Signature Stories - part 2

A handful of artists have been lucky enough to have their own Marshall Signature amplifiers, we’ve taken a closer look at what makes each of these amps and how they came to be.

Posted: 17 March 2020

In case you missed part 1 of our dive into the world of Marshall Signature amplifiers, featuring Slash, Zakk Wylde and Jimi Hendrix you can catch up here.

So far we’ve looked at 3 iconic signature models, now we’re going to check out 4 more; Randy Rhoads, Lemmy, Kerry King and Paul Weller.

Not just the power behind Ozzy’s Osbournes’s early 80s success, Randy Rhoads was also one of the instigators of the trend of hot-rodded Marshalls thanks to his unique sound that no one could replicate, despite many attempts!

Randy’s secret weapon was his Marshall 1959 Super Lead that somehow managed to deliver both a bright “Plexi”-style crunch and aggressive Marshall crush in the same package. After almost 30 years of debate on how Randy got his unique tone Marshall decided to release the 1959RR signature model in 2008 in Randy’s honour. The 1959RR is an exact duplicate of the head Randy had used live and in the studio. But what made it so special?

 

Well for the development of the 1959RR Marshall were lucky enough to get hands on with Randy’s original model. We managed to verify that it had been tweaked to cascade the two halves of the initial ECC83 preamp valve, which significantly boosted the preamp distortion. Both volume controls worked in tandem to produce the increase preamp distortion.

This original modification was carried out by a Marshall technician in the Bletchley factory, so the designers even managed to track down that technician to uncover the exact technique used. Whilst at it Randy also got the Marshall team to cover them in white, so the 1959RR replicated every element of the originals’ sound and aesthetics.

Marshall amplifiers are synonymous with countless musicians but one of the most recognisable is Lemmy, with his equally identifiable Murder One amp. Which is why the announcement of the 1992LEM signature model in 2008 thrilled Motörhead and Marshall fans around the globe.

The 1992LEM is an accurate reincarnation of Murder One, Lemmy’s favourite 1992 Super Bass head, which was originally made in 1976. Like with the Randy Rhoads amp above, Murder One was inspected by Marshall to uncover exactly what made the amp so special. The results were that Murder One was powered by four EL34 valves and used mostly standard components with a few modifications to extend the tonal range.

For the 1992LEM the only differences to Murder One were an extra resistor added to the valve bass to prevent pre-amp feedback and an additional hum balance control. This faithfulness to the original even extended to the styling. The 1976 model featured a red vinyl cover that was later painted black, and the original colour exposed when a protective corner was accidentally knocked off. For the 2008 model a red corner was made, along with two ornate wooden insignia to replicate the exact look of Monster One.

Lucky owners of the 1992LEM also got certificate of ownership with their purchase that was signed by Lemmy and Jim Marshall, and 3x of Lemmy’s guitar picks.

Slayer are known around the world for their unique tone, which is a key part of the thrash metal genre that they helped create. If you distil that Slayer sound down to the bare bones it’s Kerry King’s JCM800 2203 roar that’s at the heart of everything, and in particular the sound of King’s favourite 2203 head, which he nicknamed “the Beast”.

What separates the Beast from most JCM800 2203 models is a distinctive EQ at the front end that boosts the mids, along with a very adept noise gate. This is key to creating pockets of silence that emphasise the brutality of King’s playing. As Kerry King himself said about the Beast “Satan himself reached up and touched that head.”

For King’s signature model 2203KK, Marshall once again borrowed the original amp and inspected every element to discover what modifications had been made. Surprisingly enough the Beast was 100% stock but had adopted its unique sound thanks to some components from the 80s drifting with age.

To accurately replicate this in the 2203KK Marshall Marshall used KT88 output valves and added an EQ curve that could be controlled from an “assault” knob on the panel on the front. On top of this a high quality noise gate was added along with distinctive Celtic lettering and tribal flames modelled after King’s tattoos.

Instantly recognisable from The Jam, The Style Council and his solo work, Paul Weller is equal parts British royalty and trend setter. With this in mind it was only natural that Weller would use Marshall amps, but the amp that Weller is best associated with is a rather rare Lead and Bass 2100. Only available via mail order for a short period in the 70s, these 50w combos are now very much sought after.

To celebrate this partnership and Paul Weller’s 50th birthday, Jim Marshall decided to do a limited run based on the original amps’ schematics. The crowning glory of this limited run was the white vinyl covering and Royal Air Force roundel, tying the amp in perfectly with the Mod-Father’s style.

The 1987X-PW came along with a certificate of authenticity, and all profits from this amp were donated to the charity Childline, as this is a cause that Paul and Jim were passionate about.

 

Part 3 of our look back at the Marshall signature series will feature Dave Mustaine, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and Slash… again. Stay tuned for that to follow next month.

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