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Fender Player Series

I’ve spent the majority of my playing career insisting on American-made instruments, and my current collection indeed reflects that. Picking up a Squier, an Epiphone or even a Mexican Fender just wasn’t in the cards, for the life of me I couldn’t make myself excited by anything less than a proper US-made Fender or Gibson. The jury might still be out on an Epiphone Les Paul or SG, but I’ve been increasingly impressed by Mexican guitars in the past few years. It started with my two Taylors, both of which were manufactured south of the border, and I have also been very impressed by Paul Reed Smith’s SE series (my baritone was made in Indonesia). I don’t know if it is ironic in the proper sense of the word, but the more purchasing power I get, the more I tend to prefer guitars that are just good enough. Or to put it the other way around, the less I feel that the American stuff is worth what you have to shell out for it. The price issue is especially important since I am well aware that any new guitar I buy is unlikely to displace my black Les Paul as my Number One. but instead become another voice in my cast of character actors.

Fender’s Mexican vintage models are especially nice. We gave my dad a 50s Telecaster for his 50th birthday, and once you get used to the thick neck, it’s awesome to play. The Fiesta Red Stratocaster is also delicious. The Mexican vintage guitars have their own interesting solution to the issues I’ve had with those guitars, since they have the correct logo and a vintage Fender should have 21 frets. The Standard series guitars feel okay, but I’ve always felt that they look a bit cheap. I don’t like the logo, for instance. All of this seems to have been solved but the retooling and renaming into the Player series. Now we’re talking 22 frets, a vintage spaghetti logo, and modern wiring (middle pickup is reverse wound/reverse polarity, the bridge pickup has a tone control). They are awesome instruments that hit just about all the high points that I used to enjoy with the American Standard. I was especially taken by the Sonic Red model, which looks like it’s a cross between Dakota Red and Torino Red. It is just a pity that it doesn’t come with a maple neck, but only the pau ferro fretboard. I tried the pau ferro and I like it even less than rosewood. It is much lighter in color, which I don’t particularly care for, and it has a really weird texture that grates on my fingers. But, since they are only about 6000 crowns, I could buy two, swap necks and sell one of the mongrels. Yes, it’s just that good.

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Posted by on 9 July, 2018 in gear, review

 

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PRS SE 277 Baritone

For a good long while there, it seemed as if 2017 was going to be yet another Gibson year for me. The 2017 Les Paul range included the Tribute models, which sported a most delectable goldtop with humbuckers for a quite reasonable price. I fantasized about that guitar for weeks. Then it hit me: I already have a Les Paul with humbuckers. I even have a Les Paul with single-coils now! However much I’d like a laundry list of various Les Pauls and Stratocasters, even a couple more Telecasters and possibly even a second SG, neither is likely to give me a new sound. One idea that actually has been kicking around for quite a while now is to add a seven-string to my collection. Seven-strings are always such a good idea on paper, sitting and reading about them on the bus, or when thinking about them at home. But when I play one, I find myself utterly confused and bewildered by that extra string. I once heard a theory that your success in adapting to a seven-string is dependent on whether you visualize the fretboard high-to-low or the other way around. If there is truth to that, which I don’t have any reason to doubt, I am very likely a low-to-high player.

I have always been very impressed with Paul Reed Smith guitars. The ones I’ve played have been wonderfully smooth, resonant not to mention exquisitely beautiful. But all of that comes at a price, which has been the primary reason I’ve kept my PRS exposure to a minimum. Overseas-made PRS SE guitars have never been an option for me. Until now, that is. Now that I’m old and wise enough to know that good enough is actually good enough. It’s what you do with it that counts. It was therefore fortuitous that my store had recently started stocking PRS:es, they were deep on SE models and had a few oddballs. In the latter category, I immediately gravitated towards a seven-string Custom 24. I was exactly as lost as I imagined that I would be, and I said so to the sales guy when he came around to check up on me. Instead, he suggested a PRS baritone guitar, semi-acoustic, with single-coil pickups. I must have given him a look, since he immediately backed down and said something like, okay so maybe that wasn’t at all what you were looking for. I was honest: no, it was definitely not at all what I was looking for. But neither, apparently, was the seven-string. So I plugged the baritone in, hardly expecting that I would be as blown away as I was. I couldn’t put the guitar down. I even walked around the store to try some other axes, but I kept coming back to the baritone. I would have bought it on the spot had I not managed to convince myself to sleep on it. An even that turned out to be a mere formality, because that guitar was all I could think about for the rest of the weekend.

