Marshall JCM1-C 50th Anniversary Amp Review
Marshall’s JCM1-C is the “decade three” member of Marshall’s 50th Anniversary series, a set of five 1-watt tube combos that commemorate a specific decade in the company’s history. Each one is a pint-sized variation of a Marshall classic—right down to the vinyl, grille cloth, logo, and faceplate. And the JCM1-C pays loving tribute to the mighty JCM800 2203 and 2204, the amps that ruled the decade of excess, big hair, and hot-rodded guitar tone.
If you’re tempted to relegate the JCM1-C to toy status by its looks alone, think again. The amp’s diminutive stature might make it look unassuming from a distance, but a closer look shows reveals a very high-quality and very detailed tribute to its 80’s ancestor. And its tube-driven circuit captures the original JCM800’s feel and aggressive tones astonishingly well, while letting you unleash molten overdrive at much more agreeable volume levels.
Looks that Kill
Clearly, the JCM1-C is a really cool-looking amplifier, and it’s hard not to gaze at the grille cloth and oversized logo without thinking of an era where rock ruled the charts and a certain top-hatted guitarist lit the Sunset Strip on fire.
The amp uses a completely analog circuit, though due to its size limits, it’s obviously not an exact replica of the 1981 2203 JCM800 that inspired this wee version. But it takes more than a few cues from that amp in order to emulate its sound and feel. The JCM-1 uses two ECC83 tubes in the preamp, and sends the signal to a single ECC82 (that’s a 12AU7 in Yank speak) for one watt of output to a 10" Celestion speaker. You can also connect an 8 Ω or 16 Ω extension cab for bigger tones. The output tube also runs in the same push/pull configuration used in the original JCM800s, so that it can deliver a very similar bark and snarl. And if its fully cranked single watt is too much for your sleeping roommate across the hall, there’s a handy switch on the back to lower the wattage down to 0.1 watts.
The faceplate sports a simple EQ control layout of bass, middle, and treble controls, which have been fine-tuned to be interactive like those on the original JCM800. Next to the EQ controls you’ll find separate preamp gain and volume knobs for adjusting overdrive and volume amounts, and a single high-sensitivity input. The presence control and low-sensitivity inputs from the original amp have been scrapped, which is unfortunate because they helped make that amp a much more versatile tone machine. But while it could have been really cool to hear how those missing features would work in the JCM1-C, Marshall threw in a switchable gain boost that’s built to deliver smoother tone akin to that of a 1987 Silver Jubilee, another anniversary amplifier that’s a favorite of many Marshall enthusiasts.
After plugging in a humbucker-equipped Les Paul and striking a few overdriven chords, I was amazed to hear just how well the JCM1-C captures the vibe of the original JCM800 amps. It handles light and searing overdrive with ease, reacts to playing dynamics extremely well, and its moderate output makes it easy to record big tones.
With the preamp gain set below 2 o’clock, the JCM1-C purrs with a warm and woody midrange and a bright attack. It’s the classic JCM800 rhythm tone all the way, complete with a sensitive midrange that gradually thickens up the harder you dig into the strings.
Switching from open-chord, Malcolm Young-inspired riffing to lead lines highlights the amp’s cutting, stinging edge. Getting these more balanced tones requires that the master volume knob is set just high enough for the amp to push a little air, but not so high that the power amp overdrives and blunts the attack. It’s at this point the amp also becomes most sensitive to changes from the guitar’s volume knob and picking dynamics, so finding this sweet spot is really necessary if you want to get both overdriven and clean tones through pick attack and riding the guitar’s volume.
The amp also excels at big high-gain tones, and has heaps of preamp gain on tap for covering everything from Iron Maiden to Eyehategod. Pushing the control up to the 3 o’clock range starts to add hair and extra presence to the tone, which is really effective for getting older thrash tones with a scooped midrange like early Metallica or Megadeth. Pushing up the midrange and treble delivers a clear and raunchy overdrive that smacks of Slash’s sound during the main riff to “Paradise City,” and pulling back on the guitar’s volume reduces the scream to a purr, without any real loss of thickness. The switchable boost applies a velvety smooth edge to the attack and thickens the mids and gain, but doesn’t boost the presence so much that it becomes nasally and irritating.
The amp’s attenuator works very well at lowering the volume when you need to get really quiet, but it doesn’t, however, have a particularly pleasing effect on the tone. The volume gets so low that the tone sounds very muffled and fuzzy, and sometimes mid-gain settings and cleaner tones are barely even audible. It’s a great feature if you just want to practice without disturbing anyone in your immediate area, but in general, your tone will sound squashed and condensed.
The JCM1-C nails the aggressive, snarling tones produced by the original JCM800s during metal’s heyday, and manages to pack them into a solid, portable, and very cool-looking package. Most players will probably find the amp’s responsiveness, tone, and one watt of power more than sufficient for bedroom and studio use, but it can feel a little less than versatile given the price tag. Regardless of affordability, it’s a fabulous high-gain amp with classic Marshall feel and tone, and a hell of a tribute to one of the greatest amplifiers in history.