Jimi Hendrix once said, "Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel". As a bluesman, you’ll find that there are fewer true words than this.
Even then, while accessing the deepest part of one's soul can be hard, there are few things to inspire one's creativity than the right tools for the job. The best Marshall amp for blues is the one that will best portray your expressive playing and dynamics, both of which are among the main elements of blues music.
Ideally, the perfect blues tone should have overdrive but not be too distorted. This then means that tube amps were traditionally the preferred type of amp for their smooth distortion characteristics. Today, though, with other types of amps being able to emulate tube amps pretty accurately, it often boils down to a matter of preference.
When it comes to making quality amps, few brands out there can rival Marshall. Since its onset, Marshall has evolved to suit various music styles.
While the mark of a good amp is often measured by how versatile it is, some amps have strengths in particular features that make them more suitable for blues. Sorting through Marshall's collection of amps to find the best ones for blues can be difficult.
We went through Marshall's range of amps to find the best choices for blues. We included different types of amps, a good balance of price ranges, and amps for different environments (whether practice or live gigging).
Although it was made earlier, the Bluesbreaker gained recognition in 1986 after it was used by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers playing with Eric Clapton. It was Marshall's first-ever combo amp and has stood the test of time to remain as one of Marshall's best amps ever. While originals are somewhat considered collector's items amongst musicians, their popularity has seen them remanufactured as part of Marshall's vintage reissues collection.
Similar to the JTM45, this amp makes use of a GZ34 valve rectifier, giving it the iconic deep blues tone. It also comes equipped with two re-issued Celestion Greenback speakers, giving it a unique sound. The speakers, along with the 30 watts power output, ensure that this amp can get as loud as you would need it to at an event. In addition, the Bluesbreaker also sports a foot-switchable tremolo effect, two-channel input, and three-band EQ.
The Bluesbreaker is the ideal amp for players simply looking to emulate vintage blues sounds without modern-day effects getting in the way. Equally, it can also serve as a good addition to any bluesman's amp collection as one of the most influential amps in Marshall's collection.
Designed for those who love expression through innovation, Marshalls Origin 20C is another great choice to get you going on those iconic blues tunes. Although it’s a 20-watt amp, it comes equipped with the latest power scaling technology, allowing you to choose between high, medium, and low.
This feature makes the Origin amp flexible to different environments, whether for small venue live gigging or practice sessions. With a 2-way footswitch, you can control the gain boost and turn the FX loop on and off.
If you want a good tube amp with a vintage blues feel and sound, but with modern features, the Origin20 would be a good purchase.
Marshall's DSL40 is a tube technology amp designed to maintain the awe-inspiring, crunchy, and loud Marshall tones. With a comprehensive equalization channel and multiple controls, you can easily adjust the DSL40 to emulate any of the popular blues tones. Each of the channels features a dedicated reverb control.
With 40 watts and a power reduction option of up to 20 watts, and sporting two master volume controls, this amp can be used in multiple environments without compromising on tone. As stated earlier, a good blues tone should be overdriven and full with a balanced distortion. With the various control options on this amp, you can easily achieve this.
As a bonus, the DSL40 can also be controlled using midi equipment, making it appropriate for technical players.
With recent technological developments, modeling amps are getting pretty accurate at emulating iconic sounds, and Marshall’s Code50 is a good example of just how far modeling technology has come.
As it’s equipped with 100 preset options, you can play almost every blues song on this baby. In addition, using the Gateway app, you can connect via Bluetooth to control CODE and stream blues music from your iOS or Android device. This can come in handy during practice sessions.
It packs 50 watts in output power and a 12'' configuration speaker, so you could crank this up to pretty respectable volumes at a live performance and also turn it down low for a practice session.
The Code50 is a good choice if you love Marshall tones but also desire the convenience, versatility, and power of a modern digital modeling amp.
While they’re by no means similar in tone and features, aesthetically the Marshall 1974X has a lot of similarities to the 1962 Bluesbreaker. With just 18 watts in overall output power, this amp has gained a reputation as being one of the forefather amps that inspired the creation of low-watt amps.
The Marshall 1974 is foot-switchable and has two channels. Its tremolo circuit enables you to adjust the tremolo speed, intensity, volume, and tone, giving you the ability to express your blues playing. For classic Marshall Amp die-hard fans, the 1974X may be the ultimate blues recording amp.
While the process of searching for a good blues amp can be fun, it can also be quite difficult if you do not know what exactly you are looking for. Nowadays, amp technology has progressed to the point where single amps can have various features. This is in a bid by manufacturers to make them more versatile in terms of the genres of music they can play.
Often, the features and specs for each type of amp are indicated on the various buying websites. This then means all you need is a good understanding of the features that are suitable for blues amps to quickly eliminate amps that do not meet standards and make a worthy purchase.
Here is a list of some basic things you can look for when making the choice.
This is kind of a basic one when purchasing any type of amp. While wattage is often not an accurate way of estimating how loud an amp is going to be, it can be used to estimate headroom. Put simply, headroom is how loud an amp can get before it starts to distort or break up. The more the wattage, the more the headroom and vice versa.
This information, along with speaker sensitivity, can be used to pick an amp or a specific environment. Ideally, for a gigging blues amp, you want to pick amps that are above 30 watts and more depending on the size of the venues. For home use, whether for practice or just light rehearsals, you don't want an amp that is past 20 watts.
As wattage is not always an accurate way of knowing how loud an amp will be, consider trying out an amp in person to get a feel of exactly what you are dealing with.
There are four types of amps: tube amps, solid-state amps, modeling amps, and hybrid amps. More commonly, blues guitarists use tube amps because of their smooth clipping abilities that result in better-sounding distortion.
Even then, today, solid-state amps and modeling amps have developed to a point where the emulations of tube amps are pretty accurate. Ultimately, the choice often comes down to a matter of preference between solid-state and tube amps. Make sure to educate yourself on the various types before making a purchase.
When purchasing a blues amp, you will want to look for an amp with a lot of tone-shaping options. While some amps are good at playing one style of music well, here you’re much better off with an amp that has a good balance of features and tonal possibilities. Inbuilt effects will also be a plus when playing expressive blues music.
Equally, while modern amps are equipped with various emulation technologies, some blues tones might be brought out better with vintage simpler amps. Again, this is an area where a good balance of your preference and knowledge of the blues tones you are going for will be key.
In most cases, an amp is either a combo or a head amp. In a combo, the amplifier and cabinet are merged into one unit, whereas in a head amp, the two are separate. Before you acquire a cab, make sure it fits your needs in terms of size and weight. Certain frequencies are emphasized in each cabinet.
Larger cabs feature a more detailed high-end, wider middle, and deeper low-end response. The low end of smaller cabs is more percussive, the midrange is more concentrated, and the upper end is darker.
Also, confirm the weight to determine how portable an amp is going to be.
Well then, as we come to the end of this article, we hope that you at least have some basic knowledge to assist you in making your next blues amp purchase. Finishing off as we started, remember, when it comes to blues, it's more about expressing your feelings!