Marshall Hand-wired Reissue 18 Watt Combo and 20 Watt Head/Cabinet

Introduction

Marshall Handwired Reissue SeriesMarshall’s long-awaited handwired series reissue amplifiers are finally here with the debut of the company’s 1974X model 18-watt combo and 2061X model 20-watt head with 2061CX cabinet. These first reissue models are based on the originals produced in the ‘60s and ‘70s and Marshall has assured us that every attention to detail has been made. And these are not limited-edition reissues, but are part of Marshall’s regular production lineup!

Even the included manuals proudly cover the story of the many detailed aspects of the design and development. From the cosmetic finish to the construction details of the transformers and customized speakers, it is clear that Marshall team set out on a mission to create the ultimate reissues.

And I’m pleased to be among the first to say that they’ve DONE it. Yes, these are the real deal – I can say with 100% absolute confidence that those searching for classic Marshall vintage tones need not hunt down a costly original. I know it’s not normal to reveal the results of a review so early in a story, but in this case it’s more than deserved.

In the last several years especially, the prices of vintage (and even not so vintage) Marshall amps have skyrocketed. I’ve watched and seen the trends, all the while shaking my head in disbelief and also being happy that I "got in" when prices were a bit more reasonable.

But now as I sit here writing this after playing through these new amps, the vintage amps – once a true passion of mine – just don’t seem so important anymore. For the first time I’m thinking that maybe older ISN’T always better. In fact, while the goal with the handwired reissues was to make the amps as authentic as possible, there were even a few improvements done to the line. Marshall stresses that these changes, which include items such as variable impedance selector option for use of additional cabinets, detachable power cord, externally-mounted fuses, etc. have no degrading impact on the tone of the amps.




The New Series in Detail

The model 1974X is an all-tube 1 x 12 combo that puts out 18 watts RMS through a single 12-inch speaker. Many people affectionately refer to this model as the "Mini Bluesbreaker." It has two channels that can be operated individually or linked together. Channel one has controls for Volume, Tone, and Tremolo Speed and Intensity. Channel two has controls for Volume and Tone but otherwise shares the same circuitry.

The 1974X uses three 12AX7 (ECC83) tubes in the preamp stage and a pair of EL84 power tubes. It also is tube rectified, using a single EZ81. The EL84s are run in a push-pull configuration and are cathode biased (to the layman’s point of view the important area to note is that the amp is "self-biasing" when installing new tubes).

The handwired 1974X amp uses a tag board with turrets to mount the components. The dimensions, thickness and look of the board are exactly like the original and beautifully laid out.

The power transformer as well as the output transformer chosen (the final link between the output tubes and the speaker) have a tremendous impact on the overall tone and feel of an amp. At the time of the original 1974 model, which was produced between 1966 and 1968, the transformers used were off-the-shelf units provided by a general electronic component supplier. Dagnall, one of Marshall’s major suppliers of transformers today, spent a great deal of time with Marshall studying and analyzing the construction methods and materials used in both transformers so that they could be matched as closely as possible and therefore perform identically to the originals.

The other critical area for any amp design is the speaker that is used. In the case of the 1974X, the team at Marshall examined and listened to many original 20-watt speakers as used in the original combo. They then selected a speaker to match and then asked Celestion to revisit and reissue their early design of the original 20-watt ceramic Greenback used. Celestion investigated the magnetic properties and cone make-up of the vintage speakers, and affectively duplicated the tone that is ultimately warmer on the low end and less aggressive on the top end.

The amp is housed in a void-free Baltic birch cabinet with vinyl and gold piping just like the original. The top panel is a "plexi" type, with appropriate ‘Bluesbreaker’ type speaker cloth material. The cloth is a bit different from the original in material since it doesn’t have any of the rubber composition (apparently it wouldn’t pass electrical safety codes), but otherwise has the correct look.

Moving on to the 20-watt 2061X "Lead and Bass 20" head and accompanying cabinet, the 2061 is similar to the 1974 in that it also uses EL84 tubes for power, but is diode-rectified instead of using a tube. The difference is that the power supply is more consistently regulated in the Lead and Bass 20 and so there is little or no "sag" in the feel of the amp like a tube rectified model would produce when driven hard.

Also similar to the 1974X "Mini Bluesbreaker", the 2061X has two channels that can be linked. However, in the case of the 2061X, channel one is specifically voiced as the "Lead" channel, while channel two is voiced for "Bass". This allows for even a bit more flexibility tone-wise than from what can be obtained from the 1974X. Each channel includes its own Tone and Volume controls and there is no tremolo on this model. As a result, there are just two preamp tubes used instead of three within the chassis.

Designed to match the earliest post-plexi designs, the front panel is authentic brushed aluminum with the proper layout of controls and screened "JMP". Just like the 1974x, special detail was made in replicating not only the cosmetic aspects of the amplifier, but all the internal parts as well. This includes the transformers, which were supplied by Dagnall, both in the earliest version of the amp as well as the new reissue.

And again, just like the 1974x, certain improvements were made in the areas that do not affect tone, and are very much welcome. These include a variable impedance switch (not available on the original), as well as a detachable power cable, and externally-mounted fuses.

The cabinet designed to match with the 2061X is the 2 x 12 2061CX. The 2061CX is made of solid birch ply, including its back-panel and features metal side handles and basketweave style cloth. It is loaded with one of Celestions more popular and authentic-sounding reissue speakers, the G12H 30. The G12H 30 is a heavier-duty version of the G12M 25-watt greenback and also uses a heavier magnet.

It’s interesting to note that the basketweave cloth itself on the cabinet looks very similar in color to an aged original. Notice the similarity of the cloth color in the group photo between the 2 x 12 and the original 4 x 12 cabinet shown. I thought the picture would also help show some "scale" as I imagine most people are more familiar with the size of a 4 x 12 half stack. That setup by the way is a bottom model 1960B basketweave 4 x 12 cabinet from 1971 with a model 1959 Super Lead from 1972 resting on top of it.