It never occurred to me to try a baritone because I supposed that a baritone guitar is just a regular guitar but a little bigger, optimized for downtuning to, say, B or even A, and I don’t downtune. What I didn’t realize was that it is actually its own instrument with its own sound. I actually just wrote the operative word: optimized. The PRS SE 277 has a 27,7-inch scale length (thence the model name, I would assume), and comes from the factory strung with .014 to .068 strings with a wound third string. (By the way, is that the G string or the D string?) It has perfect tension and resistance, comparable to my Fenders, and the sound is perfectly slotted between a guitar and a bass. It is noticeably beefier with distortion and quite muscular with a clean tone. There is none of the flubbiness others have reported with shorter-scale seven-strings. When the idea of a lower-tuned six-string first came up, I assumed that the top of the range would be something I’d miss. This is actually something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. I’ve said multiple times that I don’t like vintage Fenders because they don’t have 22-fret necks, and I have had issues with certain other guitars I’ve tried at the store because I don’t have proper access above the 17th or 19th fret or whatever. Upon further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that it is only a problem when I’m practicing, and not when I’m recording or playing live. I listened through the solos on the latest Namlar album, and the times I stray above the 17th fret are few and far between. The 17th fret on a standard electric is a high A, which is the same note as that on the 22nd fret on the 277. And sure enough, I haven’t been missing the upper range. That doesn’t mean that a baritone doesn’t confuse me. I still haven’t figured out exactly why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that even when I’m just noodling, I am always very aware of which key or mode I’m in, and after years of practice, I have developed a certain kind of key/finger coordination. It feels odd to think F sharp minor and then use fingerings for B minor.

That the guitar has single-coil pickups is a non-issue. I’ve already gushed over the sound of P90s in two previous posts, and I specifically wanted a seven-string (or baritone) to get new sounds with a clean or slightly overdriven tone, not just to chug on the B string with maximum distortion. The pickups are noisy as f**k, I could have sworn that when I plugged it into my stack, the noise was actually louder than when I played. But in similar fashion to my Les Paul (or the 2+4 positions on a Stratocaster) the pickups are wired out of phase, so the middle position becomes hum-cancelling. I do, however, miss the separate volume control for the neck pickup, since when I play clean I tend to use both at the same time, and a neck-mounted P90 can easily overpower the bridge pickup, especially since the 277 has a longer scale length and consequently more contrast between the pickups. The f-hole is a nice decorative detail, it adds a certain amount of classiness to an already beautiful instrument. I was lucky enough to get a hold of a limited edition with a deeply figured ebony top that is just stunning. I wouldn’t call it a semi-acoustic, since the pickups and electronics are clearly mounted in solid wood, so I assume that the guitar has been routed to lighten the load a bit, like on a modern Les Paul or a 70s Telecaster.

Ever since I got the guitar back in May, I have experimented with different tunings off and on. I have tried C, B flat and A standard in addition to drop-A. C works almost better than B feel-wise, but it feels almost a waste to tune the guitar like that, like it’s not enough difference to my regular guitars. Below B and things start to turn to mush pretty quickly. B flat works okay, but in A I notice that chords no longer sound good, it is simply too low for the overtones to mesh properly. I have yet to find an issue with the longer scale length. I find myself overbending on the unwound strings, like I would have been better served with .015 strings, but that might be a psychological thing. Maybe I expect it to be tougher to play than it really is. I have no problem whatsoever with the scale length. It fits my big hands perfectly. If anything, it is better to practice on the baritone, since it’s a little bit like running with weighted shoes. In some ways, I find it suits me better than a regular guitar, since my right hand can get pretty violent when playing heavy muted rhythm with distortion, and the heavier strings can take the punishment no sweat. All in all, I’m extremely satisfied with my purchase, it has been a little bit of a revelation, and I have now developed a serious appetite for PRS:es. I always imagined my next guitar would be a shred-type axe, like a Jackson with 24 frets and a Floyd Rose. Now, I’m definitely leaning towards a PRS SE Custom 24!

