ve tried will have them.

Yes, they did – and they arrived next day. Yay for retailers – Arcade Music in this case – who are transparent and honest about their stock levels.

Bare Knuckle 63 Veneer Single Coil Bridge Pickup

This is going into the new Strat. I’ve already got the matching neck and middle pickups sitting around. They were meant to go into my beloved Charvel, but I didn’t notice up front that the Charvel’s single coil routing doesn’t take standard Strat-shaped pups.

I actually don’t mind the stock Yosemite pickups. In person, they sound a lot better than I’ve heard them on demos. It’s just that – to my ears – they’re voiced to work really well in a live mix. That’s in keeping with this guitar being a gigging workhorse. They don’t quite have the low-end that I want for when I’m just noodling at home.

Will these pickups from Bare Knuckle give me that? I honestly don’t know. I’m much more experienced and comfortable choosing pickups for Les Pauls. The writeup looks promising, especially with talk of delivering a piano-like ring. That’s a property I personally want from any Strat I keep.

Update: I discovered that the low-end was being spirited away by a (possibly faulty) reverb pedal in my signal chain. The stock Yosemite pickups do have plenty of low-end piano plonk (I can’t think of a better way to describe it). I’m still going ahead with the pickup swap, but only because I’ve already got them.

Mr Black BB-74x Overdrive Pedal

I’ve seen a few of these come up for sale since the New Year, and finally found one at a great price. But what is it?

It aims to create the tones and feel of a “legendary 18W EL-84 combo”. Given the gold and black livery, I am assuming that means the Marshall 1974x 1×12 combo – aka the “mini Bluesbreaker”. It should sit somewhere between the Keeley 1962x Overdrive and the various plexi-type pedals that I have.

This’ll be my very first Mr Black pedal. I’m looking forward to it 🙂

With the new Strat, through the Origin 20H, it was okay but a little on the brittle side. Strap on a Les Paul, and this pedal rips. Of all the Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB) pedals I’ve tried recently, this one struck me as having the thickest, fattest rhythm tone to date. No idea if it’ll record well, but in the room, it sounded fantastic. I didn’t want to stop playing.

Lovepedal Jubilee Overdrive Pedal

With the release of the new 20W Studio amps, everyone is talking about Marshall right now. And part of that conversation is about the Silver Jubilee – the amp that came after Guns and Roses and the release of Appetite for Destruction. At heart, they’re said to be a two-channel design based on the JCM800. I’ve never played the actual amp myself.

I’ve seen this pedal’s sweet spot described as the crunch channel from the Silver Jubilee amps. I’m hoping for something that sounds like a slightly more mid-forward JCM800, continuing the generational trend of smoothing off the harshness of the highs without becoming dull.

This pedal did not disappoint. Only took a couple of minutes to dial in the sweet spot, and there it is … the sound-in-my-head of 90s rock rhythm. That slightly thinner-than-you-realise, cleaner-than-you-realise rock crunch should sit and breathe so well in an actual mix. And it sounds great in the room through the Origin 20H.

It’s said that the Alexander Silver Jubilee pedal compliments this one very well – that it acts like a compressed Silver Jubilee lead channel. Makes me wish I’d picked one up in January when there were several being offered …

Carl Martin AC Tone Overdrive Pedal

I enjoyed the Carl Martin Plexitone pedal that I picked up in January. When I saw their AC Tone pedal come up at a bargain 2nd hand price, I thought it’d be a good way to dip my toe in the waters.

You can ask the folks over at AStrings, and they’ll happily (and honestly) tell you that I don’t understand the tone of the mighty Vox AC30 amp, and that I haven’t the faintest clue about how to harness it. It’s completely alien to me.

That translates to using this pedal. I thought the Plexitone was bright? Through the Marshall Origin, this thing’ll slice your head off if you’re using a Strat. Dial it back a bit, and the result is one of the most mid-forward tones that I can remember. I can’t think of another way to describe it.

It’s not my thing. And that’s exactly why I need to put some time into exploring this pedal and what it does. How else do we learn and grow?

Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Mk3 Overdrive Pedal

When it comes to lists of the greatest Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB) pedals, the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret is normally at or very near the top. After the Tubescreamer, is there a more crowded market than plexi pedals? And how does this compare to some of the great pedals I’ve already been able to try over the years?

My first few minutes with it were filled with the hum of a grounding problem. Was this going to be my first faulty 2nd hand pedal? Thankfully not. Eventually traced the problem to using a TRRS cable from the pedal into the amp. Swapped it out for a normal TRS cable, and the grounding problem was solved. Phew.

