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!

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!

Marshall Origin and Boost Pedals

So far this week, we’ve looked at how the Marshall Origin compares to other Marshall-style amps, and we’ve looked at giving it a helping hand with affordable drive pedals from Boss and TC Electronic.

Today, we’re going to try and give it a helping hand using the oldest trick in the book: boost pedals.

Boost pedals work by overloading the amp’s input, so that the amp’s circuit starts to clip. The result is a natural-sounding overdrive that can sound saturated, with good sustain thanks to the compression that happens.

They’re a great choice if you already like the sound of your amp’s overdrive.

MXR Micro Amp

First up is the Micro Amp from MXR:

It’s marketed as a volume boost for quieter guitars, or for adding back lost volume at the end of a long cable run. But with +26db of volume boost on tap, it’s perfect for slamming the front end of an amp too.

Compared to the reference track, there isn’t much difference between the Origin’s own overdrive and what you get when you use the MXR Micro Amp. That’s exactly how clean boosts work.

Maybe the extra boost from the MXR Micro Amp is producing a slightly fatter, slightly more compressed tone. That could just be wishful thinking.

How will we fair with a different boost pedal?

TC Electronic Spark

The Spark is a modern boost pedal, made popular by its frequent use on Chappers and The Captain when it first launched.

One of the reasons why the Spark is such a popular pedal is that it isn’t just a clean boost. It’s got 2-band active EQ, a 3-way voice switch to shape the gain – oh yes, and it can provide gain too.

That provides more control over what the boosted amp sounds like. Being able to fatten up the mids and add a bit more saturation really helps with the Origin:

Again, compare it to the reference track to hear what this pedal brings to the party. To my ears, there’s a bit more drive and a fuller sound. It sounds fatter, and I think it’s an improvement over how the Origin sounds without any pedals.

Boosts = More Origin

If you don’t like how the Origin sounds, a boost pedal isn’t going to change your mind. A boost pedal is just more of what Origin already does. Yes, with the Spark we can shape it a little bit – the fatter mids are most welcome. But these pedals can’t do anything about Origin’s relatively soft clipping. They can’t turn it into a Plexi monster.

The other issue that they don’t really work at home volumes – not with Origin. It’s got such huge input headroom (the amount of signal it will accept before clipping) that I had to crank the amp anyway to get these tones with the boost pedals. You need both preamp and power amp to be providing the overdrive together to get this amp rocking.

For home volume levels, you’ll get more joy out of a traditional drive pedal like the ones I’ve already covered.

What do you think? Comments below!

Marshall Origin and TC Electronic Drive Pedals

Yesterday, we looked at how well the new Marshall Origin sounds with affordable drive pedals from Boss. Today, it’s the turn of affordable drive pedals from TC Electronic.

TC Electronic are well known for their tone print pedals, especially the Hall of Fame reverb pedal and the Flashback delay. They also make a pair of drive pedals that you can find for around £40 each brand new at the time of writing.

For reference, here’s what the Marshall Origin can do on its own if you’ve got somewhere where you crank it loud:

Most of us are going to need pedals to get the amp singing at home volumes. Let’s hear how the TC Electronic pedals sound through the Origin.

The Mojomojo Overdrive

First up is the Mojomojo Overdrive pedal.

As an overdrive pedal, it gives us soft clipping with a fair bit of push in the mids. The active EQ is there to help you dial in this pedal for a wide range of amps.

The end result came out better than I was expecting.

Out of all the pedals I’ve used for this mega-Marshall Origin series, this was the only pedal I didn’t enjoy playing through. I wasn’t happy with how it felt or sounded during the recording. I’m unlikely to use this pedal again with my Origin 20W head.

The Dark Matter Distortion

The Dark Matter, on the other hand …

This pedal has been the one I’ve had hooked up to the Origin 20W the most. It doesn’t clip as hard as I was expecting it to – it’s almost soft enough to be an overdrive. It feels fantastic to play, really dynamic and responsive, and I think it counteracts the Origin’s brightness without sounding muddy at all.

Final Thoughts

The Origin is an opinionated amp, and any pedals you put through it are going to be very strongly flavoured by what the Origin sounds like.

For me, the Mojomojo didn’t suit the Origin at all – but the Dark Matter complimented it really well.

Those are just my opinions. Have you tried either pedal through an Origin amp yourself? How did you find them? Comments below!

