Marshall Amplification need no introduction, but we’ve given you one anyway! As the main trendsetters for amp design since the early '60s, their amplifiers are still hugely popular in the 21st Century, with a bigger lineup than ever before.
Famous for their trademark “crunch”, Marshall pioneered the saturated distorted sound, which was an absolute game-changer. That’s why a whole raft of iconic guitarists such as Joe Satriani, Angus Young (AC/DC), Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society) and hundreds more have used their amplifiers to craft their distinctive sounds.
Many subsequent amp companies have used Marshall as their benchmark, building upon their foundations to push amp technology even further. Despite that, Marshall themselves continue to innovate and lead the way, over 50 years later.
So in this article, we’re going to give you some guidance on finding the right Marshall to make the sound in your head a reality. There is a lot of variety in their current catalogue, and the options available cater for guitarists of all genres and styles. We’re therefore confident that whatever your tonal tastes are, you’ll find a Marshall amp that you’ll love. But first, a short history lesson...
History of Marshall Amplification
Jim Marshall founded his company all the way back in 1962, not long before Andertons Music Co. first opened in fact! With a successful store based in London, Jim stocked a variety of musical instruments and predominantly specialised in drums. However, a handful of Jim’s high-profile clientele, most notably Pete Townsend and Ritchie Blackmore, suggested that he should start stocking guitars and amplifiers.
Jim became aware of their frustrations with the amps that they used at the time, telling him that they couldn’t quite attain the sound they were looking for. Accepting it as a challenge, Jim Marshall formed a small team and together they started to build their very own amplifiers. And that is how the company began!
The legendary ’59 Super Lead (Plexi) was one of their very first amplifiers. This tube-driven head was a monster, with massive headroom and enough volume to fill almost any venue. Some of the first users of this amp were Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and the mythical Jimi Hendrix, cranking them to form the acclaimed Marshall drive tone.
Other successes followed, including the 2203 & 2204 heads from the mid-'70s. These amplifiers were groundbreaking at the time as they featured innovative distortion circuitry, giving players a saturated overdriven sound without having to literally turn up to 11! The JCM800 series was the outstanding sequel, becoming a studio staple that is still used extensively even today. With a tight and focused distortion sound, the JCM800 was the quintessential '80s rock and metal amplifier.
Moving in a different direction to accommodate players on a budget, Marshall unleashed the hybrid Valvestate series in the early 90s. Bridging the gap between solid-state affordability and pure valve power, the Valvestate series gave players convincing tube-style tones for a fraction of the price of their full-fat high-end counterparts.
The DSL amplifiers introduced in the late 90s featured pure valve-powered goodness, but at a more than attainable price. The Marshall DSL40C was a best-seller at Andertons Music Co. for years, used extensively in our 'Sound Like' series on Andertons TV. However, with production ending in 2017, the legend is no more sadly!
The Marshall Amp Range
Marshall have maintained old-school valve/tube technology in many of their current models. To satisfy the tone chasers that believe there is nothing better than striking an open E chord into a full tube-powered Marshall stack, the majority of Marshall’s high-end models still cater for the more traditional players.
The flagship JVM amplifiers for example are powered by tubes, although digital-derived refinements give them some extra versatility and functions that modern players will certainly appreciate. Marshall also still produce the JCM800, the classic amp design that hasn’t aged a bit since its inception in the 1980s.
To meet the demands of more contemporary players and those on a budget, Marshall expanded their catalogue with solid-state (transistor) amps such as the MG series in the early 2000’s, a range that continues to sell strongly as great inexpensive amps for beginners/intermediates. And Marshall have even dipped their toes into the modelling amp market, with their recently released CODE amplifiers.
There are other great Marshall models that fill the rest of the range, with reissued classics such as the Silver Jubilee and early 1959 Plexi amplifiers. It’s worth mentioning the massive range of cabinets that Marshall produce too, with the classic 1960A and 1960B cabs kicking off the classic 4x12 speaker format - still pushing some serious air today!
Let’s take a closer look at what these different amplifiers in their current range offer, dissecting their specifications and sounds so that you can find the best one for you!
After more than 10 years in production, the Marshall JVM range has been a popular choice for many professional musicians, especially those looking for a hugely versatile amplifier that can cover all of the bases. Essentially giving you the “best of” many Marshall amps, the range of tones attainable with a JVM gives you almost no limits or hindrances.