The Tone

Model 2061x with 2061cx cabinet (left), Marshall 1974X (front) shown with 1971 original half stack for reference.For those unfamiliar with these two amp models, it may seem a bit of a limiting factor that there are only really basic controls for volume and tone for each channel. However, as I began playing these amps, it was apparent that the amps themselves seem to have been tuned from the get-go for a real sweet spot and then the rest is up to your fingers, playing style, and guitar. In other words, these are really great designs.

I used a combination of Stratocasters and Les Pauls, but mostly relied on my Les Paul loaded with Duncan Antiquities (PAF clones) as well as a custom shop 1969 Fender Stratocaster with a maple board.

From the first time I plugged my guitar into the 18 watt 1974X, I fell in love with the amp. From years of playing great (and not-so-great) vintage amplifiers and comparing them to reissues, there was always "something" that was missing. Not the case with the 18-watter. It drives smooth and is extremely touch responsive. It didn’t matter which guitar I used – the tone was phenomenal.

This is an amp that loves to be driven hard and I happily obliged by running a prototype version of the new George Lynch model Time Machine Boost we’re developing. With the boost on, the amp just sang and was very musically rich. With the boost off and the amp cranked to about 7, it’s a perfect sweet spot with the Strat for some smooth Marshall crunch. At lower volumes, there’s a bit of that AC-30 chime that can be heard from within.

With the Les Paul, the 1974x is quick to breakup even at about 4 on the volume dial. Needless to say, getting singing smooth sustain and a great rhythm crunch is no problem when using a Les Paul. The feel of the amp is definitely rock/blues as the notes blend together warmly, but they still have great cut in the mix.

One aspect that I really enjoyed with the 1974x was the fact that regardless of what guitar I used or how hard or soft I pushed the amp, the resulting tone balance was perfect. The 1974X never became overly bright or "ice-picky" and there wasn’t a hint of muddiness or looseness on the low-end either. As I stated earlier, the amp and this series so far is THAT good.

Now I presume much of that credit needs to go to the obviously well-designed Celestion 20-watt reissue speaker. In fact, for kicks, I ran the 1974x through my 4 x 12 loaded with original Celestion 25-watt speakers. It was quite amazing how similar in character these speakers were. If only Celestion could put out a truly authentic 25-watt reissue like they did for this new 20-watt speaker, I would just have to add another 4 x 12 to match my original! And as alluded to earlier on, the price of early vintage basketweave cabinets loaded with 25 watt Greenbacks is a bit high for my taste right now which is what is preventing me from purchasing another original. But let’s get back to the amp…

We shouldn’t forget to discuss the tremolo channel. It can be dialed in for quite a dramatic effect and the intensity allows it to be much more strong than a typical vintage Fender tremolo stage if desired. An interesting note is that the tremolo footswitch included with the amp is also a cast replica of the original unit.

As far as the volume output of the 1974x, because it’s using a beautiful-sounding (yet relatively inefficient) speaker, it’s certainly not the loudest 18 watts I’ve ever heard. But in the context of a band, this 18 watter should be able to kick out enough volume on its own to cut through with all but the heavy-hitting drummers. In those cases, miking up to the p.a. would be all that’s required as a remedy. As a home practice amp, cranking it up would certainly be loud, but not ear-piercing. The 1974x no doubt would be well served for use in recording sessions.

Moving on to the 20-watt 2061X, the differences between the two amps were immediately clear. While the 1974x really does sound like the miniature version of the Bluesbreaker, I was very surprised to hear that the Lead and Bass 20 definitely sounds like a miniature version of the aggressively voiced Super Lead 100. While the 1974X is a bluesier amp, the 2061X is a full-on rock and roll amp when turning it up.

I quite enjoyed the tonal variation when patching the channels together. Again, while I thought it would be detrimental to not have mid, bass, and treble controls, this amp just doesn’t need them. I got all that I needed between blending the volume of the two channels together and tapering the rest with the simple tone controls.

Through the 2 x 12 G12H 30 loaded cabinet, the resulting sound was more aggressive than the 1974x and its softer 20-watt Celestion. Though the 2061X definitely had more bite on the top end frequencies largely due to the G12H 30s, it again stayed out of the "ice pick" zone and was just big, fun and crunchy.

The G12H 30s are a more efficient speaker by design, so the 20-watt 2061x head puts out more volume as a result – and it’s not just because it’s rated at 2 watts more than its smaller sibling. The volume difference was definitely audible, and if I had to guess I’d state that it was an increase of approximately 2 or 3 dBs total at full power compared to the 1974X.

I’ll admit I was always curious about the tone of the Lead and Bass 20. This was because I was contacted by our friend Greg Howard (who is the tech for Brad Whitford of Aerosmith) some time ago about locating an original for him. At that time, Brad was apparently looking for this same head and it was unfortunate that Marshall didn’t yet have this new model available and as a result make my job that much easier!

Playing through the amp, it was clear why Brad was looking for one. The amp is quite aggressive and has great gain and crunch characteristics while still being smooth and totally touch responsive.

One of my favorite applications when using smaller amps is to set the amp at the point of really early breakup and then use a boost to take it from there. In this way, any amp I use becomes even more versatile with a bit of "quasi-multi-channel" abilities when pushing them.

For players looking for fantastic vintage rock and blues tones with amps that are truly touch-responsive as well as impeccably built, the Marshall 1974x and 2061x handwired reissues both make an excellent choice. Finally I must say a big "Thank You" to Jim Marshall and his team! This is a great start to undoubtedly what will be a lineup of future classics…again.