Marshall Origin: Great With Boss Pedals

Marshall’s new Origin amp is an affordable, vintage-voiced valve amp. Boss have been making a range of affordable drive pedals since the 70s.

And together, they sound pretty damn fine.

Reference: The Marshall Origin With No Pedals

As a reference point, here’s what the Origin can do without any pedals.

Thing is, if you’re playing at home, you’ll probably never hear your Origin sound like that. This amp needs to be cranked to deliver the dirt. That clip was recorded with both Master and Gain on 8. My 20W Origin head is just too loud to do that at home.

So, if you like what you’ve just heard, and you want that for yourself at home, you’re going to have to budget for some pedals to go along with your nice new Origin amp.

And that’s where Boss comes in. Their pedals are cheap (the most expensive one in this demo is the BD-2 at £85) and widely available (support your local guitar shop!). And they work really well through the Origin.

Overdrives: BD-2 Blues Driver and the SD-1 Super Overdrive

First up is the venerable Boss BD-2 Blues Driver.

It has the lowest gain out of all three pedals in this roundup, but don’t let that put you off. As you can hear in the demo below, if you’re playing the kind of rock that sounds best through this amp, you don’t need all the filth for rhythm work.

Next up, another classic Boss pedal: the SD-1 Super Overdrive.

This pedal will get you right up there, delivering the same amount of filth that the Origin can do on its own – only without having to crank the amp to do so. To my ears, the SD-1 sounds a little thicker than the Origin does, and maybe slightly softer clipping too.

Have a listen:

Distortion: Boss DS-1

The DS-1 is a legendary pedal.

Compared to the SD-1, it offers harder clipping and reduced mids for a more aggressive tone. As a result, the guitar will sound quieter compared to the other two pedals. Thankfully, the Origin has an immense amount of input headroom, so just turn up the pedal and rock out!

Setting Up Your Boss Pedal For The Marshall Origin

The common advice with these Boss pedals is to turn down the gain, and use them as a boost into the amp’s input to get the amp to naturally overdrive.

That doesn’t work with the Marshall Origin.

The Marshall Origin has a huge amount of input headroom. You have to crank a pedal well past its sweet spot to have any chance of getting the Origin to naturally overdrive at home volumes.

The good news is that you don’t need to. Turn up the gain on your pedal to taste, and then adjust the pedal’s volume until you’ve got the same volume when you turn the pedal on and off again.

As the Origin is a bright amp, you’ll probably want to start with the pedal’s tone control at around 10 o’clock. From there, adjust the tone control with your ears.

Final Thoughts

The Origin is one of those amps that has a big say in what a pedal sounds like. It’s very suited to pedals – like these three from Boss – that are designed to work with an amp’s existing colour.

I’d happily record with the Origin and these pedals. I think the results are very usable – especially for the money! And they felt nice to play through too, which is also important.

What do you think? Comments below!

Marshall Origin: Is It Plexi Enough?

There seems to be two debates about Marshall’s new Origin amp at the moment: is it too bright, and is it Plexi enough?

To answer the second question, here’s some sound clips to listen to:

Sorry about my ugly mug – it’s because I’m too cheap to pay SoundCloud for access to their mini player 😀

Have a listen to all four demo tracks, and let your ears decide which you prefer. 3 of the tracks were recorded with the Origin, and 1 with my Metro Plex. Can you tell which is which?

Answers below. No cheating!

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Okay, here’s what you’ve just listened to:

  1. The first clip is the Metro Plex.
  2. The second clip is the 20W Origin, with a Carpe Diem drive pedal giving it a helping hand.
  3. The third clip is the 20W Origin, this time with a TC Electronics Dark Matter helping out.
  4. And finally, the last clip is the 20W Origin on its own.

The Origin Is Vintage Voiced, But It Needs Help To Sound Like A Plexi

To my cloth ears, Marshall’s Origin has 3 key characteristics that differ from the famed Super Lead sound.

  1. It isn’t just that Origin’s a bright amp, it’s that more of Origin’s perceived volume is in those upper mids. Dial them back, and you’ll hear the amp start to thin out a bit. On its own, it doesn’t have a huge amount of meaty mids.
  2. The Plexi sound is bright and aggressive. Although Origin is bright, it’s got very soft clipping (assuming you’re in a position to crank it enough to clip at all!). That stops it sounding as aggressive as a Super Lead can.
  3. Finally, the Origin has so much input headroom that it just doesn’t saturate no matter what I try.

