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June 2017 Giveaway

Hands-On Review: Marshall 1962HW Combo

I had the privilege of spending some quality time with the Marshall 1962HW Combo and it was a treat. As a brief history, this is the amp that set a new standard for blues-rock guitar in 1966 when a young Eric Clapton, who was featured on an album by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, brilliantly played this amp to its potential, showcasing not only his talent but the touch-sensitive ferocity of the Marshall amp that became known as the “Bluesbreaker Combo.” When I plugged my PRS 513 into the front-end of the Marshall 1962HW, I was greeted with a combination of explosive energy and fine detail that responded to every performance nuance I put into it. It seemed more like another instrument as opposed to a sound generator; it worked with me, not just for me, which is a rare find in the world of guitar amplifiers.

The appearance of the 1962HW is as refined and classic as its tone. The large, salt-and-pepper grille cloth edged with white piping sets off the discreet Marshall logo and gives the amp a polished look, especially with the cleanliness of top-mounted electronics. The familiar Marshall-standard controls — Presence, Bass, Middle, and Treble — are shared across both Channels I and II. Channel I is brighter than II so they are a natural complement to one another. Two inputs per channel allow them to be connected together and blended, benefiting from the range of the two voices. The tube-based tremolo has a warm, organic sound and the controls for intensity and speed take it from shimmery to throbbing and hypnotic slow to chopper-blade fast.

Looking under the hood reveals the mojo in hand-wiring. When I pulled out the chassis, I was met with a wonderfully clean, simple layout of discreet components. On the underside, the company who made the transformers for the original Bluesbreaker, Drake, went to great lengths to re-create those transformers for 1962HW. Three ECC83 (12AX7) preamp tubes and a fourth for the tremolo, a pair of KT66 output tubes, and a GZ34 rectifier tube are more than just numbers; they create a sonic stew that is at the heart of the 1962HW. At lower volume settings, they stay taut and focused. Increasing the volume yields glowing power amp break-up and rectifier compression for an undeniably musical experience.

Even though this amp is rated at 30 watts, it’s Marshall-loud. Thankfully, I had a theatre stage where I could crank it up and put it through its paces. Plugged into Channel I with the volume on 2 or 3, I was able to coax fat, punchy clean tones that were loud enough to gig with, almost Twin-like. As I increased the volume and all of the elements of the amp were working harder, the natural distortion began really singing. At 6 or 7, I could really work the dynamics of the amp with my volume control and pick attack from clean to sustained solo, even into controlled feedback. I jumpered the two channels together, cranked them up, and the sound was mammoth, with a unique character in the highs and lows that was still distinct and dynamically controllable. The two G12-C Celestion speakers are also painstaking reproductions of the T652 Alnico magnet speakers used in the Series II model 1962 and are the final piece of the tone puzzle. They were perfect at every volume, never harsh or tubby.

All of the Marshall Handwired series amps are stunning in their own right but the 1962HW is surely the most iconic. I obviously had a lot of fun reviewing this amp and would highly recommend it to anyone seeking classic blues-rock tone but this amp definitely has a lot more to offer.

Don Carr

About Don Carr

With a three-decade career as a professional guitarist in Nashville, Tennessee, Sweetwater's Don Carr has a long list of album credits in multiple genres of music. His resume includes hundreds of radio and television appearances, as well as thousands of live performances in America and abroad as lead guitarist for the legendary Oak Ridge Boys. Don provides Sweetwater with professional insight through product demos, reviews, how-to’s, and group instruction. He is also the first-call session guitarist for Sweetwater Studios.
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