Available in head and combo formats, the JVM range is split by wattage, amount of speakers and the number of channels. With the 50W versions giving you enough power to suit medium-sized venues, the 100W JVMs are absolute monsters.
The 205, 210 and 215 JVMs feature 2 channels, denoted by the “2” at the start of their name. With independent EQ sections for each channel, you can sculpt your optimal clean and drive sounds without compromising the other. This is something you’d expect with a JCM800 or DSL amp, where its channels share the same EQ section, meaning you’d need to find a balance.
The Marshall JVM410C and JVM410H amplifiers give you even more options. With a whopping 4 channels, all with their own EQ, you can set these amps up to have 4 distinct sounds - clean, crunch, distorted and lead. Essentially a tonal chameleon, the JVM 410 amps are the most all-encompassing ever offered by Marshall.
It doesn’t end there though. Each channel on all JVM models have three footswitchable modes - green, orange and red. Essentially giving you more gain at each stage, you can further expand your palette of sounds with the JVM, completely on-the-fly. MIDI integration also lets you change channels and other parameters (such as the second master volume) using a MIDI controller, which many pedal switchers like Boss’ ES5 and ES8 units will feature. So there certainly aren’t many valve-driven amplifiers out there that can contend with a JVM when it comes to versatility!
Marshall JVM on Andertons T.V.
*Please Note: The Marshall JVM Epic Deal is no longer running. The video is embedded to give you an idea of how the amplifiers sound.
The Dual Super Lead amps have long been a staple of the Marshall range, launched in the '90s to critical-acclaim. Renowned for their versatility and wonderful high-gain sounds, it's fair to say that Marshall's DSL amplifiers are modern classics. Unveiled at the 2018 Winter NAMM Show, the latest generation of DSLs offers the valve-driven tones of the originals but with several tweaks aimed at contemporary players.
That unmistakable British Marshall sound is evident when you plug into these, delivering that clear high-end and gloriously saturated mid-range. Thanks to a combination of ECC83 and EL34 valves and the DSL's famed gain structure, these things are as punchy as they are crystal-clear.
Marshall DSL on Andertons T.V.
The Marshall Origin series hearkens back to Marshall's golden age of the 60s and 70s, with their original Plexi amplifiers. Offering up that vibe both tonally and aesthetically, these nostalgic amps give you that classic and unmistakable Marshall tone but at a fraction of the price of originals or reissues.
With all models featuring single channels just like their old-school counterparts, to meet the demands of modern players Marshall has fitted these amps with some updated refinements, so that both contemporary and traditional players are catered for. This includes effects loops for the pedal connoisseurs, emulated outputs for direct recording and power switching too!
Available in three different sizes, the Origin Series combos all deliver those potent and iconic tones synonymous with the Marshall brand. All featuring a versatile 3-band EQ sections for adequate tone shaping, the 20W and 50W versions also have an additional presence control for further top-end tweaking. But there's also the unique 'tilt' control, which lets you blend between two preamp voicings for even more control of the upper mid-range.
Much like the combos, the head versions of the Origin feature the same features, to ensure optimal tones and functionality. Without the built-in speaker, these heads can be paired with any cabinet of your choice, making them more adaptable and also fairly portable to venues or recording sessions.
Marshall Origin on Andertons T.V.
The legend itself, the Marshall JCM800 head is the amplifier that really defined that notorious Marshall “crunch” sound. The 100W 2203 model is still in production decades after its introduction, and has been heard on countless records from the 80s to present.
Driven by x4 EL34 power amp tubes, and delivering plenty of crisp, upper mid-range punch, the JCM800 provides the purest, unbridled amp tones imaginable. With the current model featuring a serial effects loop unlike the earlier models, this amplifier can serve as the ultimate foundation for your rig, taking pedals and effects particularly well.
With ‘high’ and ‘low’ inputs, this amplifier technically has two channels but they are not footswitchable. This is a disadvantage to those that like to easily switch between clean and distorted tones, but as it can take pedals very well, a great overdrive or distortion stompbox will have you covered.
The JCM800 is really in its element when used for recording, and it is a bonafide studio staple. With a full-bodied yet articulate clean channel that is able to really get into its sweet-spot when cranked, the signature JCM800 drive tone comes from its ‘high’ channel. Delivering a solid crunch to a super-saturated distortion tone, the ‘high’ channel is compressed, tight and slightly scooped-sounding, perfect for hard rock and metal genres.
