Cover Photo by Frank Claeys
In the annals of rock and roll history, one name stands apart: Marshall amps. The brainchild of Jim Marshall and Ken Bran, and a couple of Bran’s HAM radio enthusiasts. Marshall amps are synonymous with rock and roll, and are considered the sound of rock, especially the 1959 Super Lead, often referred to as the Plexi.
Jim Marshall was exempted from fighting in World War II due to a chronic health condition and became a singer in London, gigging in clubs. He eventually switched to drums and became sought after as performing and recording drummer. He also became quite popular at teaching drums. His success was such that he was able to open his own music shop in West London, in 1960.
Fairly soon, his regular customers featured players that would eventually become rock’s royalty, such as Pete Townsend and Ritchie Blackmore. To answer their demands for louder guitar amps and to respond the increasing demand for guitars and associated equipment, Marshall’s store expanded to being primarily a drum shop to satisfying the needs of demanding rock guitarists.
Having trouble sourcing the favoured Fender amps at the time, Marshall and Brand embarked on a journey to create a guitar amplifier with the presence and volume demanded by his early clientele. Thus was born the Marshall JTM45 in 1962. It was a great start but players such as Pete Townsend wanted more. More volume. More presence. More tone. All of which lead to the birth of the iconic 100 Watt Super Lead 1959, also known as the Plexi, in 1965. The Plexi moniker came from its early days of using plexiglass as the backing plate for the control panel, which eventually became aluminum in the early 70’s but the name stuck.
From Marshall amplifier’s official website, marshall.com:
“The 100 Watt Super Lead 1959 ‘Plexi’ is a legendary amplifier, used by guitar legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page. First produced in ‘65, the amp used KT66 valves and later EL34’s for iconic Marshall growl. Nicknamed for its plexiglass front panel, this amplifier embodies classic Marshall tone.”
From the early days, Celection speakers have been part of the Marshall sound. Originally known for their Alnico magnets (an alloy of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt), typically found in Vox amps of the early sixties. Celestion developed speakers that contained less expensive ceramic (ferrite) magnets, which were also characterized by a more aggressive sound. By 1965, Marshall started using their Celestion’s first iteration of their now famous Greenback speakers. Developed in the 1980’s, Celestion’s G12T-75, are typically found in their cabinets. As the name implies, it is a 12” speaker with a 75-watt power rating. For more information on this iconic speaker, click on the following link:
Great sound doesn’t come cheap either. But if you’re serious about your tone, it is a worthwhile investment, if you can afford it. A typical listing for a modern-day 1959HW hand-wired head (that’s WITHOUT the cabinet!) is listed below. Mind you, in Canadian dollars but they are expensive in any currency.
For the purposes of our video, Kelster Von Shredster compares two of his prized Marshall heads: a 1959HW Super Lead and his other amp based on Cameron Atomica.
From the Fractal Audio AMP website:
“The Cameron Atomica was built to reproduce the legendary “brown sound” of an mysterious Super Lead Plexi, modded by Jose Arrendendo, and supposedly sounding like the best thing ever (that is: if you are a fan of the “brown sound”). That Plexi had a label on it reading ‘Atomica’.”
He played both through a rented Marshall 1960A cabinet, 4 x 12, featuring four of the storied Celestion G12T75’s. Just in case you didn’t know what 4 x 12 referred to.
To my ears, the 1959HW sounded much better, having an incredibly buttery smooth clean sound. As Jim Dickson from Guitarist magazine, 2022-2023 Annual edition describes it,
“…But many of Marshall’s tones are surprisingly clean, and that warm but electrifying jagged tone your hear on AC/DC records isn’t a sound you can make without having a really great clean tone inside your amp before you crank it up past the point of break-up.”
That’s the peculiar thing about this series of amps. It is really clean at low gain but when you crank it up just past 3 or 4, WOW! The animal within is let loose with a typical Marshall growl.
So many iconic rock acts have embraced Marshall’s at one point or another. From Jimi Hendrix to Gun n’ Roses, and so many more, Marshall truly has been the sound of rock and roll. In my mind, no other band embodies that Marshall controlled aggression better than AC/DC. No pedals (or hardly any), just pure over-driven tone. Marshall amps are a gem of modern innovation.
We also did a sound test on the 1959HW and got it up to 106 decibels from about 12 feet away from the speaker cabinet, in a tiny rehearsal room. It was really loud! But so cool to experience.
I hope you enjoy watching this video as much as I did making it with my friends, Kelly Coughlin and Amarendra Ghanekar (Amar to his friends).
Guitarist magazine, Annual 2022-2023 issue