||Download Example 1
Les Paul Standard with Sheptone PAFs
||Download Example 2
Epiphone Sheraton with Tom Holmes PAFs
||Download Example 3
2008 Fender American Standard Strat with Sheptone pickups
|All clips recorded with a Mojave 2x12 cab with a Celestion blackback 30 and 25 mic'd with an SM57. Mic pre is a Chandler LTD-1 with no EQ engaged directly into Pro Tools.
In last year's JTM 45 Roundup
for Premier Guitar
, I had the privilege of hearing Brian Wallace’s BKW45, and it not only held its own, it demonstrated that you can still have a unique voice within that style of amp. Knowing I’d be reviewing the new Abaddon model I set up my guitars and waited for the FedEx truck to arrive! Wallace is a one-man shop that builds all of his amps on his own from the ground up, right down to the bending of the chassis. Those of us who have visited marstran.com
(a website dedicated to historical Marshall components) know that Brian knows his stuff and has extensive knowledge about transformers. So let’s get right to it and see what the Abaddon is all about.
According to the Wallace site, the Abaddon is a single-channel, four-gain-stage-preamp master volume amplifier that has the ability to go from massive distortion to beautiful cleans with the twist of your guitar’s volume. Unique to the amp is the Drive control, which lets you dial in how hard you hit the front end. The Gain control comes after the Drive circuit and allows for a very flexible variety of distortion. This flexibility of the preamp offers up tones from sparkling cleans to plexi tone, to over the top distortion.
Built in a classic smallbox head format similar to a Marshall JTM 45 or 1987-style, the Abaddon is adorned in black tolex and sports ultra-cool retro knobs that remind me of early-issue Marshalls before they settled on the gold and brown style we all have come to know. The front panel consists of power and standby switches and a red jewel light followed by presence, bass, middle, treble, master, gain and drive controls. Being a master volume circuit, Wallace went with the standard high and low inputs rather than the 4-input style of non-master amps. The back panel is a study in simplicity with two speaker outputs, an impedance selector (4/8/16), two fuses as well as an IEC jack for a standard power cable. Wallace makes his own transformers based on extensive research and teardowns from actual vintage iron. The amp is also built around a mix of Sozo and Mallory caps and current production JJ tubes (two EL34s, four 12AX7s).
To run the Abaddon through its paces, I chose a Mojave 2x12 cab loaded with a mixed set of a ‘70s Celestion blackback 25 and 30. Plugging my trusted ’03 Gibson Les Paul R8 with Sheptone AB Customs, I set up a basic rhythm tone. With all controls around halfway and the Drive at 3, the amp began to breath that classic Marshall tone from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. With a lighter touch, the amp exhibited a fairly clean and very articulate rhythm sound that got more and more aggressive and dynamic with a heavier hand. You’ll hear in clip #1 that exact setting and how it opens up from powerful and clear to more saturated and driving. Even though the Abaddon is using a master volume, it doesn’t react like the typical modern preamp-heavy sound (unless you want it to). To get more sustain and cut I dialed in more mids and pushed the Drive up to 8. This is the lead tone you’re hearing in clip #1. What I enjoyed about the Drive control is that it almost felt like having a great fuzz box in front of the amp without getting overly mushy or out of control. Sustain went on for days, and with just enough volume it easily pushed the notes into a beautiful and organic feedback—very similar to a great Plexi sound to my ears. Clarity was never sacrificed for distortion, even at the most extreme settings.
Moving onto the second clip to illustrate the tonal versatility, I dialed in a mixed rhythm tone reminiscent of an AC/DC meets Southern Rock vibe, still with the Les Paul. Again I found myself enjoying the classic rock vibe that the amp easily puts out. For the lead sound I cranked the Gain to 10 and backed the Drive down to 3, which completely changed the voicing and put out a similar tone to early Lenny Kravitz leads ala “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” That tone always reminded me of the “Crosstown Traffic” sound and was a dream to play with, though clearly I was on a Les Paul rather than a Strat. Picking up an EMG-equipped Schecter Blackjack guitar I began dialing in some great, modern metal tones. Although there was plenty of gain on tap, to my ears the voicing of the Abaddon is still in more classic territory than modern metal. This is not an issue of gain but of the EQ frequencies that amps in that arena tend to favor. While more modern amps sit in what seems like a lower octave, the Wallace stays more in traditional voicing and doesn’t have the super low beef. It’s a preference thing though, and not something I’d say is bad, just different. You might get drowned out by a heavier amp in the rhythm category, but you would always be able to cut right through the mix on leads, which is something that never seems to happen on more deeply voiced modern amps. Again, just a different style.
Transitioning over to Strat-land I was thrilled to hear a gorgeous, chimey and sparkling clean that once again felt more Marshall than Fender-like using the #4 position on the Strat. Backing the Gain and Drive down let me crank the Master and let a wide open and clear sound come forward that felt perfectly comfortable to play on and yet growled a bit when I dug in. Of course, it wasn’t long until I pushed the Drive way up to bring back that feel of having a fuzz box in the front of the amp and it responded just the way I’d hoped—easy, dynamic, and full of harmonic complexity. Adding more gain just amplified the effect and brought the sustain to places you’d never get on a stock Marshall.
The Final Mojo
This amp really gives that Marshall enthusiast a whole new set of tonal options without having to put a stomp box front of the amp. From classic to modern sounds and just about everything in between the Abaddon is my kind of amp. If you’re looking for a super high quality, rock solid Marshall-style amp that spans the decades and adds a few welcome touches I have no hesitation in recommending the Abaddon.
you love vintage Marshall tones but want more gain options for modern music.
you need channel switching and an FX loop for your gig.