The JCM900 is very similar to the JCM800 tonally, but just has a bit more gain and a more reactive EQ section. Extra design refinements however make it a more ergonomic choice compared to the JCM800, more suitable for the modern player.
Released in the early 90s originally, the 900 reissue carefully imitates the earlier models, with 2 footswitchable channels and dual reverb. This gives it an edge over the 800 from a usability standpoint, but the charm and ballsy tone of the JCM800 still keeps it a mainstay in Marshall’s catalogue.
In the spirit of reissues like the JCM900, Marshall have resurrected a few of their other classic amp models to satisfy the cravings of nostalgia-loving tone hunters. The iconic 1959 Super Lead 100 (Plexi) has been lovingly recreated, offering the pure old-school rock tones of yesteryear.
This classic-looking and audibly stunning 100W amp oozes vintage class and tone, not to mention ear-splitting volume! Giving axe-wielding legends Pete Townsend and Eddie Van Halen their iconic game-changing tones, this amplifier is still revered and used often in studios. With the valve-driven design you’d expect, the 1959SLPX Amp Head gives punchy overdrive tones when plugged into its ‘high’ inputs, amazing for gritty rhythm sounds or even searing lead distortion. But beware, you can only get these tones when you turn it up to 11!
Maintaining all of its vintage charm, such as 4 inputs for different levels of gain and no selectable channels, the only modern refinement added is its true-bypass series effects loop, letting you use modulation and time-based effects with more transparency.
The Marshall Vintage Reissue 1987X 50W Head is very similar to the 1959SLPX in terms of design, aesthetics and features, but has a slightly different voice. With half the wattage of its more deafening counterpart, the 1987X has a tighter tone that breaks up more easily at lower volumes, giving you a gnarlier saturated distortion. Also featuring an effects loop, this is an amplifier that can still stand up to modern demands.
The Silver Jubilee has returned to Marshall’s catalogue in recent years, and after 30 years since its introduction it remains a desirable amp amongst their lineup. The Silver Jubilee is a darker-sounding version of the JCM800, however with a hotter distortion tone and a more modern design, it has a slight edge over the 800 when it comes to meeting today’s tonal standards.
The Marshall 2555X Silver Jubilee Head has 2 channels to let you set up between clean and drive sounds, sharing the same EQ section to retain some of its old-school vibe. With the ability to switch the wattage between a huge 100W down to 50W, this updated feature lets you set up the amp for different scenarios, whether that be venue sizes or for certain recording applications.
Marshall Silver Jubilee 2555X on Andertons T.V.
The signature 3 'mode' preamp system is the Silver Jubilee’s most acclaimed design feature. Its ‘Clean’ mode delivers a super-pure clean sound with hardly any drive colouration, letting you get a sparkly tone that can cut through a mix with plenty of width and headroom. The ‘Rhythm Clip’ mode adds slightly more gain, fattening up your signal for some ballsy mid-range punch, whilst the footswitch-enabled ‘Lead’ mode lets you attain a smooth high-gain tone for solos.
Marshall Silver Jubilee 2525 Mini Amps on Andertons T.V.
Mini 20W versions of the Silver Jubilee are available too - the Marshall 2525C Mini Combo and the 2525H Mini Head. With almost all of the same features, these little amps still provide plenty of volume and all the goodness of their bigger brother.
The Marshall MG has been a huge success for Marshall, becoming some of the best-selling solid-state amplifiers ever. Extremely popular with beginners for their affordability, these amps still provide the iconic Marshall sound but without the raw power of tubes. With a solid-state/transistor design, these amplifiers are suitable for bedroom levels, yet can still be turned up loud enough for gigs!
What does ‘solid-state amp’ mean?
It means that the amp doesn’t use analogue valves to attain its sound and produce a signal, but rather uses an array of transistors. One disadvantage of a solid-state design is that when the amp is cranked up loud, the tone delivered can sound like it’s ‘clipping’ and is therefore quite brash, as opposed to a traditional valve amp that typically sounds better and more saturated the louder it is.
However, many modern solid-state amps have been vastly improved to deal with this issue, and the MGs are no exception. The huge advantage that they have over tube amps though is that they are more reliable and less susceptible to reliability problems. This is because almost none of the components in a solid-state design will burn out over time, whereas a valve amp parts will need replacing every couple of years.
