Archive for solid state

Marshall Meets New Technology

Posted in History: Marshall Amplifiers with tags , , , , , , on May 1, 2008 by ivancheung

The years 1989, 1990 and 1991, all saw new products for Marshall.

In 1989 Marshall ventured into a new territory for them – effects pedals. Effects pedals are small solid state units which alters the guitar signal (usually before it enters an amplifier). Although effects pedals had been around in various forms since the 70s, 1989 marked the year Marshall would put its stamp on the market.
The pedal produced was named ‘The Guv’nor’, and its function was a overdrive/distortion effect. However the particular type of overdrive/distortion effect makes it significant. ‘The Guv’nor’ would provide an emulation of the trademark sound of a Marshall stack amp, (similar to digital modeling). The purpose of this was to provide the Marshall sound in a very affordable unit, and also making Marshall available to consumers who owned other branded amplifiers.
‘The Guv’nor’ was a huge success and opened the doors for Marshall within the effect pedals market and the solid state market. In the years to come, Marshall would produce other effects pedals. Initially they would all be related to Marshall in some way such as emulating the sound of their own amplifiers; But later they would branch out to effects which have little to do with Marshall such as tremolo effects.

Below: original design of The Guv’nor

The following year Marshall would return to tradition when they released the JCM900. The JCM900 was regarded as Marshall’s new flagship amplifier and carried on some of the attributes of the brand. The most significant feature of these new amplifiers were that they were marketed as “the amps that go to 20”. The message is clear: the loud just got louder.
Although the JCM900 was favoured by younger Rock / Pop Punk guitarists, it was associated with those who embody classic metal (though in a tongue in cheek manner) – Spinal Tap. Aside from the band/actors appearing in adverts and promotional movies for JCM900s, the amps themselves were featured in the second Spinal Tap movie and Marshall even went as far as building a guitar shaped like a stack amp for them (guitar built in conjunction with Jackson Guitars).

Below: JCM900 and the Spinal Tap guitar

After producing one product that was new for the brand identity, and one that embodied the classic attributes, 1991 saw a merge between both. The Valvestate amplifier range was released by Marshall which combined solid state technology with valves. Perhaps Marshall never got enough recognition for their efforts, but the Valvestate showed the market that you could produce an amazing sounding solid state amplifier (exceptions noted). This amp was a hybrid of technology and as a result, it contained the desirable sound of valves and boasted the practical advantages of solid state (more durable, more consistant, lighter weight, cheaper costs).
Combined with Marshall’s line of effects pedals, the company had secured a place in the amateur market more than ever now. Over the next few years, the Valvestates proved to be the best selling amplifiers of the companies history.

Below: the Valvestate range

History Of The Amp: Solidstate

Posted in Amplifier Basics with tags , , on April 7, 2008 by ivancheung

Solid state refers to semiconductors (such as a transistor), its name merely means that there are no moving parts within the component.
Solid state components have revolutionised the world as we know it… however its introduction into the guitar amplifier during the 60s did not have the same impact.

A solid state amp offered many practical advantages over a valve amp. Some of which are…
1) Lower Cost
2) Lighter Weight
3) Higher Quality Consistency
4) Less Maintenance
5) Higher Durability

Although a solid state offered many practical advantages, it fell short in the category that mattered – sound. A solid state amp was capable of providing a clean guitar sound… but it struggled to produce the distorted sound a valve amp did so well.
Early solid state amps produced a harsh and cold sound (compared to valve’s smooth and warm). It had a limited dynamic range where the signal would be clipped if overdriven (producing an unmusical spitting sound). As a result, many guitarists did not abandon their valve amps for the practical advantages solid state offered.

However to be fair, solid state was not a complete disaster. It produced clean sounds very well, and some solid state amplifiers, such as the Roland JC-120, are regarded to be one of the best at providing a clean sound. 
As for the distortion, perhaps the sound of the solid state was merely introduced at the wrong time as during the late 80s / early 90s, certain guitarists used distortion which was sonically similar to the type solid state produced. (Although there are other reasons to explain why this occurred).
Interestingly though, solid state has always been regarded as inferior because it could not accomplish what valve could at the time. At no point was it marketed as an amp which could provide a different guitar sound. In the eyes of the guitarist, valve has always been the sound of the guitar.

As valve continued to dominate, many amp manufacturers did not give up on solid state. Due to its practical advantages, it became the choice technology for any type of budget amplifier.

One of the breakthroughs for solid state was Marshall’s Valvestate range. The Valvestate (introduced 1991, I believe) was designed to overcome the problems of solid state by emulating valve sounds.
In order to accomplish this they used a hybrid technology of both valve and solid state. It was a tremendous success. Here was an amplifier which combined the best of both worlds. The next step was to see if solid state could accomplish the task on its own.

As technology continues to improve, so does the quality of solid state.
Today, I would say that most solid state amps do a very good job at emulating valve. It is not perfect, but is constantly improving (I would even say that most guitarists may not be able to distinguish between a valve amp and a good solid state one if blind folded).
However solid state is still suffering from it’s history and continues to be regarded as inferior. Perhaps it will never be seen as better, because just as its quality has improved, the amp market has founded a new type of technology – digital…