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45 Degrees of Tone: The JTM45 Roundup

Original 1965 JTM45

To get our ears accustomed to the JTM45 sound, we began by firing up our ’65 head with a Les Paul. Normally, this head has EL34s in it, but we borrowed the Genelex KT66s from the Mojave and biased the amp to accommodate them. It made sense to us to use KT66s, because they were what the amp was designed for. With everything looking good, we flipped it from standby and beheld the beauty of this vintage masterpiece. It’s no wonder players and collectors are paying big bucks for these amps; everything we played through it sounded incredible.

What was amazing was how much of a rock ‘n’ roll amp this really is. Considering how long it’s been since it was conceived, the amp’s sound remains surprisingly current. The distortion is organic, full-bodied and earthy, and it allowed the personality of the guitar and player to shine through. While it was very easy to play, this is an amp that still requires a level of discipline and control to fully harness its capabilities. It makes sense that players who want to be heard would play on this style of amp, because like it or not, whatever you play through the amp is… well, amplified. It just comes out better.

We played through it for a good long time, switching guitars and speaker cabinets to hear it in as many different configurations as possible. Whether it was a Strat, a Les Paul, a 2x12 or a 4x12, the sound was always remarkable— perhaps the very definition of great tone. Subjective? Yes. Brilliant? Absolutely. Rolling back the volume on the guitars exposed a beautiful clean tone that was harmonically rich and defined, never muddy or dull. Even with the guitar’s volume knob all the way up, the dynamic response of the amp, and the way it musically fed back, was awe-inspiring.

Once we had established a base tone for comparison’s sake, it was time to play and listen to the other amps. Before I break down each individual amp and builder, I must observe that each and every one of the amps had ridiculously good tone, and they all sounded like JTM45s, but each had its own unique voice. Aside from the reissue Marshall, all of the amps are hand-wired. The reissue Marshall was of PCB-construction, and used the standard parts and components that Marshall was building their amps with during that era. I spoke with Mitch Colby from Korg USA (Marshall’s US distributor), who told me that the reissues have not undergone any significant changes since their reintroduction 20 years ago. While they are using the components that Marshall builds with today, they should yield very similar tones to the earlier reissue amps.

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