A solid-state amplifier like the Marshall MG will therefore be a solid workhorse amp, as they are far more robust than their valve-powered counterparts. Valve amps are fragile and need to be transported delicately, but a solid-state can take a beating, and they are also much lighter to carry too.
The MG Range
With regards to the MG range, there’s a huge amount of choice when it comes to size and features. Ranging from more-than-portable 10W and 15W combos all the way up to 100W power-houses, the MG range caters for those wanting a small amp to practice with at home as well as gig-ready players.
Most typical 10W and 15W combo amplifiers will feature only 1 channel due to their size, but the smaller MGs boast 2! Giving you clean and distorted tones, these amps provide you with the essential functionality you’d expect from a more expensive amp.
Whereas the Marshall MG10G combo features a simple contour knob to affect the shape of your tone, the 15W versions have a full 3-band EQ to allow you to really control your sound. The MG15GR goes one step further too, with an additional reverb control to add some depth to cleans and lead tones.
Moving up the range, the 30W, 50W and 100W combos have a whopping 4 channels with full programmability. With gain, volume and EQ settings completely savable, you can tailor-make your very own customised channels/presets to suit a whole range of genres. Not only that, but these amps have built-in effects such as reverb, delay, octaver, chorus and phaser too, which are also savable! So if you’re reluctant to invest in pedals just yet, the Marshall MG built-in effects will have you covered in the meantime.
And with an included footswitch, you can easily choose between your channels on the fly. It’s worth mentioning that all Marshall MG amps have a headphone input too, meaning you can silently practice so that your neighbours don’t come knocking! An auxiliary input for MP3 players can also allow you to practice along with your favourite tracks - pretty cool right?
The CODE series is Marshall’s latest accomplishment, illustrating their move into the world of full-fledged modelling amplifiers. A trend pioneered by Line 6 originally, other amp companies like Marshall have adopted similar technology to accommodate players looking for more tonal options. Imitating the sounds of a range of renowned Marshall amplifiers, such as the JCM800, JVM and many more, the Marshall CODE amps also model cabinets and effects too!
Teaming up with software engineers Softube, the sounds from the CODE amplifiers are very convincing and can recreate the tonal properties of famous Marshall amps with great conviction. With an incredibly easy-to-use interface, consisting of a familiar 3-band EQ section and gain, volume and master volume controls, the CODE amplifiers also have additional buttons to allow you to switch between your favourite 14 preamp, 4 power amp, 8 cabinet and 24 effect models. With all of that tweakability, these ultra-versatile amps will keep you satisfied for hours on end!
Incredibly affordable like the MG series, the CODE amps are great options for beginners and intermediates. But the genuine feel and modelled tones offered by these amps will satisfy even the old-school traditionalists. To suit the demands of home players or regular giggers, the CODE is available in different sizes and wattages - 25W Combo, 50W Combo, 100W Combo and 100W Head.
To give you more control over the sound of these models and to save space on the amp panel, the Marshall CODE series amplifiers have a compatible ‘Gateway App’ for smartphones, that can let you really dig deep with effect parameters and more.
Available for iOS and Android, with this useful app you can adjust your settings in real time, create and store presets, and even stream music directly into the amp via bluetooth. And with a headphone input, you can also jam along to your favourite tracks without disturbing your family or neighbours. The Marshall CODE amps really are built with the modern player in mind!
Marshall CODE on Andertons T.V.
It's clear that there are loads of amplifier options available from Marshall. With such a wide gap between certain ranges in terms of price, Marshall have catered for so many players with their current catalogue.
And now we're at the end of this guide, the answer to the question "what is the best Marshall amp?" is simple...There is no best!
Guitar tone is completely subjective, and it's worth knowing that the sound that someone really adores may be heavily disliked by someone else. If you clicked on this guide, you were probably already aware of what a Marshall sounded like, but the aim was to find the best one for your needs.
After breaking down their differences in terms of build and what they offer, we hope that you've been able to distinguish which amp suits your tonal needs the best. The flagship JVM has it all, with amazing versatility, features and the pure raw tones of valve power. However, if you're more into your vintage gear with a love for old-school nostalgic tones, then the Origin or Reissue series amps will not disappoint.
But if you want a low-maintenance, portable and adaptable amplifier that is ideal for practice and smaller gigs, then the amps from the MG and CODE ranges are more than good enough. Although beginners are the main demographic for these series', experienced players can still enjoy their tones and features, with solid-state and digital technology coming a long way since 10-20 years ago.Shop Marshall Amps!