Hands-On Review:From trusty tubes to state-of-the-art solid state-the Stack rules!

Click here for all products by Marshall.

As a young TFIT (tone fanatic in training)-and a patriotic one-my ear was undeveloped, but my attitude sucked. In an argument with an older friend, I proclaimed, "The original Marshall was just a knockoff of an American classic. Why would anybody want to go with a British imitation?"

"I can answer that in five words," he said, "Townshend, Clapton, Hendrix, Beck, Page."

Marshall StacksA towering tradition

That shut me up about Marshalls, but I stayed pretty ignorant of them until MF invited me to review a couple of Marshall stacks. While I waited for the amps to arrive, I read up on Marshall. Talk about a pedigree: Yes, in 1962 they did design their original 45-watt amp after an American amp. But Jim Marshall and associate Ken Bran listened to some young lead guitar players around suburban London-Pete Townshend for one-and made an amp with more gain that was easier to distort. After some failures they arrived at the classic Stack design - four top-end Celestion speakers crammed into as small a cab as possible. The resulting half stack generated a new sound that was as big and bold as the new music.


Soon Townshend needed something BIGGER. So Marshall invented a 100-watt head and added an extra 4 x 12 cab (after an abortive go at an 8 x 12 behemoth), resulting in one of rock's most recognizable and celebrated icons -the Stack!


Tubal elation

After all that history, I was champing at the bit by the time the amps showed up at my door. The valve amp was a JCM900 4100 100-watt Dual Reverb

. The first thing that caught my eye was Channel B's Leadgain knob, which actually goes up to 20. "What is this, 'Spinal Tap'?" I thought. But when I plugged this baby in and cranked it up, "20" didn't seem like even a slight exaggeration.


Click to EnlargeThe Lead gain is a really serious gain boost that doesn't dirty up the straight signal or produce a lot of noise. The clean tones on this amp were so full and sweet, I had to linger there for at least three or four minutes before I really delved into this whole "20" thing. When I did, it was sheer adolescent delight. Suddenly I was Townshend screaming through "My Generation" at Leeds; I was Jimi blasting out the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock. I was actually laughing with joy.


The eight huge Celestion G12 T speakers weren't even breathing hard in their imposing cabs. The spring reverb sounded perfect and full, and each channel had its own controls for reverb, pre-amp gain, and master volume. So I could get precisely the sound I was after with one click of the footswitch and no extra tweakage.


I found it particularly easy to generate mild crunch without having to overdrive the tubes too heavily, and there's a high/low power switch so I could drop to the mellower 50-watt triode mode. A four-band EQ let me dial in a really wide range of tones.


Click to EnlargeSolid state of the art

After drooling over the JCM900 , I was fully prepared to be deeply unimpressed with the AVT150H. But Marshall really gets more tone with less tube. The new AVT line emulates classic Marshall valve tone with a solid state power amp and a 12AX7 tube in the pre-amp to make an affordable amp that generates great tube tone and SERIOUS volume. To really work this thing out, I called up some kids I often hear trying to blow the roof off a garage down the street and lured them with the promise of pizza and libation.


While I waited for their arrival I explored the amp's many-featured excellence. I particularly liked the chunky but well-defined rhythm sounds I could get with the "Scoop" facility that tightens the bass and scoops the mid. The second overdrive channel takes a little off the top and scoops the mid for some genuinely searing lead tones.


Four channels of flexibility were really cool. Two blocks of 16 digital effects were quite usable, super-easy to engage, and a breeze to control. But the real surprise was the acoustic simulator that did a convincing job of making my trusty solid body sound like a full-bodied acoustic.


The kids from down the street arrived in a dilapidated van and quickly filled my basement with gear. They were all sufficiently impressed with my new Marshall Stack (I did not tell them I was only borrowing it). But within about 20 minutes they were complaining that I was too loud. My screaming 12" Celestions were too much for their tender young ears. "That's payback for the last year of keeping the whole neighborhood awake!" I cried and cranked it up another notch. Their equipment cowered anemically next to my gargantuan tower of tonal power.


Finally, the cops convinced me of what the kids could not, and the young noisemakers loaded their van in rancorous silence. There can be no hint of doubt that Marshall has earned its place among the heavy hitters of great guitar tone. I'd recommend either of these amps without reservation.


Features & Specs



JCM900 4100JCM900 1960A/B Cabs
  • Four 5881 tubes
  • 100 watts
  • Two channels
  • Individual Gain, Master Volume, and Reverb Controls
  • Four-band EQ
  • Adjustable effects loop
  • Four 12" Celestion G12T-75W speakers
  • 300W handling
  • Four or Sixteen-ohm mono or eight-ohm stereo
  • Angled 1960A stacks on straight 1960B cab
AVT150AVT412A/B Cabs
  • Four channels
  • 150 watts of power
  • Two separate blocks of 16 digital effects
  • Four Channels: Clean, Overdrive 1, Overdrive Two, and an acoustic simulator channel
  • All effects are tweakable via mix, adjust, and select knobs
  • Effects are on/off footswitchable
  • Headphone jack
  • Speaker-emulated line out
  • Effects loop with level and front panel mix control
  • Four 12" Celestion speakers
  • 200W RMS handling
  • Angled AVT412A stacks on AVT412B