I was a pretty late starter with the guitar, not buying my first crappy no-name Les Paul to test the waters with until I was 21. While I do wish I’d started much earlier and had the same bedroom metal phase as all my friends so I’d actually have some technical ability, starting late did give me the advantage of being able to afford decent gear straight away. After I realised I wasn’t totally useless at it, I ditched the junker guitar, purchased a used green Fender Strat and got my first amp head. The nameplate read Marshall, and I’ve stuck with Jim ever since. There’s arguably nothing more iconic in rock music than the black, white and gold of the British powerhouse. It was an obvious choice for me, most of my favourite bands like AC/DC, Slayer, The Ramones, Minor Threat etc are all known for Marshall stacks, and the fact that Jim Marshall was a drummer meant that it made even more sense for me. I’ve always preferred the natural drive and chunk of Marshall than the more gain-oriented modern metal type amps, you know, the chrome front type shit that guitar shop types ejaculate over. What follows is a little history of my amplifier ownership past and present, for no other reason other than I like talking about them.
This is the one that kicked off my Marshall infatuation. Me and my friend bought it from a bandmate for £100 between us, bargain. This was marketed in the 80s as a cheaper solid-state alternative to the JCM 800, and it does have a similar feel. The clean is surprisingly good and pushed it gives a nice Buzzcocks level of breakup, and the dirty channel sounds wide open. The best part about this amp though is the proper spring reverb, very ‘vintage’. I loved this amp and I actually kept it as a backup until I sold it to Razor from Violent Reaction last year, but I’d gotten the bug and wanted to see what else Jim had for me.
This was my first tube amp. I can’t remember who I saw playing one, but after I heard it I was determined to find one. All other types of 900 I’d heard and played were very thin sounding, but the SL-X was thick and heavy. It has two gain stages (all the way up to 20!) but isn’t overly metal or angular sounding like a Peavy 5150 or anything like that, it’s more like an 800 on steroids or something. I was playing in a very fast hardcore band at the time so it fit the purpose very well, and I later used it for both guitars and bass on the Violent Reaction demo and 7″ and I think it sounds lovely. However it was a little too gainy and 50w was a little quiet for my needs, plus I started itching for something more classic, so I sold it to Charlie from VR and moved on.
A mate of mine was ‘retiring’ from music and selling off his gear, so I took this plus a fake Marshall cab that I didn’t need off him for a very reasonable price. These days it’s known as THE rock amp, and in the 80s wall-of-stacks era it was usually these powering the rock and metal bands at those giant festivals. Really nice cleans (underrated feature on 800s) and that absolutely classic crunch, pushed that little bit more than its 70s predecessors. This particular one powered the VR ‘City Streets‘ sessions, again for both guitar and bass, as well as the Shrapnel 7″ and True Vision demo, and not forgetting the other million records identical amps have featured on from the 80s til now. Out of all my old ones I wish I still had this beast as a backup, but it hasn’t gone far, as I sold it to my band/housemate Callum. At this point I realise that most of my old amps are owned by members of VR…
I wasn’t really looking to get rid of my 800, but Callum was looking to buy one. I was actually helping him scour the internet for a JCM 800 when I came across a 1974 Super Bass. As a huge AC/DC fan I instantly recognised it as Malcolm’s amp of choice for most of the 70s, so I told Cal he could buy my amp for the same price as this one, and just like that I had one of my dream amps. However, some dreams aren’t meant to come true, and there was a few heartbreaking issues with it. As a sort of disclaimer though, this is the best sounding amp I’ve ever owned, but to hit that good sound you have to play so loud it turns your brain into soup. As its a model from ’74 you essentially get three options; off, clean ish and loud as fuck, or crunch and impossible excruciating volume. There’s no pre-amp or gain controls, and no master volume. This means it just has volume controls, and the amp overdrives the louder you push it, so there’s not a lot of control over the gain. I had some repairs done on it, and my guy rated it at over 200w at full whack. Insane. That kind of volume isn’t a problem when you’re in AC/DC, but unfortunately I never got the call to fill in for Malcolm on the last record, so sadly it had to go.
Marshall JMP Super Lead 2203 // 1979 Here it is, my latest and greatest. My mate Ola bought one of these after hearing my Super Bass, and I quite liked it. But it wasn’t until I realised that it was the later 2203 master volume version that The Ramones used on ‘Its Alive’ that I became determined to own one myself. I tracked down one in Leeds, put mine up for sale, and managed to essentially do another straight swap. All-round this is the best amp I’ve owned yet. Almost identical to the Super Bass tone, and obviously more attainable at lower volumes and with a more balanced EQ. With my Gibson SG plugged in I could just ring out open A chords all day through this thing and be happy, it sounds that good. This amp was also one of the reasons Brian Baker ended up playing in Minor Threat, as he was the only kid they knew that played a stringed instrument and also owned a Marshall stack! And it sounds unreal, especially on that first 7” with the neck pickup engaged Sabbath style. I think I might be settling down with this one…
Now, I bet your life is so much better for having read all of that eh?