 
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Posted by on 21 October, 2017 in gear, review

 

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MXR Carbon Copy, continued

I purchased the MXR Carbon Copy in August, 2013. Regretfully, I have not had as much use for it as I would have wished. I’ve recorded two albums since buying the thing and it has gone completely unused. Delay pedals for me have always been the kind of pedals that other players can get great sounds out of, but whenever I try to use one, I just can’t dial it in. Either I don’t hear the effect at all, or the sound is completely washed out in delay repeats, no apparent middle ground. Just like multi-effects units, they are fun to play around with at music shows, in the store or when goofing off at home, but creative use for them is another kettle of fish. After several tries to get the Carbon Copy to work into the amp (i.e. before distortion), I have come to the conclusion that delay before distortion just doesn’t work for me at all, so maybe I’m not a delay person. The most use I’ve had with it is to set the feedback above noon and hit it until it self-oscillates, and then turn the delay time down for some hippy-trippy shit. Fun, yes. Creative, not especially.

Until now. In a recent post, I made a big shout-out to the guys at That Pedal Show on YouTube, and also referred to their take on the Carbon Copy. I was able to apply most of which the show has taught me on that very pedal. The first thing I did was to pop the back off the thing, pull out a screwdriver and switch on the modulation function. Then, I played, and I listened, and I tweaked, and I played some more, lather, rinse and repeat, et cetera, until I happened upon a level of modulation that actually sounded musical and usable. This, in combination with the fact that I’ve given up on distortion and delay (at least until further purchases eliminate the need for long cable runs), has given the pedal a second wind. Nay, a renaissance! Actually, the train of thought started with the pedal I bought at the same time as the Carbon Copy, namely the TC Electronic Shaker Vibrato. I bought a vibrato specifically so I wouldn’t have to buy a chorus. Then a year later or so, I bought a flanger in order to avoid getting that chorus. Last year, I finally gave in and bought the chorus (my fourth one, following a Boss CE-2 and two (!) CH-1:s!). But it still wasn’t happening! Thus, enter modulated delay. The analog nature of the Carbon Copy is what makes it work so well with the modulation. The repeats are gradually softened until there is only a wishy-washy veil of sound trailing behind my playing. It doesn’t drench my tone in chorus, it doesn’t smooth over my dynamics the way many chorus pedals do, but it attaches a dreamy edge to clean passages. It’s been a very long time since an effects pedal has inspired me to just sit around and play and play and play! In the space of just a few days, it went from “damn, why the hell did I buy that thing” to “I can’t live without it!” I’m very much looking forward to laying down clean guitar on the upcoming Namlar album with it.

 
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Posted by on 20 October, 2017 in gear, review

 

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String gauges

During my first few years as a guitar player, I didn’t have the first clue about string gauges. Sometimes I bought the pink pack (Ernie Ball Super Slinky, .009-.042), sometimes it was the yellow (Ernie Ball Regular Slinky, .010-.046), depending on what they slapped onto the counter when I said I wanted some strings for my Fender. Inevitably, I got less overwhelmed and more picky over the years, and by the time I was 14 or so, I had settled on 10-46. However, it was only two years before we started playing more extreme metal, which seemed to demand downtuning. The guys at the music store recommended 11:s in order to take up the slack, and that worked well for a while, and when I experimented with 10-52 it felt even better. When we gave up the extreme stuff and tuned back up, I got used to the increased tension, and thus I stuck with 10-52 for years and years.

It took a concerted effort for me to go back to regular-gauge strings again. During my formative years, I developed the habit of never practicing through an amplifier, which inevitably made me play harder to compensate, which was exacerbated by the fact that I could seldom hear myself properly on stage. In those years, I developed a hard and rough playing style that not only had my fingers and lower arms fatigued within five minutes on a stage, it was also murder on regular strings. My dad preferred 9-42 strings in those days, and when I borrowed his Fender and hit a chord, you could hear the “bawaiaoum” of the bottom E string hitting F and then settling back on pitch. But a few weeks of proper warm-up exercises and diligent practicing with distortion allowed me to develop a lighter touch and an almost effortless right-hand technique, and thus I was able to go back to Regular Slinkys again.

