When I saw the combo and looked up the model, I learned that it's identical to the Model 2203 head only turned upside down and loaded with 2 x G12T-75 speakers. This was better than I expected as it would allow me to stay with the combo format that I prefer while still getting the vintage sound; and all for a *lot* less than the cost of a reissue head and external cab.
The downside was that I would be going from a two-channel amp with an effects loop to a one-channel amp with no effects loop. The Renegade is versatile and sounds good overall, and I was using the TC Electronic G-System with the four-cable method to run all the time-based effects after the preamp section. Since the Marshall combo is fairly rare, I grabbed it thinking I could figure something out once I got it.
First thing I did when I got it was fire it up just to see if it would work. It did, but it sounded really awful. It was buzzy and shrill at the same time with no real definition in the mids. It looked like it had the original tubes in somewhat rusty sockets. I was able to date the serial number back to 1984. If the tubes were 28 years old then that would probably explain the bad sound.
Taking the amp to Top Gear here in San Diego, they did a general tuneup and changed out the tubes with JJ EL-34's. They also extended the speaker plug cable (and zip tied the cable to the speaker frame to prevent accidental detachment from the soldered lead which was nice). I know that 100-Watt amps are ridiculously loud, and I have an old 8-Ohm THD HotPlate that I could try to drive up the output tube distortion without disturbing the neighbors 10 doors down.
Getting the amp back from the shop and firing it up was night and day difference in sound from before. It was good to know that the tubes were the culprit and not something deeper rooted. First impression was that the sound was full, wide and very clear. Maxing the gain gave it quite a bit of distortion, but it sounds a bit buzzy and harsh, to be honest. I ended up dialing it back to about 6.5 which is just before the sound clips into harder distortion, leaving me some clean headroom. The sound is more like a medium gain overdrive at this point.
Volume-wise, the slightest movement of the master volume knob in the wrong direction scares the crap out of my kids in the house, which then follows with yells of "Jeez dad, turn it down!". The master volume for home practice sits at about 0.5 out of 10 (or 11?). Playing at band practice or shows in dive bars is about 1.5. It's pretty ridiculous(ly awesome) how loud this amp is.
EQ-wise, I looked up the owners manual for this amp model online and found out that the tone knobs are centered around these frequencies:
- Bass = 100Hz
- Mid = 500Hz
- Treble = 10KHz
- Presence = 3KHz
Even though it's an open backed cabinet, I know that cabinet thump is good fun. With cab thump centered around 120Hz, I crank the Bass knob to 11.
Also knowing that honky mids are centered around 600Hz, I drop the Mid knob down to about 3.5. Note that this is technically "scooping", which a lot of people will tell you is bad; but at the low mid range I'm good with it. It's the upper mids I like to boost in order to cut through in a band situation. Speaking of which, I max the Presence knob to cut through at 3KHz.
Then for treble, the amp can be incredibly bright. I don't want my sound to be shrill, so I drop the Treble knob down to about 3.5.
In the end, my 4U rack case also happens to fit perfectly on top of the amp when laying on its side. It fits in my guest room closet better for playing at home, and it elevates one speaker a little higher for when I play with a band.
There's a significant difference in sound between guitar/pickup and pedal combinations. It seems to handle varying input sounds very well, and that was a surprising benefit of the amp: It allows for a wider variety of sounds despite the channel and loop limitations. It really does shift my thinking for how to work with my sound--and that's a good thing.