After doing lots of more individual flavours of drive pedal overviews recently - it’s time to do another roundup of that most eternally favoured of amp distortion tones - the many flavours of Marshall. There are a few here that are based on JTM45 sounds - but generally I’ve separated the Bluesbreaker style pedals into their own category. Most of these are within that classic rock heyday range or sort of Plexi through JCM800.
I’ve tried to indicate most relevant Amp inspiration as applies, but some of those may be subject to further debate - and there is a lot of nuance here in the range of gain and saturation on tap even for pedals covering similar styles. As always - there is no substitute for you trialling these pedals yourself within your own rig - but after a while you can tune you ear into what kind of pedals you have a preference for - and can gauge pedal demos with some degree of accuracy - even though remote.
These 20 pedals featured here are my own personal favourites - of which I have a good half in the collection already, and several more here imminent. The pedals here vary hugely in scope and range - with 3 to 7 knobs of tone-sculpting often with a variety of additional clipping and voicing modes. So there should be something here for everyone. Not everyone will agree with my selection - but that’s really just down to a matter of opinion at the end fo the day - most players should be able to make great use of each of these - while some pedals obviously require a little more due patience and attention than others.
My purpose as always is to highlight what options and alternatives exist - so that you are more likely to find that which suits your own needs. I try to pick out the very best of what is available - but different commentators will no doubt have different recommendations - there should be a significant overlap in this particular case. All my pedals to date have been bough and paid for by myself so there is no undue alliance or bias here - I try to review everything as neutrally as possible - while we all have our own persona biases for format, layout and control topologies - and I really love to have 3-band EQs on all my distortions if I possibly can.
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand then model:
I like so much of what Alexander do - it's a marvel I don't have more of their pedals in my collection. This is definitely one of the ones that is high on the wishlist - one of the very few Silver Jubilee Amp soundalike pedals - the only other that comes to mind is the diminutive Jubilee Red from OneControl. This has the really great bright Jubilee jangle and sparkle - more people definitely need to get their hands on one of these and that includes me too.
James Brown's amp and pedal brand is one I've long admired, but I still don't have anything from his formidable range. It's a question whether I get this or the Tight Metal Pro/Jr first - the Tight Rock delivers wonderful Marshall tones with 3 main knobs 2, further 3-way switching tone/texture controls, and a mini Noise Gate dial. Amptweaker is best known for its metal pedals - but the output on this pedal is marvellous too.
The combination of Blues Driver + JHS's JCM800-style Angry Charlie voicing is a match made in heaven - both voicings are capable of great Marshall-style tones, and the combination of the two is magic - for really complex tone and texture. I used this as my main Blues Driver pedal for a while, but eventually rotated in the Keeley Phat Modded version for that slot. This remains an excellent addition to both my Blues Driver and Marshall tone library.
This is supposedly Andy Martin's favourite Marshall flavour pedal and has droves of fans for its combination of Super Lead and Super Bass modes via internal dip-switches and trim-pots. Externally you get the essential 3-band EQ that I really like to have on all my distortion pedals.
This was a surprise victor in an Andertons distortion pedal blind challenge around a year ago. At the time of peak interest there were none of these to be had, but now that awareness is dwindling there are number in circulation. A really great Marshall style voice with a lot of range from those 4 control pots. This kind of fluctuates on my wishlist - moving up and down the scale from week to week - there always seem to be other priorities that gazump it. It's partly to do with how much control and how many dials you like to have at your disposal. I as a pedal tweaker am frequently after maximum versatility and diversity, but I can appreciate a really well done relatively simple pedal too when it's this well tuned-in!
This pedal is still loved by many and takes pride of place on their board for higher gain distortion tones - while I've switched to the two REVV pedals fairly recently - running both G3 and G4 flavours. The BE-OD still remains a favourite, although I would prefer it with the same control topology that ended up on the Dirty Shirley - i.e. a dedicated Mids knob, and the Tightness dial reduced to a 3-way toggle switch on the side of the pedal. On the newer BE-OD Deluxe Dual Channel version those tone controls have actually been adopted, so I am hoping that there will be an updated V2 BE-OD Compact this year with those same tone controls.
This was on my wishlist for a while and the recent price-drop made it an easy acquisition decision. This is one of the best mid-gain Plexi style pedals out there with the perfect mix of tone controls. I'm very happy to have this Friedman pairing - and prefer to have those two as individual compact pedals versus the significantly larger BE-OD Deluxe. In any case the Dirty Shirley and BE-OD complement each other nicely.
JHS has a number of Marshall-flavoured pedals including the Angry Charlie and Charlie Brown matched set - which I covered earlier in my 6 Potent Pairings feature. I don't always select the same pedals each time I do these articles - it depends what is piquing my interest at the time. I am more excited about the dual footswitch Andy Timmons Plus in any case - and it's a pedal that's been on my wishlist for a while. The other pedal JHS can of course lay claim to is the previously mentioned Angry Driver collaboration with Boss - those two would be my preferences for JHS's Marshall flavours in any case
This the most recent addition to my own Marshall tone library courtesy of Phillip McKnight's now friend Lawrence - whom Phillip first introduced to large numbers of us. This is the most recent of his own Marshall flavours coming after his signature and widely successful Sixty 8 Plexi style special q.v. I obviously have a soft spot for JCM800 style voicings, and I'm a sucker for 3-band EQ's which here gets augmented by a further Presence/Sizzle dial and 2-way less/more gain toggle switch. As mentioned previously I track a large number of pedals - and when they come down in price by the right degree, and the timing is about right - then I usually pull the trigger which is what happened here.