On its own, it’s not an affordable version of one of Marshall’s plexi reissues.  But give it some help, and it can get close. Certainly close enough for us home tone chasers.

A Little Help From My (Pedal) Friends

For me, the Carpe Diem got pretty close – in part, thanks to the harder clipping that it has. It’s not a cheap pedal, and it can be quite hard to get hold of, but 2nd hand examples do turn up on eBay from time to time.

The Dark Matter also sounded pretty good – and I thought it sounded excellent considering they currently cost £40 brand new. The clipping is perhaps a little too soft to go head-to-head against a real Plexi, but I tell you what: out of all the pedals I’ve been using this week, the Dark Matter is the one that’s been hooked up to the Origin the most.

The end result still sounds like an Origin amp, no matter which drive pedal you use. You can’t radically change the sound of an Origin using drive pedals alone. But with a little help, the end result’s pretty nice – and a hell of a lot more affordable than a real Plexi 🙂

What do you think? Comments below!

Marshall Origin: 1 Week In

Last weekend, I picked up one of the brand new Marshall Origin amps from the friendly folks at AStrings.co.uk. One week in, how am I getting on with it? Let’s find out.

What Did You Get?

I bought the Marshall Origin 20W head.

It’s a one-channel valve amplifier, featuring a 3-band EQ (bass, middle and treble), plus a tilt control to simulate mixing the two channels on old Marshall plexi-style amps. Preamp gain and volume are controlled by a single gain control (which features a pull-out 20db clean boost). The power amp has its own master volume control, and I believe that the presence control affects the power amp and not the preamp.

This amp also comes with a FX loop (more about that later on), and 3 levels of built-in power soak / attenuation.

Why Did You Get It?

There’s three aspects to this: why I bought an Origin at all, why I went for the 20W head, and why I picked the head over the combo.

Why Origin At All?

Friends and folks who know me through Twitter sometimes ask me advice about guitars and gear. They’re not always in a position where they can – or want – to spend what it costs to get boutique-priced gear. So I’ve decided to put together a rig that’s much more available to my friends. That way, I can feel more confident that any advice I give is going to be useful to them.

Marshall’s Origin is one of the few valve amps around the £500 price point that you’re going to be able to find in your local guitar store (here in the UK). Which means you can go and try it for yourself before buying one. That’s great, because not only can you avoid the hassle of sending the amp back if you don’t like it, I get to recommend something that’ll help and support your local guitar store.

I’m also very much into guitar pedals, and Marshall’s Origin has the potential to be the de facto pedal platform amp for a whole generation. I kid you not. Right now, there’s nothing in that price point that is the undisputed King of Pedal Platform Amps. Will the Origin take that crown? My thoughts on that are at the end 🙂

Why Pick The 20W Head?

I actually went to buy the 50W head, and if it had been in stock, I would have bought one there and then. Sadly, even though Marshall had told me that they were sending out a 50W head to the shop, it didn’t arrive. That (for me) turned out to be a happy accident.

For home use, the 20W head is more than loud enough. I’ve got the master somewhere between 2 or 3 at the most, and I’m surprised that my neighbours haven’t come round and complained yet. If I’d bought the 50W head, I think I’d be struggling to keep it quiet enough for home use.

It isn’t just that this amp is loud. You know how live guitar always seems to travel through walls a lot more than if you’re listening to a recording at the same volume? That’s exactly what this amp is like. It’s got a very cutting edge to it.

The brightness of this amp is going to be running theme throughout this article.

The only difference between the 20W and the 50W head (as far as I know) is the volume that it puts out. There’s no extra features on the 50W head. If you’re gigging, the 20W may be loud enough. The 50W certainly will be.

Why Buy The Head Over The Combo?

I don’t have the space at home for combo amps. They’re much bulkier than separate head and speaker cabs.

The weight of a combo amp can be a problem for me too. I was the victim of a careless driver some years ago, and my injuries limit how much I can physically lift in one go. With separate head and cab, I can split the weight. It’s the difference between me being able to own the amp or not.

And finally, I personally prefer the flexibility of separate heads and cabs. Speakers – and the cab that they’re in – are a big part of the overall sound of a guitar rig. It’s interesting and fun to mix and match, and explore the different possibilities.

