REVIEW: Marshall Handwired Series 2245THW

Marshall 2245THWIf you’ve never plugged into an old-school tube amp with no master volume control, dude, you’re missing out. If the closest you’ve ever come to blasting through a cranked Plexi is a digital model, you’ve never experienced the majesty and power of rock. There’s a special kind of alchemy that occurs when you put some hurt on those power tubes and really push some air through those speakers. But first, a little history lesson: the 1962 has its roots in the JTM45, the first amp Marshall ever made. It was first produced in 1962, inspired by the Fender Bassman but with various changes related to the differences in parts available in the UK compared to the USA. Released in 1965, the Model 1962 was basically the bass version of the JTM 45 (Model 1986), and the basic design underwent various revisions over the years, partly in an effort to improve the Tremolo circuit. This version, from Marshall’s Handwired Series of authentic all-valve amp reproductions, is based on the 1962HW ‘Bluesbreaker’ combo, itself a recreation of a 1965 version of the amp.

As Marshall explains in the manual, “The 2245THW can be thought of as either the original 2245 with added tremolo (hence the ‘T’ in the model name), or as a head version of the 1962HW. Either way, all the features and components (minus the speakers of course) are identical to the 1962HW.” Marshall also notes that the various revisions aimed at improving the Tremolo circuit improved the effect but had a sonic influence on the signal path itself: therefore they’ve reverted to the original valve tremolo circuit for this model.

marshall 2245thw

Inside you’ll find three ECC83 tubes in the preamp section, two KT66s and an ECC83 in the power section, and a GZ34 rectifier. Marshall says the GZ34 helps recreate the output-stage compression and clean sustain that makes the ‘Bluesbreaker’ amps so revered (another reason is Eric Clapton’s use of the amp with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, hence the nickname). And in order to be as authentic as possible, Marshall uses the original thickness, original pitch matrix, point-to-point tag boards and Drake transformers. There are two channels and four inputs (two High Sensitivity, two Low Sensitivity), and you can plug into the input of Channel input then run a patch cable from the other Channel 1 jack to the first Channel 2 input, thereby running them both together and allowing you to dial in different level settings using each channel’s dedicated Volume control. Either channel sounds great – Channel 1 is voiced for higher treble – but there’s some magic that occurs when you find just the right ratio between the two. More on that later though. The other controls are Presence, Bass, Middle and Treble, plus Speed and Intensity for the built-in tremolo effect. A footswitch is included to turn the Tremolo on and off. The Tremolo only works when playing through Channel 2. One of the keys to the original ‘Bluesbreaker’ sound is the particular Drake transformers used in the design. Drake is supplying the transformers used here too, going back to the original designs and meticulously duplicating the originals (with the exception of a few necessary adjustments to satisfy strict modern safety standards).

Around the back you’ll find the footswitch jack; the speaker output; an output selector which lets you choose between 8 and 16 Ohms; a Mains selector for selecting between 230v, 120v or 110v; the H.T. fuse, the Mains Input and the Mains Fuse.

MARSHA0891_2245THW_0426By the way, If you like the basic idea of the 2245THW but your wallet doesn’t quite stretch to the Handwired Series – or you’d like slightly more modern features – Marshall offers the JTM45 2245 in its Vintage Re-Issue Series, which does away with the Tremolo and employs high-quality PCB construction rather than hardwired. Or you may dig the 50 watt 1987X, which includes a serial effects loop with level and bypass switches. Then of course there’s the big daddy, the 100 watt 1987SLP ‘Plexi,’ but that’s another story.

I tested the 2245THW with my Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster Reissue with stock Fender pickups, and my Gibson Les Paul Traditional with Seymour Duncan Seth Lover humbuckers. The first thing I noticed was that the clean sound was much more ‘Fendery’ than the one I’ve been enjoying with my beloved Marshall JCM2000 DSL50. It’s clearer and more ‘zippy,’ especially with my Strat (and extra-especially when using the treble-enhanced Channel 1), but there’s a noticeable airiness around the Les Paul’s tone as well, a higher treble response than we typically associate with the Marshall sound in its Plexi/JCM800 form. It’s a great sound which you could quite happily use for pop, country and blues, but that’s not what Marshalls are famous for. Start turning up the volume and you’re rewarded with a thick, rich overdrive that seems to spring out at you from all corners of the room. And as you might expect from an old-style Marshall if you’ve played a few, it pretty much sounds best with the controls all maxed out. There are some finer, more ‘niche’ tones to be found when exploring different settings but it’s as if this amp was voiced to be perfect with everything dimed. It’s recognisably ‘the’ Marshall sound, even though other amps like the Plexi deliver a punchier, more solid version of it. There’s more fatness and thickness here, partly due to the 30 watt output stage and its ability to distort at lower volumes, no doubt. Both channels sound great individually but it definitely kicks up a notch when you jumper the channels and balance them just so, with Channel 1 kicking out bright, edgy treble and Channel 2 holding down the low end fullness. One thing I did notice was that when I wanted to use a clean boost pedal to bring on some additional gain, there was a definite point at around +12dB of boost where the preamp started to distort in more of a fuzz or treble-boost kind of way. It’s still a usable sound, but beyond a certain point it becomes a specific texture rather than just ‘a kickass extra-overdriven version of the 2245 sound.’

Marshall 2245THW

The Tremolo circuit sounds smooth and even, never giving you that synthetic choppy tone that some tremolos seem to do a little too easily. It has a nice sunny shimmer which is great for indie and alternative styles, but there’s probably a limit to how often you’re going to use this effect unless you’re an avowed tremolo junkie. I’m sure some players would prefer to have a spring reverb or something but that would go against the design ethos of this particular line.

So who’s this amp for? Well, it’s definitely suited to the blues, no doubt about it. And you’ll also find great AC/DC tones lurking in there, for sure. If you dig Richie Kotzen’s more recent albums, you’ll be all over this too. But what’s surprising is how great this amp is at those hairy, dirty Mastodon-style tones, especially when Channel 2 is given precedence, and if you’re hitting it with some higher-powered pickups or a boosted signal to really make the preamp work. It has just the right balance of punch and fullness to really come to life for certain ‘vintage distortion’ metal and stoner styles, and it does a great ‘Foo Fighters’ crunch as well. Of course, you have to turn it up pretty damn loud to get to those tones, since there’s no master volume control, but that’s the trade-off when you’re using a real amp with real valves. This could be the amp for you if you’re into real, interactive, tactile tone with that signature Marshall snarl. It’s probably not for you if your typical signal chain involves eight noise gates, three distortions and a parametric EQ. But a Marshall amp is at its best when it’s not trying to dictate what kind of music you should play through it: it simply takes your guitar’s tone and reflects it back at you through its own set of filters and lenses, adding some colour here and some focus there but never turning your music into something it’s not.