Making this journey was a massive learning experience, and sometimes you cannot grasp the obvious until it jumps up and hits you right in the face. Here’s what I’ve learned. The feel of a string depends on three factors: length, thickness and pitch. Obviously, it is impossible to change the scale length of a guitar. Furthermore, one tends to prefer a certain tuning standard, mine is standard 440 Hz concert pitch, if nothing else then for the fact that music tends to be a team sport. Once during my downtuning days, I tried to jam with some other guys that were in concert pitch, and it was almost out of control. When they followed me, it was a cacophony since we were two semitones apart, and when I followed them, you could smell the smoke in the room, that’s how hard I had to think. Long story short, the scale length is fixed and you generally want to tune to the same pitch as the other guys and gals, so the only thing that is left to experiment with is the string gauge.

What I learned from my own experiments was that there are even subtler physical things going on with a guitar. When I tuned up to concert pitch back in 1993-94, I started noticing that the intonation was off. I could be in perfect tune and when I checked my intonation at the 12th fret using a tuner, it was spot on. Still, when I played certain chords, they would sound horrible. Open G was especially nasty with the low G audibly sharper then the higher open-string G. I tried lightening my touch, but to no avail. I examined the fretwire to see if maybe my rough playing had worn it down, but it looked all right. The clincher came when my next guitar, the yellow Stratocaster that I still own, developed the same problems after a while. I almost sold it out of sheer frustration. But the problem vanished overnight when I dumped the 10-52 strings for the slightly thinner 10-46. The conclusion was that thicker strings vibrate less at their extreme ends, i.e. next to the nut and bridge, which creates the physical effect of a shorter effective length, i.e. a higher pitch. You also have to expend a bit more energy to fret notes closer to the nut. Ergo, intonation was off on the first few frets, but not on the fifth or 12th frets. The thinner strings were able to vibrate in their full length and make the problem disappear. The last major revelation was that the problem actually hadn’t occurred gradually, I had only been made aware of it gradually. It wasn’t even an issue until I went back to concert pitch on the BC Rich in late 1993, or on the Stratocaster in 2000. As long as I tuned the strings down, the lesser tension enabled a freer range of vibration. I never noticed any problems on the Les Paul that I got in 2001, because it has a shorter scale length and consequently less tension to begin with!

Since about 2008 or so, when I reinvented my guitar technique, I have been constantly experimenting with string gauges (and picks; more about that in a separate article). The biggest variable in the equation is me. I rarely go for more than a few days without picking up a guitar, but when I do, it varies wildly what I do with it, and for how long. If I’m in the middle of a recording project, I might concentrate more on rhythm and clean playing, and if I’m between projects, I might practice the hell out of scales and sequences. If I have been slacking off for a while, 10:s feel too tight on a Fender, but when I get going again and rebuild my chops, I get used to them and they’re perfect. Conversely, 10:s always feel right on a Gibson, but after a few weeks of intense playing, they start feeling flimsy and I am tempted to experiment with 11:s. I just love the beefy feel of 11:s on the shorter-scale Gibsons. They sound monstrous when riffing, and really solid if I want to play more feel-type leads. Even though I seldom shred on record, I like doing it for fun, and with 11:s, it’s like running a 100-meter dash in moon boots. I’m not even going to mention the one time I put an 11-54 set on my Stratocaster, now that was a challenge!

A few years back, I was bothered enough by the tightness of 10:s on a Fender that I tried finding a compromise. One workable solution was a hybrid set, 9-46. It had the correct amount of oomph on the wound strings, but was nice and bendy on the plain strings. Two things, however, ruled that out. First and foremost, it made logistics twice as complicated. I didn’t like the idea of having to keep two different gauges around on the off chance that I would break a string and find myself missing a replacement. Second, I discovered that tension isn’t the only criterion to pay attention to. Sure, the difference between 9 and 10 just about compensated for the extra 0.75 inches of scale length on the Fender. But I didn’t like the lessened resistance of the thinner string against my pick. It’s like I need a certain amount of inertia against my right hand.

So the inevitable conclusion is that the string gauge that works across the broadest possible range of conditions and on all my guitars is the middle-of-the-road 010-046. I simply have to keep my chops up in order to enjoy my Fenders fully!