You can do that with a combo using extension cabinets – and it’s very easy to do with the Marshall Origin combos. You just need the space at home for it.

What Speaker Are You Using?

I’m running the head through a 16 ohm Celestion G12M-65 Creamback speaker in an open-backed 1×12 cab. (It’s a stock Victory V112-CB). I’ve had it a few years, and the speaker is nicely broken in.

Historically, this style of Marshall amp is associated with both G12H Greenback and G12M Creamback speakers. There’s a lot of variety in how these speakers sound, as Johan Segeborn shows us in this video:

There’s no “best” speaker choice. It’s all personal preference. The G12M-65 Creamback has been my favourite in recent years, which was handy when I got my Metropoulos Metro Plex at the start of the year.

What Does It Sound Like?

The amp is ‘vintage voiced’. By that, I mean it is an amp where most of the output is in the mid frequencies. If you want to play metal or anything else that uses a mid-scooped tone (often referred to as ‘modern voiced’), this isn’t the amp for you.

If you like classic rock or blues, keep on reading 🙂

This is a bright and cutting amp. Well, mine is at any rate, and so are the other ones that I’ve heard in person. Most of the perceived volume from this amp is in the upper mids and treble.

You can test this for yourself. Take a Strat, plug it into a Marshall Origin, and roll the tone control down to zero. It won’t just sound like a blanket has been thrown over the amp – you’ll hear the volume drop substantially too. Repeat the exercise with a different amp, and you won’t hear the same volume drop.

My choice of G12M-65 plays a big part in taming the brightness. Being a 16 ohm speaker, it’s a little darker than the 8 ohm equivalent. It smooths off the highs just enough, and pushes the mids nicely.

I think the Origin 20W head works really well with a Creamback speaker. Let me know in the comments below what speaker you pair yours with.

How Do The Combos Compare?

The combos ship with a Celestion Midnight 60 speaker. I don’t know for sure what that is, as I can’t find it anywhere on Celestion’s website. I believe it’s a 16 ohm G12N-60, known as a Neo Creamback.

It may (or may not) be slightly revoiced over the stock design. Folks are reporting that it sounds closer to a Vintage 30 than a normal Creamback. These things are very subjective though, so keep that in mind until Marshall or Celestion publish something official about this speaker 🙂

When I was buying my Origin amp, I took my cab into the shop and ran the 50W combo both through its own speaker and into my cab for a great A/B comparison.

I found the stock combo speakers to be a little brighter, and have slightly reduced mids, compared to the G12M-65 in my cab. It isn’t a dramatic difference, and hopefully the combo speakers will mellow out as they break in.

If the combo amp is just too bright for you when you try one, you might want to budget for a speaker change. Or just get the head and a separate cab instead, like I did.

Can We Hear The Amp For Ourselves?

I’m going to make some sound clips over the weekend and post them up onto Soundcloud for you. Keep an eye out for them on the blog 🙂

Which Guitars Does It Suit?

For me personally, this amp suits instruments that are heavy on the mids, such as a Les Paul or a Telecaster with hotter pickups. This thing sounds lush with a Gibson Custom Shop Historic Reissue.

Plug in something with reduced mids – like your average single-coil Strat – and the amp’s too cutting for me. Maybe you can EQ it out. I didn’t try.

The Origin is fine with the bridge humbucker on an H-S-S Strat too.

What’s It Like To Play Through?

I really enjoy playing through it.

Even on the lowest power setting, the amp doesn’t feel compressed at all. There’s plenty of responsiveness to pick dynamics (how hard or how soft you pick). It’s forgiving without feeling lifeless. I don’t think it’ll be too revealing for beginner or intermediate players.

If you dig in hard and strike the strings at the wrong angle, the amp will produce sharp transients. They can be very ice-picky. After a week with the amp, they’re not happening very often, but I haven’t eliminated them completely from my technique yet.

Playing hard doesn’t really increase how dirty the amp sounds. This is not a dirty amp.

How Dirty Does The Amp Get?

Not very.

The amp gets most of its gain from the preamp tubes (unless you really crank it). You have to run the preamp gain on max to get much breakup, and even that is not always enough. If you’ve got low-output pickups in your guitar, the amp is still going to sound cleanish.

I say cleanish, because this amp never gets super clean (unless you turn it down so much that it becomes anaemic and usable!) The amp tone always has a little bit of a gritty edge to it.

