In an industry where the word ‘icon’ is frequently overused, there’s no doubt that a Marshall head on top of a pair of 4x12 speaker cabinets is as much a rock guitar icon as the Les Paul or Stratocaster.
These days, however, modern innovations such as quiet stages, in-ear monitoring and, ahem, health and safety have made the stack something to be seen more often than heard. Marshall’s answer to this trend is three slightly more sensible scaled-down versions of its most famous monster stacks. Announced at Winter NAMM 2019, the new Studio range features 20-watt head and 1x10 combo versions of the Super Lead ‘Plexi’ and JCM800 amps, with a relaunch for the Mini Jubilee 20-watt head and 1x12-inch combo, which together cover just about every classic Marshall tone you’re ever likely to need. Here, we’re looking at a new combo: the Studio Classic, inspired respectively by the 2203 JCM800.
Made in Marshall’s famous Bletchley factory, the combo is powered by a pair of EL34s and styled to look just like the original with tough ply cabinets and period-correct vinyl. The electronics live in a solid steel chassis. Marshall’s typically neat PCB layout features one main board holding all the valve bases, with smaller ones for front- and rear-panel components, linked by ribbon cables terminated with Molex connectors. Smaller-than-usual transformers keep the weight down.
The Studio Classic has the full-width front-facing gold aluminium control panel, black grille cloth and white logo of the JCM800. They’re quite portable, easily carried in one hand, with compact dimensions that will fit on any size of stage. It also packs a 20-watt power stage using a pair of EL34s and a single 10-inch Celestion V-type loudspeaker, with a comprehensive array of speaker outlets, a fixed-level line out and a simple series effects loop that can be turned off with a small push-button switch.
A three-way standby switch offers a choice of either the full 20-watt output or a reduced-power five-watt option. The Studio Classic offers a single pair of high- and low-sensitivity jack sockets, with a preamp gain and master volume, feeding a similar EQ/presence section.
Sonically, the amp sits in the era you’d associate with it. The Studio Classic has the characteristic midrange JCM800 grunt, although it’s been tamed a little, with a slightly sweeter distortion. While single coils sound good, the Classic really needs a beefy humbucker to pull the most exciting sounds from it: classic pickups such as Seymour Duncan’s SH-4 JB or DiMarzio’s Super Distortion love to work with these amps and provide the perfect front-end push. Pedallists will be pleased to know they can have all the headroom in the world simply by plugging into the Studio Classic’s low-gain input socket, or the switchable fixed-level series effects loop. It may be rated at 20 watts, but Marshall watts have somehow always been louder and this combo produces plenty of power to handle small to medium gigs. Even on the five-watt setting, there’s more volume here than some 20-watt amps we’ve tried.
We think Marshall’s new Studio combo is an ideal weapon for gigging guitarists who hanker after big-stack tone combined with portability and (slightly) more sensible volume levels. It has a lot of clean headroom when needed, it is also an ideal partner for pedalboards, while the slightly compressed frequency range of the 10-inch loudspeaker makes them easy to mic up in the studio. Here, the lower five-watt power option makes it easier to wind these amps up to what Billy Gibbons calls “patent pending” levels and get some sizzling hot Marshall tone onto your next single. The line out and effects loop are useful extra features, although it’s a slight annoyance that there’s a defeat button for the loop on the back of the chassis but no remote footswitch option. This aside, the new Studio combo sounds great, is good value for money and is built to handle life on the road. If you’ve always wanted to go over big with Marshall, size is no longer an issue.