It doesn’t have that immediate sweet spot that both the Mr Black BB-74x or Lovepedal Jubilee had. All the controls seem to be highly interactive with big ranges, and the key seems to be finding the right amount of mids first. I was able to dial in a very satisfying crunch rhythm tone from there.

There’s a clarity to it that’s very pleasing, with great string separation. It’s also more compressed than other plexi pedals, and it resisted my initial attempts to boost it with the Echoplex Pre. It’s possible I just need to use a different balance between the ‘preamp’ and ‘master’ controls on the pedal. We’ll see.

Nope. This pedal has very low input headroom. Even medium-output pickups can be too hot to use with it. That’s a big surprise, and for me a very big disappointment. Most rock guitars today don’t have low-output pickups.

MXR il torino Overdrive Pedal

I’ve no idea what this pedal does. No, really. I’ve never heard it in a standalone demo. It’s a pedal that I’ve seen multiple times on professional musicians’ pedal boards, and that’s enough for me to take a punt on a 2nd hand example.

It’s got two modes – a boost, and an overdrive.

The boost mode has plenty of output, and by balancing the gain and master controls on the pedal, it got the Origin 20H cooking nicely. It sounds like it adds a lot of colour to the tone. I’ll need to compare it against some dedicated boost pedals to form an informed opinion.

As a rhythm tone, the overdrive has a nice balance between crunch and smoothness all at the same time. It’s the kind of sound that I believe will sit nicely in the mix. It won’t stand out – and sometimes, that’s exactly what’s required.

Can it take on lead duties? Although it’s a bit compressed, it doesn’t add anything like as much sustain as I expected. When I’ve got time to sit with this pedal for longer, I’ll try slamming it with a dedicated compressor to see if I can get it to sing.

Suhr Riot Distortion Pedal

After getting Suhr’s Shiba Drive recently, I wanted to pick up a Riot pedal too just to complete the set. I like the idea of having the Shiba Drive as a rhythm pedal (doing the Tubescreamer thing of pushing an amp), and using the Riot to kick over into lead tone territory.

I’m expecting both of these pedals to sound really good into the Synergy Plexi module that I also picked up recently 🙂 Alas though, I won’t be able to make it sound anything like as good as Pete Thorn does. I just don’t have his talent.

Running it straight into my Marshall Origin 20H – a clean amp – I liked this pedal a lot more than I was expecting to. I had Joyo’s clone many years ago, and that didn’t do much for me. It’s a nice thick tone that made me think of the MXR il diabolo that I picked up recently.

Red Llama Overdrive Clone

This is another of the many clones from the same hobbyist who made my favourite boost pedals (and those fuzz pedals from last month). I like the quality of his work so much that, whenever I see something from him that I don’t already have, I’m always tempted.

I must admit though that I’d never heard of the Red Llama Overdrive, and had to go and google it. Way Huge are one of those brands that have completely passed me by. Not a brand I’ve tried, and not a brand that people I know ever seem to talk about.

This is the kind of pedal that suits Les Pauls to a T. Roll back your volume to make this pedal growl. Go full blast for a thick, heavily-clipped, violin-like lead tone. It has a very satisfying wide frequency range, with plenty of bass and that 3D-like upper mids and presence.

Gibson Custom Les Paul Special w/ Maple Cap

I’ve been travelling for work, and I found this particular guitar hidden away in a little shop up in Leeds. I was on the hunt for a 2nd Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster to be my backup / alternate-tuning guitar for the upcoming gigs. Certainly wasn’t planning on buying another Gibson this year.

So what convinced me to bring it back with me? Well, it’s a bit unusual, a bit different to the Les Pauls I’ve seen and played before.

This one’s a Custom Shop model made in 2017. It’s got two P90s – I’ve never had a guitar with that combination before. Normally, LP Specials are all-mahogany. This one has a maple cap, although you wouldn’t know it just to look at it. And it’s got the same neck profile as a Les Paul Custom – perhaps my favourite neck profile of all.

I’m hoping to pair it up (for recording purposes) with Ghost – my 2015 Les Paul Custom – and with Morag – my 2018 Ragh Guitars RPJ. I’m a great believer in finding guitars with complementary tones. Fingers crossed that I’ve done exactly that.

Back home and through my rig, and the tone surprised me. With the factory strings, the tone was bright and harsh in the room – not at all the thick mid-rangy monster that Morag is. Changing the strings (I put a set of NXYL 10-46s on it) tamed the harshness nicely. Still a bright – dare I say vintage – tone? Reminds me of how my Les Paul R0 sounds compared to a modern Les Paul Standard.

I’m left with a question for myself: do I keep it stock, or do I swap out the Gibson Custom P90s for a set that’ll sound a bit different? A decision I’m not making this month.

