So… I ordered the new Satch JVM to try out and it arrived this morning. It arrived very well packed with all the knobs zeroed, sturdy corner protectors inside the box, a nice owners manual, the footswitch and all the cables, a certificate of authenticity, and best of all a great Satriani edition head cover which I wasn’t expecting.
What drew me to this head was this: I love the layout and the functionality of the JVM generally, but it seems like Joe and Marshall have put a LOT of effort into making this one special. It has the vintage-style tolex from the Vintage Modern, it has a choke, they’ve replaced the cheesy plastic input jack with the nice metal one like the Vintage Modern, and it looks better from the back too with the gold lettering. I read up on what Satch had to say about the amp and it seems like an awful lot of thought has gone into this head.
First impression? It feels like the sequel to the 30th Anniversary 6100 – but in a JVM headshell and with JVM functionality. And without the crap 6100 lead channel.
Overall, the sound is classic Marshall, through and through. I don’t miss the reverbs as I use outboard stuff anyway and the noise gates work incredibly well. All the modes are useable – obviously I have my favourites but it’s not like the original JVM where I couldn’t find a single sound I liked between clean and high gain.
One other thing I noticed – the pots are better than on any Marshall I’ve had my hands on recently. I don’t know how many others have this but the ribbed edges on the pots feel like rubber rather than plastic and they’re nice to use. The pots generally feel smooth and solid (although not as good as the ones on my EVH 5150 III). Apparently Marshall started bolting JVM pots to the chassis in recent years so if that’s true it sounds good. They certainly feel better.
So, the channels…
They’re not lying when they say it’s the Anniversary clean channel. I used the 6100s for years and this is the same thing. The big surprise is that both amber and red mode add something musical and 100% useful.
Amber just breaks up a tiny bit with single coils and the gain maxed, but it does so musically and clearly – unlike the original JVM and unlike the clean channel on my 5150 III too. I wish the breakup was clearer and chimier still (like LDR on the Vintage Modern) but it’s very nice and totally useable. With a booster you can get a more bell-like top end.
Red mode here gets a bit more distorted and a lot more throaty. A useable SRV-type rhythm tone or a nice rich blues lead tone. Again it really is a sound you could use rather than just another feature. Boosted this one gets quite special.
Green mode is supposed to be the JMP, and for me it’s too dark and woolly – not open enough. I haven’t had it loud enough to say whether this improves at stage volume – I expect it does but I probably won’t be using this mode.
Amber mode is the JCM800 and it’s GOOD. A little darker than the original and obviously the resonance control gives you the option of a lot more bass so in fact it’s kind of like an 800 with all the awkwardness removed (or some of the character removed depending on how much of an 800 fan you are). For me it’s like a more useable version of a JCM800 and it cleans up beautifully from the guitar to approach those plexi sounds I didn’t find in green mode.
Red mode is apparently based fairly heavily on the AFD. I don’t know how close it is and my vague stab at some Appetite riffs didn’t sound particularly close to the original. BUT it’s what I would call a great modded JCM800 sound, really valid and really cool. Best part is it cleans up great from the guitar. Apparently Joe used this all over Chickenfoot III. If you run the gain higher for let’s say an early Van Halen sound it gets too muddy – this is where the next two channels come in.
Channels 3 and 4:
These channels are cloned so it’s one review…
Green mode is basically the same deal as red mode of channel two. A shade more saturated but basically the same animal.
Amber mode is my favourite higher gain sound in the amp. Here’s where you play Unchained and Mean Street. It feels like a newer Marshall in that it reminds me of an Anniversary (but not thin) or a TSL (but not buzzy). It kind of sits in the same territory as my EVH blue channel but instead of that instant gratification you get from the EVH at low volumes you have to work this one a bit harder. It’s more dynamic and you feel more sag on fast-picked runs. It’s like a modern (ish) high gain with a classic feel and I like it. It doesn’t track so quickly when I’m playing things like Eruption so I don’t feel as flattered by the amp as I do by the EVH, but the trade-off is that it gets huge and dynamic as you turn it up – where the EVH just sounds like a louder version of itself – or a bit like listening to a recording of yourself really loud. This amp is musical.
Red mode is good. Gain over half gets flubby fast – if I was playing metal or looking for a super high gain sound with control like the EVH gets I would be using a booster and a lower gain setting on this mode, or maybe just stay in amber. What’s nice about red mode is that it stays just a little tighter (it’s still not particularly tight though by JVM standards) but the best thing is you get a little more burn in the mids which is very nice for soloing.
The last two channels have a mid-shift so of course you can program one channel to be mid-shifted and one not, or whatever combination you like. I like the mid shift in on both channels as it cleans up the low mids and focuses the gain more where I like it. Then I add extra bass to compensate. If you like a more classic Marshall sound with a huge blooming low midrange and a looser feel, leave the mid shift out.
I loved my Anniversaries, apart from the lead channel which I couldn’t get a single good sound out of. This is genuinely the first Marshall since that I’ve really liked. Apart from the Vintage Modern which sounds incredible but is almost completely unuseable live unless you stay in one mode. I’ve kind of said it already but this one feels and sounds to me like the amp Marshall SHOULD have replaced the Anniversary with. It feels special like the Anni did and it obviously has all the great JVM functionality. I can’t stress enough how different this amp is from the ordinary JVM.
I don’t know yet whether this is a keeper. I’ve still got a slight hankering for another 101b and the breaking up tones – while great – are not as special as on the VM or a proper old Marshall. BUT… it has an awful lot of very good Marshall tones – some more special than others but this time they’re all useable – it has the best build quality I’ve seen from Marshall in a very long time, and it has functionality that will make your 101b weep into its Comet tolex.
I have to use it live and I’ll update the review, but initial impressions are good. Whether I keep it or not, it’s changed my opinion of Marshall. I have a feeling this is an amp that I’ll grow to love more and more; it’s got a great feel to it and real depth of engineering and musicality. Thanks Joe!