 
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Posted by on 23 May, 2017 in gear

 

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Marshall Code 25 – nine months later

In August of 2016, I bought the first Marshall Code 25 combo that landed in my regular music store. The initial impression was very positive. How has it held up?

The upside is that the Code 25 is a compact little amp that takes up hardly any space, and I haven’t been inspired to tweak new sounds since a handful of the built-in patches are just fantastic. I have drifted away from my original favorite patches (41 Bluesbreaker, 51 JCM 800 and 67 Silver Jubilee) in favor of 44, 52 and 68, which are basically identical except for the added reverb. Sometimes I do a bit of tweaking on the fly just for variety’s sake, mostly it’s about rolling off the bass, but sometimes I’ll add some chorus when I feel like channeling Mr. Lifeson, and whenever I use it with one of my Fenders, I add a bit more gain. Patch #44, Bluesbreaker with Reverb, with a Fender and the gain at 7 or 8, is a very inspirational sound indeed!

What I don’t like is that the speaker still appears to be underpowered, it just can’t handle the bass frequencies whenever I play with less distortion. It farts out in a very unmusical way. Hence the rolling off of the bass that I mentioned above. I can also report that I still haven’t been tempted to track anything in Reaper with the Marshall. It might edge out the Blackstar ID:30 as an out-of-the-box practice and home shredding amp, but it just can’t do the big, boomy Fender sounds that the Blackstar can, and it doesn’t sound as organic when going from the line out into my sound card. And I do get tired of that classic Marshall master volume taper: inaudible – [scratch] – LOUD AS HELL.

Having said all that, I still think I got my money’s worth and I haven’t regretted my purchase in the slightest. I would recommend this amp to anyone looking for a compact, affordable practice amp. Just don’t expect it to do it all, and if you prefer American sounds, look elsewhere.

 
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Posted by on 22 May, 2017 in gear, review

 

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Pick choices

After playing acoustic and electric guitar for 30+ years, I have come to two major conclusions about picks. Number one is that it is basically pointless to try to state that one particular pick shape or gauge will be more or less suitable for a certain style or genre. Every time I try to offer up a blanket statement about stiffer picks and speed playing, I come across a shredder who plays with medium or even light picks. The first conclusion leads into the second, which is that you should always be on the lookout. Picks are just about the cheapest pieces of equipment, so you can’t afford not to buy every variety there is, and try them out. You never know what is going to be the secret sauce for you.

I played for 23 years before I found the perfect pick for my style, which turned out to be the Dunlop Jazztone 204. On one hand, I was amazed that the simple act of switching picks enabled me to get faster and more accurate overnight. In the spring of 2008, I was convinced that the plateau I found myself on stretched all the way to the horizon. On the other, I’m kind of peeved that it had to be that pick. Sometimes I’m jealous of bass players, or guitar players like Mark Knopfler and Jeff Beck, who express themselves using fingers only, without having to worry about dropping those small but essential pieces of plastic. But I find it more annoying that I can’t just use any old pick. It has to be a very specific and fairly hard-to-find model!

The most obvious thing with the Jazztone 204 is that it is rigid. I have one next to me as I’m typing this, and when I use my thumb as a fulcrum and pull for king and country, I can get it to flex a few tenths of a millimeter. This is no news as far as I’m concerned: when I first got into hard rock and metal guitar, I noticed that I could achieve more speed and more consistency with a stiffer pick. I find that for my playing, more thickness means that I am control over the string release. Over the space of just a few months, I went from faux tortoise shell Fender medium picks (0.7 mm?) to Dunlop Delrin 500 1.14 mm (the cerise one). The next point I want to make about the Jazztone 204 is the cross-section. When I first discovered Dunlop Delrin picks, I noticed that they had beveled edges, and that proved to be vital as well, since the bevel means that the string slides more easily off the pick. (That, incidentally, is why I’m not wild about Dunlop’s 1.5 mm picks. The gauge is just about perfect, but the bevel is assymmetrical: shallower on the back than at the front.) The 204 is even smoother, it is a less pronounced ridge where the pick starts getting thinner towards the edges. Thus far, there is no major difference between a 204 and the Delrin/Gator Grip 2.0 mm. Moving on to the penultimate but perhaps the most important feature: the shape of the tip. The 204 is about as blunt as one of the opposite corners of a more traditional pick, and that appears to be the secret sauce for my playing. The first thing that struck me when I got a 204 and dug into the strings was that someone took 80 per cent of the friction right out of the equation without taking away the tone. I know that some players like the positive feel of a sharper tip, but my playing has evolved so that I happen to prefer the exact opposite. I barely nudge the string, and that works wonders for my speed and stamina. Lastly, the 204 is a jazz-type pick, which means that it is fairly small. To be perfectly honest, I only tried it out because I was distracted by a conversation, had I been fully aware it is unlikely that I would have touched such a weird-looking pick. It almost doesn’t look like a guitar pick! But after a few weeks of intense practicing, I found it hard to go back to a regular pick, they felt like credit cards in comparison!