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.

New Arrivals For January

The turning of the year can be a great time to hunt for new (to you) guitar gear. The second hand market is normally flooded with folks who are moving on gear they no longer want – or sadly can no longer afford to keep. And there’s Winter NAMM, where brands large and small drop announce new products.

I’ve been lucky enough to pick up some stuff that I’m interested in, and I thought I’d share it with you. Some of it is new to me, and some of it is me taking a second look at things I’ve had before but didn’t gel with. And there’s a few very special items too.

I’m going to do full articles on each of them, once I’ve had a bit of time with them. For now, here’s the very first impressions for you.

The Acoustasonic Telecaster

Fender’s big announcement at Winter NAMM 2019 was this unusual-looking thing. It’s a Telecaster that sounds like an acoustic guitar.

I know, right?

I was away on a business trip when the announcements came out, and my reaction was the same as pretty much everyone else’s – meh. It seems like such a gimmick. And it isn’t helped by being priced around the same as an Elite Telecaster or Stratocaster.

But when I got back home, and was able to listen to the demos – especially the Andertons and Reverb demos – my opinion changed. It sounded so, so good. Hear for yourself:

Normally, this wouldn’t be my thing. But I’ve just started weekly rehearsals for a gig (hopefully in April), and we’re doing an acoustic set. This new Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster seems perfect for that – even better than the Taylor T5z.

I’ll be using it at rehearsal for the first time on Wednesday. I’m already looking forward to it.

Lovepedal Tchula Black Mamba

Lovepedal’s legendary Tchula pedal, in its Black Mamba variant

Lovepedal’s Tchula pedal is right up there with the Klon Centaur and Analogman’s King of Tone as a fully-fledged member of the Legendary Pedals Club. Don’t @ me.

At its heart, the Tchula is two COT50 boost pedals stacked together. One side is a fixed boost, and the other side has (I believe) a bias pot so that you can dial in to taste. There are several different variants, and (with the exception of the Mississippi Tchula) each variant sports a different take on the COT50 to give a slightly different tone.

I managed to snag the Black Mamba Tchula. This variant is said to be a little warmer than the original gold Tchula designed for Josh Smith. Sounds ideal for a bright amp like my Origin 20 🙂

AEA Nuvo N22 Ribbon Microphone

AEA’s Nuvo N22 Ribbon Microphone

I was watching a video on Chicago Music Exchange’s YouTube channel over Christmas (I think it was this one on the new Fender American Performer Telecaster), and I was stunned by the sound quality.

Here was a mic capturing all the mid-range we’d expect, and with all the body that we love for home tone. There’s plenty of top-end too; it doesn’t sound like someone threw a blanket over it.

The mic they were using was a ribbon mic, the AEA Nuvo N22. And it was just my luck that a 2nd hand one turned up earlier this month.

Literally all I’ve done with it so far is plugged it in to make sure it wasn’t DOA. When I’ve got some free time (haha I wish) it’s going to get used for making Kemper profiles and on some female vocals.

Mad Professor 1 Brown Sound Pedal

Mad Professor’s 1 Pedal. The Eddie Van Halen sound in a box.

Speaking of Kemper profiles, I’ve started thinking about collecting as many Marshall-in-a-box (MIAB for short) pedals as possible. I think it’d be handy to have a wide palette of Marshall-like tones to hand.

Plus, I’m a huge fan of Mad Professor pedals. So when a couple of these 1 pedals came up on the 2nd hand market this month for a really good price, I thought it was a good idea finally pick one of these up.

How can I describe it? It’s basically got two settings – high gain, and melt-your-face-off gain. As you’d expect, it’s a one-trick pony (most MIAB pedals are), but what a trick. It gives you that perfect 80s hair-metal tone that we all wished we actually had back in the day.

Carl Martin PlexiTone Drive Pedal

The PlexiTone overdrive pedal from Carl Martin.

This is another Marshall-in-a-box (MIAB) pedal that I’ve seen plenty of but never heard before. I can’t remember seeing any demos of this up on YouTube. So I was curious to try it – if one came available at a good price on the second hand market.

I’m glad I did.

With all these MIAB pedals, there’s a risk that most of them will sound pretty much the same. After all, they’re all chasing the same iconic tone. But here’s the funny thing about tone – we all hear something different. And that can be seen in how different all these MIABs often are.

The PlexiTone has a 70s rock feel about it. It’s brighter (cutting, even), and thinner than the pedals that chase the 80’s hair metal sound. It makes me want to sit here and play old Thin Lizzy riffs – if only I knew some!

