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You know the old adage: you wait for one cost-effective low-powered valve amp, then 58 come along at once! Or so it seems on the congested streets of Toneville, fuelled by our desire for better sounds, but less volume. So…
Welcome Marshall's Class 5, a five-watt, class A, all-valve combo that sings simplicity, tone and portability as its three-part battle song. It's powered by a brace of ECC83s in the preamp stage and a lone EL84 for power, making it good – according to Marshall – for practice, rehearsals and small or mic'd gigs. No messin' – just plug in, turn up, wig out: exactly as it should be.
Visually the Class 5 pays homage to Marshall's revered mid-sixties 'Bluesbreaker' and 18-watt combos, with its black vinyl, 'Plexi'-style top-mounted control panel and short front insert. The piping here is gold instead of white and we have and salt and pepper grille cloth instead of the Bluesbreaker's famous striped type.
£330 for five watts, you might ask? Don't make the mistake of comparing this with a cheap, transistor combo, it's as much a serious tone machine in intention as many amplifiers five times its power and price.
There's just one input option and one volume knob on the Class 5, so you won't spend too much time worrying about how best to set it up. The time-honoured approach is to whack everything up to boiling point and use the guitar's volume pot to regulate back from there.
So, armed with a vintage-style Stratocaster and with everything on the amp set to three o'clock we get to work. The Class 5 is rudely loud – enough to upset your neighbours to legal action levels and then some.
That means it has enough grunt for sensible rehearsals and, if you don't have a cacophonous drummer, it can deal with unmic'd small gigs, so long as you don't need huge, loud clean sounds.
The overall tonality is very much 'Plexi'/Bluesbreaker, with hints of that punch-in-the-chest mid-range, but softened and rounded slightly because of the lower power and, doubtless, the EL84 power valve. With the Strat's volume up full, the overdrive feels very sixties to this reviewer – think Jimi Hendrix and 1960s Beck as the general ballpark.
Switch to humbuckers on a Gibson-style guitar and things start overdriving much earlier. Guitar volume up full, it'll sing for solos and provide good harmonic feedback. This is Bluesbreakers-era Clapton all over – fat and compressy – through to a good AC/DC-style crunch.
We'll reiterate again that this is a very loud little amp. The tone controls aren't hugely powerful in the way that classic Marshalls never are, but they're interactive. Set the bass and treble high, and regulate the main part of the voice with the middle pot for best results.
Twenty years ago, the Class 5 may well have been laughed out of the music store – back then a five-watt amp had no right to sound good. Times have changed radically though, in that many players are willing to drop their bravado guard and finally admit that a little amp cranked up is often much more satisfying than a big one tethered down to tick over.
If you're after a simple valve tone monster for crunch and classic drive sounds, however, then you absolutely have to try this amp. Its combination of satisfying tones, usable volume, portability and, of course, price all add up to a winning package. Destined to be extremely popular, and deservedly so.45 Stars
For more information visit the official Marshall website.