|By Tom Beaujour
You'd think that a guitarist of Slash's stature would have a warehouse full of amplifiers at his disposal. As it turns out, though, the Guns N' Roses guitarist only has a handful of trusty heads, which were discontinued in 1989, and they're all just about ready to be retired. "I've been using the same Marshall Jubilee heads at every gig and session since I got them in 1987," says Slash. "A bunch of those got badly damaged at the riot we had in St. Louis in 1991. After that, I was really nervous about my amplifier situation because I knew that if anything happened to the Jubilees I had left, I would be totally screwed."
It was in the aftermath of the riot (which was prompted by an abbreviated GNR set) that Slash and Marshall began discussions that would ultimately result in the limited-production JCM Slash. And while Marshall amps have been associated with many of rock's legendary guitarists, this is the company's first endorsement deal-not to mention its first signature model.
"I'm totally honored that Marshall is doing this," says Slash. "I'm the first person ever to get a free amp from them-except for Jimi Hendrix. And from what I understand, the amps he had were just on loan."
The new amplifier is an exact replica of the Silver Jubilee 2555. However, unlike the Jubilee, the JCM Slash boasts the guitarist's "smoking snake" logo and comes complete with a pimpin' snakeskin cover.
The all-tube, 100-watt head boasts a quartet of Russian EL34's in its power section and a trio of ECC83's driving its two-channel preamp. There's also a handy, front-panel-mounted half-power switch that allows you to drop the amp down to a more manageable 50-watt triode mode perfect for smaller venues. Slash admits that even he runs his amps on half-power much of the time. "If you have a singer who's sensitive to loud backlines like Axl is, having a half-power switch is a godsend. It's the only I way I can get the power tubes to work as hard as I need them to."
For a footswitchable two-channel head, the amp's controls are as simple as could be: Presence, Bass, Middle, Treble, Output Master (which doubles as a push/pull channel selector), Lead Master and Input Gain, a push/pull pot that also engages the rhythm channel's Rhythm Clip function. The back panel houses in and out jacks for the amp's series effects loop as well as assorted other necessities, namely the input for the included footswitch, and speaker and direct outs. The trade-off for this simplicity of operation is that the clean and lead channels share a single EQ section and input gain control, making it necessary to favor one channel or the other when adjusting the amp's controls. According to the amp's manual, however, which features Slash's personal amp settings, this isn't really a concern for the guitarist, whose budget allows him the luxury of using separate heads for his lead and clean sounds.
Like the original Jubilee series amps, the JCM Slash blends the wallop of pure Marshall crunch with a subtle, throaty glassiness. The rhythm channel covers a variety of tonal bases, from glistening clean to boisterous overdrive with equal aplomb. And if the amount of gain this channel offers doesn't quite rock your world (with the input gain floored it only attains a Keith Richards-like growl), the useful Rhythm Clip switch ups the saturation to a healthy crunch. Unfortunately, I found the Rhythm Clip mode to be a little nasal and compressed, slightly less impressive than the responsive snap of the rhythm channel left to its own devices.
Despite the rhythm channel's many strengths, the lead channel is where the JCM Slash truly shines. Rich in harmonics and attitude, this channel is also blessed with a stunning clarity that preserves the harmonic integrity of even the geekiest jazz chord. The lows are tight, punchy and defined, the highs shimmering and musical. Notes sustain effortlesly and are easily coaxed into singing feedback. More important, or perhaps all important, is the fact that while this amp has a unique character of its own it manages to assert it while preserving the integrity of your guitar's sound.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Some guitarists may be turned off by the fact that this amp's simple control layout can cause it to fumble in some channel-switching situations. Nonetheless, thiis one of the finest amplifiers Marshall has ever produced, a unit that generates some deliciously ear tickling and, dare I say, ballsy sounds. It's really no wonder that a mere nine years after their original issue, Silver Jubilee amps have already become highly coveted collectibles among the tone cognoscenti. Certainly, the JCM Slash will soon be too. It's an outstanding lead guitar amplifier worthy of the outstanding guitarist's name it bears.
Model: Marshall 2555SL 100-watt head
List Price: $1499
Manufacturer: Marshall, 89 Frost St. Westbury, NY; 11590 (516) 333-9100