Lovepedal Eternity E6

The Lovepedal Eternity E6. As made famous by Capt Anderton.

Although it’s not marketed as such, the Lovepedal Eternity pedals have always been lumped into the Marshall-in-a-box category. There’s been a lot of variants over the years, but perhaps the best known one is the E6. Capt Anderton used to use one on all the Andertons videos, and his signature Lovepedal Stax Master dual-drive pedal featured the E6 on one side.

I used to have one a few years ago, and I moved it on because I thought it was too noisy. Since then, I’ve made a lot of improvements to the quality of my rig, and I thought it was a good idea to try this again.

I’ll be honest – it didn’t stay out of its box for very long. It arrived around the same time as the Tchula, and that Tchula is a magical wonder to behold. The pedal isn’t noisy (yay!), but I was finding it hard to dial in the ‘glass’ control to suit. I think I need a bit more time with it, and to be dialling in the amp more than the pedal.

Xotic Effects EP Booster

The EP Booster from Xotic. Based on the Echoplex preamp.

Now here’s another pedal that I had noise concerns about, before it arrived.

I’ve never owned one before. I’ve had two other Xotic pedals, and one reason I flipped both of them is that I wasn’t at all happy with how noisy the pedals were. I chain pedals together for my recorded tone, and if a pedal has a high noise floor, all that noise gets magnified to distraction in a pedal chain.

Again, since them I’ve made important improvements to my rig, and I need to revisit old experiences to see if they’re no longer valid. That, and the Echoplex Preamp is one of my favourite boost pedals. I was curious to see how the EP Booster compared.

Both pedals are based on the preamp circuit of the legendary Echoplex tape delay unit. The preamp circuit adds colour to the tone in a way that’s really pleasing.

My main pedal board needs completely stripping down and rewiring from scratch. So I haven’t been able to compare the EP Booster to the Echoplex Preamp pedal yet. I have run it into my Marshall Origin, and I didn’t hear any noise problems there. But the jury’s still out until I’ve built the new board and tested it there.

Suhr Shiba Drive

The Shiba Drive, from Suhr.

I’ll be honest – I don’t know much about this at all. One of my eBay searches is for Suhr guitars, and every now and then a genuine Suhr pedal turns up in the search results too. (The Suhr Riot is one of those pedals that all the usual suspects have cloned over the years).

It isn’t marketed as such, but I’m tempted to say that this falls squarely into the TubeScreamer segment of the pedal market. Only, you can definitely use it into a clean amp – something the TS isn’t strong at. It’s definitely a pedal to sit in the mix. I’m looking forward to using it to drive my Synergy Amps rig at some point.

Wampler Tumnus Deluxe

I’m sorry, I forgot to take a photo of this one before sitting down to write this blog post.

Just before NAMM, Wampler put up a post on Facebook that strongly suggested that the Tumnus Deluxe was about to disappear from the range. I had a look round, saw that it was out of stock almost everywhere, and managed to buy one of the last few I could find in the UK.

Yeah, I paid full price for this one.

Turns out, the Estate of CS Lewis have objected to the name of the pedal, and forced Wampler to rename it. At the time of writing, all the Wampler folks are at Winter NAMM, so there’s no-one around to update their website and it isn’t 100% clear what the pedal’s new name will be (the GOAT perhaps?) That’s going to be the only change. The circuit will remain the same.

I bought this thinking it was going to be discontinued. I’ve mixed feelings on the news that it’s just getting a name change. I feel a bit mislead by Wampler, but at the same time I’m glad that you’ll still be able to get this pedal.

Because it’s great.

All the Klon klones I’ve tried so far – including Wampler’s own Tumnus mini-pedal – have a flaw in the bass tone when used as a boost pedal. Every single one of them gets very bassy. And that’s something my Klon KTR just doesn’t do.

The Tumnus Deluxe has an active bass control on it – something that’s rare (if not unique) amongst Klones. Perfect. It also has a ‘hot’ switch, so that it can be used as an overdrive pedal all by itself. I haven’t spent very long with it so far, but I was able to dial in a lovely open dirt tone straight into my Marshall Origin 20.

As the main pedal board is out of action atm (see earlier in this post), I haven’t been able to compare the Tumnus Deluxe to the KTR. I probably won’t either, as I’ve got the KTR dialled in exactly how I like it, and I’d hate to adjust it at all.

Your New Arrivals?

So those are my new arrivals for January. And most likely for February too (at least)!

What gear have you managed to pick up for Christmas? Which ones got away? What have you got your eye on for later in the year? (That new green finish for the Silver Sky has certainly turned a few heads …)

Leave a comment below!

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.

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!