The Marshall JCM800 vintage reissue has nailed the crunch and power of the original and only improved upon it with the addition of the effects loop.
The Marshall JCM800 has earned a privileged place amongst guitar amplifiers. Few images are as iconic as that of a Marshall amp head perched upon a matching black 4×12 cabinet. From Hendrix to Clapton, Bon Jovi to Van Halen, scores of blues and rock guitarists have embraced the power and tone of Marshall amplification. Introduced in 1980, the JCM800 was a milestone for the renowned British amplifier company. The amplifier featured a single channel with a master volume control, allowing for more saturated sounds at lower volumes. The JCM800 is now part of Marshall’s “vintage” line of amplifiers, and the question for many is how well the reissue stacks up to the original. Let’s look at the specifics and see for ourselves.
The JCM800 2203 100W head features three ECC83 (12AX7) preamp tubes and four EL34 power amp tubes. The control layout is simple, with individual controls for presence, bass, middle, treble, master volume, and pre-amp volume. The main difference between the original and the reissue is that the latter has a true bypass effects loop that’s completely out of the circuit when unused, allowing the amp to sound more like the original.
I tested the JCM800 head with a matching Marshall 1960A 4×12 cabinet and a newer Gibson Les Paul Standard, a time-honored combination to be sure. Before I even decided to test the sounds available with this popular reissue, I wanted to give the chassis a thorough examination to make sure the build quality is as solid as the original. The birch ply cabinet coupled with the solid steel chassis and perforated steel valve protector are pure Marshall quality.
Enough specs already! How does the reissue JCM800 sound? Honestly, it sounds like pure rock and roll. This is an amp that defined rock and metal for the 1980’s, and it shows. If you want an amp that you can use for jazz and country in addition to blues and rock, you will need to look elsewhere because the JCM800 is a one trick pony, but it’s a pony you can ride all night long if you dig the sound.
If you only small venues – from your bedroom to a small club – you’re going to need a power soak or, at the very least, a good overdrive pedal to coax the best tones from this Marshall because it really only sounds its best when cranked. When you’ve got the preamp cranked and the master volume above six, the amp really starts to open up. The dynamic range is impressive, and the distortion is what you’d expect from a reissue Marshall JCM800. The tonal emphasis is in the upper midrange, adding to the classic metal crunch.
The question I’m sure many are asking is how the amp compares to the original. Having owned a few JCM800 heads in my time, I honestly think the new ones are at least as good as the older models and superior in many ways. Some purists will lament the presence of an effects loop, but truth be told, the effects loop was a very common modification on older Marshalls, and when it’s not in use, there’s absolutely no tone degradation whatsoever. If anything the newer amps are even more consistent than the originals where the components used varied widely.
The Marshall JCM800 is a piece of music history. While it won’t cover every musical base you need, it can nail classic AC/DC and Ozzy tones without peer. If you’ve got the proper venue or gig where you can utilize the amp to its fullest potential, then the JCM800 is well worth the price you pay both in dollars and hearing loss. Marshall’s vintage reissue has nailed the crunch and power of the original and only improved upon it with the addition of the effects loop. Classic Marshall tone lives!
Name of Gear: Marshall JCM800 Amplifier Head
List Price: $3,100.00
Manufacturer Info: Marshall Amplification; marshallamps.com
Pros: Excellent Rock and Metal Sounds