The great man may have gone, but his legacy in rock 'n' roll continues loud and proud. Over the past year or two, we've seen not one, but three massive signature amps - for Slash, Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani - and now Marshall has turned its attention to an amp range that for many years has been the cornerstone of the company's catalogue: the JCM2000 Dual Super Lead, or DSL.
Dating back to the late 1990s, the DSLs have been in production ever since, and many people see them as the spiritual successors to the JCM800 and 900 ranges that did so much to define modern rock-guitar tone.
"Even though the advanced JVM range has superseded them, for many, the DSL is still the archetypal modern Marshall"
Even though the advanced JVM range has superseded them, for many, the DSL is still the archetypal modern Marshall - but an update was overdue. Well, here it is, and we're reviewing the revamped 15-watt combo from the new range: the DSL15C.
Cracking open the box, it's no surprise that the amp draws heavily from the iconic Marshall style; an oversized cabinet, black vinyl, black grille, gold panel, white piping and, of course, the familiar white script logo are all present.
The generous cabinet dimensions contribute to a somewhat larger-than-life presence, but the proportions are solid and balanced. Viewed close up, there are some subtle styling changes compared to the old DSLs.
The vinyl seems thinner and shinier than normal, the anodised gold panel has a smoother, more reflective sheen, and screws have replaced the gold studs that secure the corner protectors. There's also a smart, comfortable new carry handle with flush-end caps.
On the small info card stapled to the rear panels of the combo, the words 'Made in Vietnam' are easy to miss. It's a shame, but perhaps inevitable that offshore manufacturing has reached further up the Marshall catalogue than before in order to keep prices competitive. MDF also replaces plywood for the new cabinets; it's harder and heavier (though this is a comfortable one-handed lift), with different resonance qualities, although on a small cabinet like the DSL15C the differences are less obvious.
The original EL84-powered DSL201 and 401 designs have been replaced with a 15-watt 6V6-powered head and combo - not a bad thing, as 6V6s are much more reliable. The amp has a substantial pressed and folded steel chassis, with integral ribs to reduce flex.
As you'd expect, the electronics are almost all PCB-mounted, with one large board supporting preamp, power amp and power supply components, while smaller boards support the input jack, rear-panel jacks and the digital reverb, which replaces the original spring units.
"The board quality is typical Marshall, with through-plating, liberal use of metal film resistors to reduce hiss, and solid metal standoffs to keep everything in place"
The board quality is typical Marshall, with through-plating, liberal use of metal film resistors to reduce hiss, and solid metal standoffs to keep everything in place. All the valve bases are mounted on PCBs. We've grown used to seeing amps at all price brackets mount valve bases on PCBs today. In the early days, this was where a lot of reliability issues cropped up, as cheaper boards couldn't take repeated hot/cold cycling, and tracks would often break down. But most modern PCB materials are more resistant to this. Overall, though, the amp is worthy of the Marshall logo and should handle non-stop gigging without any issues.
As the name suggests, the DSL is a two-channel designs, with two pairs of gain and volume controls called Classic Gain and Ultra Gain, feeding a shared bass, mid and treble EQ. The EQ's range is widened by a button called Tone Shift, which reduces the midrange for a flatter response and smoother attack.
The DSL15's control panel also offers clean and Lead 2 overdrive voicings, while the resonance control of its larger siblings (for instance, the new Marshall DSL100 head) is replaced with a preset Deep switch and one reverb level control for both channels. There's also no standby switch and not being able to hit a switch to mute things during a gig or recording session is a slight annoyance.
On the rear panel, there's a trio of fixed-impedance output jacks, with pentode/triode switching to reduce output power roughly by half. The triode option also reduces high-frequency response for a warmer feel. There's a colour-coded footswitch jack. All in all, the DSL15C's feature set is pretty impressive.
"The DSL15C offers pretty much instant gratification, with a massive overdrive sound that's easily tweaked to cover both Euro and US metal sounds"
We tried the DSL with a variety of guitars, including an old Strat with regular output Duncan Alnico Pros and a PAF-loaded Gibson Les Paul Standard. It powered up smoothly, with almost no hum, and just a little hiss.
The DSL15C offers pretty much instant gratification, with a massive overdrive sound that's easily tweaked to cover both Euro and US metal sounds. The clean channel isn't as good as the new DSL head, but that probably won't put off the majority of potential users.
The new digital reverb stays smooth and warm, tailing off nicely as the levels are raised. One part of Marshall's heritage is assured - it's a seriously loud beast and the DSL15 will rattle windows when turned up to what Billy Gibbons calls 'Patent Pending' levels.
With the right looks and sounds, the DSL15C combo is a decent 'first proper amp' that many younger players will enjoy. The digital reverb is a step in the right direction, and suggests that a DSL FX model may be joining the line-up.
Traditionalists may be a little unhappy with the offshore origin and MDF cabs, but the pricing will offset those grumbles. Affordable it may be, but there's plenty of stiff competition for the DSL from home and abroad, with lots of amps offering similar features for the money. One feature they can't offer us, however, is that famous white script logo.