All of this goodness comes at a price. They aren’t more expensive than any other Dunlop picks, but they are indeed harder to find, and that’s why I tend to hoard them. Whenever the store has them, I buy a couple, and I have about 30 in an Altoids tin at home. No, the drawback is that they are pretty impractical. The classic way to store picks is to squeeze them against the strings against the first fret, and there is simply not enough surface area on the 204. This has become even harder after I started using the Teflon-coated Elixir strings. It is impossible to tuck a 204 underneath the pickguard of a Stratocaster or Telecaster, so I have to use one of those rubber profiles that you stick on a mike stand. And even that is a less than optimal fit. Still, I accept these drawbacks since no other pick gets me that tone and that feel. It’s not that I can’t play if I don’t have a 204 on me. I can use just about anything, a pick, a coin, a credit card, to get a decent sound out of a guitar. It’s just that my muscle memory has reset itself around the feel of a 204 across the strings, so whenever I alter something in that very delicate equation, I lose the top few per cent of my speed and accuracy. Sometimes, I deliberately use a different pick in order to slow down and work on other aspects of my playing. I might use one of the Hendrix picks my parents gave me, just for the mojo. But most importantly: just because I think I’ve found “my” pick doesn’t mean that I have stopped looking. I have to remind myself that I thought I had “it” for almost two decades with the Delrins.

 
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Posted by on 21 May, 2017 in editorial, gear, Uncategorized

 

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Review: Marshall Code 25 combo

I grew up on Marshalls and played them off and on for the first 20 years of my career. It was only when someone forcibly plugged me into a Blackstar that I realized that there even were other brands. Previously it had always been about Marshall, and the only other option would have been Mesa/Boogie. But after this epiphany, I actually started seeing Marshall in a new and not altogether flattering light. As soon as the wool fell from my eyes, they started to appear a bit fuddy-duddy, seemingly too preoccupied with their own excellence, too absorbed by their pedigree and traditions to attempt any sort of innovation. I did try a number of new Marshall products in 2011 and 2012: the Class 5 combo, the first three 50th anniversary 1-watt amps. All of these were fine amps that put a big smile on my face. But as a control measure, I made sure to plug into some form of Blackstar immediately afterwards, and it never failed to amaze me how much more clarity and flexibility I could get out of them for a fraction of the price of the Marshall. My image of Marshall did not improve when they started releasing headphones, hi-fi amplifiers and smartphones. But when they announced the Code range of digital modelling amplifiers, developed with my countrymen from Softube, my curiosity was piqued. It got even more intense when the first sample videos started appearing on Youtube, the buzz got going, and to me, the most important indicator was that the Code amps were impossible to get a hold of for months. I asked my regular music store if they could get one for me and they agreed. This was in April, and the amp arrived in August. During those four months, I went from “I can’t wait to try this amp” to “I gotta have it NOW” on the strength of one glowing review after another. I tried very hard to not want the Code 25. After all, I have been extremely satisfied with my Blackstar ID:30 for three years, and if it ain’t broke, etc. But then it hit me that I didn’t really need the ID:30 either, since between 2010 and 2013 I was perfectly happy with my Fender G-DEC 3 Fifteen. I suddenly recalled what some guy in the store said to me years ago about the second-hand value of digital amps: they’re like computers in that a new model comes out and then you can’t even sell the old one for coffee money. During the long wait for the Code 25, and the constant debate about whether or not to actually buy it, I realized that three years is a long time in this digital era. Last year I bought a fairly recent digital camera and was floored by the technological improvements made since my old model was released in 2005. The Blackstar was a significant improvement over the Fender. So the Marshall should run rings around the Blackstar. Right? Well, let’s have a look:

First of all, a few words in general about the Code range: three combos: 25, 50 and 100 watts, and a 100-watt head. The 25-watt combo has a 10-inch speaker, the 50-watt a 12-inch speaker and the 100-watt combo two 12-inch speakers. All amps have the same software and the same controls, the only difference between them is that the Code 25 has a smaller LCD. I like this setup because if there’s one thing that bothers me with the Blackstar ID:30, it’s the lack of a midrange control. One thing that definitely sold me on the Code range was the aggressive pricing. The Code 25 is almost half the price of the ID:30 when I expected the reverse to be true. Diving into the actual digital contents, you select between a full range of Marshall preamps, and what I can only imagine are simulations of Fender, Vox and Mesa. There are four different power-tube selections and a number of speaker simulations, everything from a 1 x 12 to a full 4 x 12. If you have a smartphone, you can download the Marshall Gateway app and have full control over the amp via Bluetooth, which is kind of nifty. Another great selling point, something I missed sorely from the Fender G-DEC 3, was the ability to insert effects before the preamp. For some reason, I prefer dialing back the gain a little for my lead tone and boosting it back up with a clean boost or overdrive pedal, and I like having a bit of compression on my clean tone before it hits virtual tape. This Marshall lets me do both without having to plug in my pedalboard! The effects block consists of the usual fare: chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, delays, reverbs, a pretty cheesy pitch-shifter. About the only real surprise is the Uni-Vibe setting on the phaser, which is actually pretty good! I’m not going to go on and on about the effects, because 1) I haven’t spent that much time figuring them out, possibly related to the fact that 2) I didn’t buy this amp for the effects but for the British overdrive tones.

There are quite a few sweet sounds among the 100 factory presets. I am not wild about factory presets in general, since they tend to be a bit exaggerated, which is understandable, since the manufacturer obviously wants to show off the entire range of the product and they can’t predict the whims of every user. But there are a few zingers in the list. Six weeks after buying the amp, I have actually yet to get around to fine-tuning the thing, because some of these sounds are so damn good. I find myself scrolling between three sounds in particular: nos. 41, 51 and 67, or, a Bluesbreaker sim, a JCM800 sim and a Silver Jubilee sim. No 13 is positively shredtastic: a JCM800 with an overdrive in front and everything on 10! It is quite likely a bit too over the top for recording, but for practicing and general couch shredding it is not far from a dream tone. About the only Marshall tone that doesn’t work is the DSL sim. I have simply no idea what they were thinking when they dialed that one in. And the American sounds are not convincing at all; my Blackstar does one hell of a better job with the blackface Twin sound. Someone commented that the Code series is a good way to try out different Marshall amps and combinations with tubes and cabs to see what works for you. I don’t know about that. Of course I’d like that to be true, but I couldn’t tell, since I simply don’t have enough stick time with any of the models that the Code is supposed to simulate. All I know is that the JCM800 model comes pretty damn close to the proverbial good British metal tone. One thing with the Code 25 that manages to be heartwarmingly charming and amazingly annoying at the same time is the master volume knob, which works just like an old tube Marshall: either too soft or too loud. The one thing that I absolutely do not like with the Code 25 is the speaker. I don’t know if this particular speaker is bad, or if there’s just something about 10-inch speakers, but it farts out if you look at it funny. Single notes can work fine, but chords and dyads on the bass strings and the thing just makes weird noises. Thankfully, the direct signal from the headphone socket sounds fine, and that was the main point behind getting the amp anyway. This is not something I intend to mike up or put behind me on a stage.

The Marshall Code 25 is not going to supplant my Blackstar ID:30, but it complements it very well, and it has given Marshall a bit of a comeback from my perspective. I might very well write a second review when I’ve logged some more hours on it, especially in the studio.

 
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Posted by on 2 October, 2016 in gear, review

 

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