If you want super-clean tones (for example, for your pedals), you probably want a Marshall DSL instead. I have one on order, and I’ll do a side-by-side comparison once I’ve got it.

With some amps, you can slam the frontend to get more overdrive from the amp by running a boost, compression or drive pedal (with the pedal’s volume way up) into the amp’s input. This doesn’t work with the Marshall Origin.

This thing has tonnes of headroom on the input circuit and preamp. I’ve run an MXR Micro Amp (which has +26 db of gain) into the front of the amp, and it has stayed cleanish. That’s impressive.

Engage the amp’s built-in clean boost, set the amp’s gain to 8 (I find this amp gets harsh if you dime any of the controls, but that’s just personal preference), run the Micro Amp at about the same, and there’s a nice amount of crunchy rhythm overdrive to be had. It’s quite a soft crunch, not quite your classic AC/DC tone. You might have to get the power tubes cooking to give you a harder crunch.

If you’re using this amp in a 2 guitar band, I think you’ll want to use pedals for your overdrive, and to switch between rhythm and lead tones.

How Well Does The Marshall Origin Take Pedals?

Very well – with one caveat.

Let’s get the caveat out of the way. It’s not a negative, it’s just the nature of the amp. And it’s a characteristic that many folks actively want.

Because this amp is cleanish, you’re running pedals into an amp that’s on the verge of breakup. For many people, that’s the holy grail amp setup. Watch any of the great YouTube pedal demo community, and they’re always setting their amps up like this for pedals.

There’s one consequence to that. The resulting tone is heavily flavoured by the sound of the amp. The drive pedal adds character mostly in the form of texture. There’s some colour added by the pedal, but (imho) at least half the colour of the tone comes from the amp itself.

If you’re buying pedals – especially expensive boutique pedals – and you want them to be the main source of colour in your tone, you might be happier with the clean channel on a Marshall DSL instead. Or you might need to be looking at something like the Victory V40, Fender Deluxe Reverb, or a.n.other high-end clean platform.

Now that’s out the way …

If you’re looking for a pedal amp that’s on the edge of breakup, you need to check out the Marshall Origin. Thanks to that edge of breakup tone, and the huge input headroom, this amp takes drive pedals really well.

Especially affordable pedals from Boss.

Let’s not beat around the bush on this. Run a Boss DS-1 into a 3 grand boutique amp that’s set super clean, and the results are just awful. It’s asking the pedal to do all the work, whilst showcasing it with an amp that’ll let you hear every flaw in the resulting tone. Wrong pedal, wrong platform.

Now, run a Boss DS-1 into the Marshall Origin, and you’ll hear why the DS-1 is one of the best selling pedals of all time. The DS-1 adds that hard-clipping attack to the Origin’s colour, and the result works really well. Instead of pedal and amp competing with each other, the two circuits complement each other.

It’s not just the DS-1. It’s the same story with the BD-2 Blues Driver. And with every drive pedal I’ve tried so far that didn’t play nice with the super clean boutique amp.

I’m so impressed with the results that I’ve picked up some more affordable pedals to try. I’m excited by the possibilities – and surprised that Marshall aren’t making more of this.

The pedals arrived while I was writing this article. Give me a couple of days to play with them, and I’ll get some sound clips up so that you can hear them for yourself.

Drive Pedals And The Power Modes

Many drive pedals have a bass cut in their circuits. If you run such pedals into the Origin 20W head on low power mode, the bass cut is very noticeable. Probably sounds great in a mix, but not as much fun when noodling on your own at home.

Flip the power mode up to medium, and the tone shifts. The perceived highs are less emphasised, and the effect of the pedal’s bass cut is reduced too. There’s more mids, and the amp feels more open and dynamic.

The downside is that – at home volumes – you need very understanding neighbours to crank the amp up enough to get the power tubes cooking. Or you need to run it through an external attenuator like the Two Notes Torpedo Captor to throttle the output volume back a bit.

Would It Benefit From Changing The Values?

I’ve been wondering about this. I don’t know yet.

I haven’t had mine apart to see what Marshall have shipped it with. I also don’t know very much about the differences between different brands of 12ax7 preamp valves.

Depending on what’s in my amp, a preamp valve swap could make a difference. A different brand of valves might address the amp’s brightness a bit, thicken up the mids a bit more, and maybe add a bit more natural gain to the amp.

