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.

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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?

Continue reading “Initial Thoughts On The Marshall Studio Amps vs Marshall Origin For Pedals”

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.

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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!