I foresee some experimentation in my future. I’ll also be keeping an eye on the Marshall forums to see how other people get on with this.

How Plexi Is This Amp?

A plexi amp is simply any Marshall amp made with a plexi-glass front instead of a brushed metal front. These amps were made between 1965 and 1969. There has never been a single Marshall ‘Plexi’ amp model. When someone talks about a plexi amp, they often mean a 100W Marshall Super-Lead, but they can sometimes mean a Marshall JTM 45.

There’s folks out there who have been hoping that this amp would turn out to be an affordable Marshall plexi-style amp. Wouldn’t it be nice to go and take an affordable Origin to a gig instead of a vintage Marshall or an expensive reissue or clone?

The only experience I have with plexi-style amps is with the Metropoulos Metro Plex module for the Synergy amp. In my opinion, that’s a special amp. If I ever had to downsize to just 1 amp and no pedals, it’d be the Metro Plex. It’s my desert island amp.

The Metro Plex is a reproduction of a specific 1968 Marshall Super-Lead amp. The Synergy module has two channels with a shared EQ. They’re basically filth and more filth. It does not clean up with the amp controls, and it is not an amp to run pedals into.

Even dimed, the Origin 20W head is much cleaner than the Metro Plex module will go. There’s no overlap there at all. Which means (for me) that the Origin plugs a huge tone gap. That’s a big win.

I haven’t yet done an A/B comparison with the two amps. (I’ll add that to the list of sound clips that I’m promising you!) Until then …

For me, both amps are in the same territory, but the different levels of gain make comparison tricky. A lot of people like plexi amps for the amp’s overdrive. The Origin just doesn’t have that kind of gain.

At the moment, I’d say that the Origin has much more top-end, and the mids are not as thick as the Metro Plex. Throw a pedal in front of the Origin, and I think you can get into the same ball park, as long as you’re not after an identical tone.

For me, that’s the key point in the Origin-vs-plexi debate. If you want to get your gain from the amp, like you can with a Marshall Super Lead, then the Origin isn’t what you’re looking for. If you’re happy to pair it with pedals, then it’s a much cheaper option than a vintage Marshall plexi-style amp, or any of the reissues or clones. I imagine its much lighter too!

One last word on this debate (for now). Marshall Super Leads were originally very bright amps, and it was common for them to be modified by their owners to tame that brightness. At this stage, we don’t know how mod-able the Origin amps are. Will we see equivalent mods appear for Origin amps, to reduce their brightness, I wonder?

Any Problems So Far?

The only problem I’ve had so far has been with the FX loop.

The FX loop only works if the (included) footswitch is plugged in. Unplug the footswitch, and the FX loop switches off. There’s no switch anywhere else on the amp to switch the FX loop back on. I’m not aware of any switch inside the amp’s chassis to change this behaviour.

There’s nothing about this in the manual (or on Marshall’s website), so I contacted Marshall directly about it on Monday. They’ve confirmed that my Origin amp’s FX loop is meant to work like this. It’s not a fault.

To be clear – the FX loop works. I just have to leave the footswitch plugged in to use it. It’s annoying. It stops me using the gain pull knob on the front panel, and it adds to the clutter in the room a bit.

It’s a bit weird, isn’t it? Was the FX loop always meant to work that way, or is it actually a screw-up of some kind that wasn’t caught early enough to rectify?

I haven’t had any other problems with my amp at all. Everything works, it isn’t noisy, and I think it sounds great.

Final Thoughts

I’m only a week in. This is very much still the honeymoon period. I haven’t yet done any recording with this amp. There’s a lot still to explore.

I’m very happy that I bought this amp. I’m getting more out of it than I expected. It gives me something I don’t already have.

I’m already covered for pristine cleans and crazy pedal platforms for the best in boutique drive pedals. I’m already covered for that quintessential Marshall amp gain tone. This amp nicely slots in alongside all of that.

I love how well this amp takes drive pedals, and I love that affordable pedals work great with this amp. It’s given me access to a whole bunch of tones and textures that I didn’t have before.

Is it going to take the crown of undisputed King of Affordable Pedal Platform amps? No. It colours the tone a little too much for that. But I tell you what – it might well end up sharing that crown with the 2018 version of the Marshall DSL amps. I’ll let you know once I’ve got my hands on both amps to compare.