The Sixty 8 Drive has appeared in several different versions and does still currently you can buy a soft or hard-switching compact version or the triple footswitch Sixty 8 Deluxe. This is a great sounding pedal, but I could personally really do with the 3rd EQ band - or a dedicated Mids dial which is so important for many of us modern players - and so useful within a band or recording mix. I typically prefer the compact format factor - but I would try and snag the earlier V1 versions - either in compact or the rarer mini enclosure. The earliest versions had Lo/Hi gain push button switches, then toggle-switches - but the gain switching is now only possible on the larger Deluxe version - so by all means play the waiting game and pounce on Reverb.com when the time is right.
I guess this is the simplest pedal in this listing - just the classic 3 controls - Volume, Tone and Gain - it is though a really great sounding Plexi style pedal with plenty of range actually despite its few controls. Many players still profess this to be their favourite Plexi pedal of choice.
I don't know why, but the Menatone The King. (Formerly King of Britains) somewhat slipped under my radar - where this is actually just the kind of format I love - with 7 tone-sculpting dials including full 3-band EQ, a 60's/70's/90's variable voicing selector alongside further Modern/Vintage toggle-switch. Very much intending to be the full range of Marshall tones within a very appealing singular compact enclosure. Of all those pedals featured here which I don't yet have in the collection - this one probably goes to the top of the wishlist. Means likely ordering direct from Brian Mena's website.
This is my current EVH pedal of choice for those late 70's and 80's saturated Variac style tones. Lots of people don't get along with this pedal because of its enormous range and how much each dial impact the sound. A little patience and perseverance pays of big style though - with the best tones for me reached with Gain around 11 / 11:30 o'clock and Volume at 12:00 o'clock onwards - and then just tiny movements on the smaller dials - which cover a vast range of frequencies.
Pettyjohn is another American brand in relatively short supply on this side of the pond, and hence lower level exposure - despite a very strong engineering and design execution. This brand has been somewhat under my radar until recently as it just hasn't been sufficiently communicated to me, and many of the pedal descriptions still remain somewhat ambiguous. We players always want to know what sort of ballpark we are likely to be operating in - so pedal builders/makers need to be more adept at describing where they see their pedals fitting in, and what the main differential is. This is Pettyjohn's only drive with 3-band EQ unless I'm much mistaken - which makes it doubly appealing for me. These pedals are typically superbly engineered and with sound to match.
And the award for most Marshall-looking pedal goes to the Ramble FX Marvel 3 which sounds just about as good as you would expect it to looking as good as this. You get a classic 4-pot layout with 18V/9V Headroom toggle switch. It's another of those pedals that sounds really great despite not having as many tone-sculpting options as many others on this page.
There was a That Pedal Show episode which Featured the above MI Effects Super Crunch Box V2, unusually for the guys - not particularly well demonstrated - but then it does a little bit more to dial it in - with all those extra options. The other 3 main pedals featured - the Suhr Riot, Bogner Burnley (£195) and Zvex original Box of Rocks (versus Vertical format featured here). I loved all those pedals then, had one already and determined to get the other 3 - so just the Box of Rock to go now. The Suhr Riot and Bogner Burnley are actually relatively similar with heaps of harmonic texture - the latter probably a little thicker sounding, but for some reason fewer players get on with that. Both the Riot and Burnley sound exceptional in my rig - but I select the Riot here as more people seem to get on with it. I tend to dial them in and use them slightly differently in any case - but you almost definitely would not have both active in your chain at the same time. For me the current hierarchy is Super Crunch > Riot > Burnley - but I have other options now to that I will need to rationalise within the rotation mix.
The Gunshot is a pedal that is not always associated with Marshall tones, but that is what I am informed it was modelled on - to drive you right through the range from Super Lead style Plexi through JCM800 and even onto JCM900. I of course have the ThorpyFX trifecta now in V2 mini format (Fallout Cloud + Gunshot + Warthog) - but I've determined that I really need a Peacekeeper too in order to round off the full set. The Calibre dial is really clever here in adding more texture and sizzle - and again it's amazing how much 4 pots can accomplish - even though my preference generally seem to be locked into 3-band EQs.
Wampler famously has a good number of Marshall flavours in its range - including the recent Bluesbreaker-style Pantheon. However those selected here are the JCM800 and Plexi clones - in alphabetical order really, The Pinnacle is widely considered the perfect EVH pedal - for which I currently have a number of alternative options. And while the standard Pinnacle is still excellent my preference would be for the slightly larger medium enclosure Pinnacle Deluxe - which I probably prefer overall to the official MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive based on those same sort of tones.
The Plexi here is a hot modded style JTM45 - probably latter Plexi models versus earlier Blues Breaker style amps. Another wonderfully rich and harmonic Wampler variation - where I would probably also go for the slightly larger Deluxe medium enclosure version - for the 3-band EQ and additional second Boost footswitch for a touch more versatility. It of course depends on what space you have available, and how much versatility you need here - you possibly have other boos pedals in your chain already.
I've already mentioned that this pedal has been on my radar for a while - and I was extremely excited when Zvex finally started releasing its classic pedals in more practical vertical compact enclosures - with dual footswitches and controls fully in tact. I've already acquired the Germanium Fuzz Face and Vibrophase pedals in that format - and fully intend to get those others currently available at some later stage - including this excellent sounding Box of Rock!
As mentioned in the intro - the Marshall-style pedal is about as common as the Tube Scramer type - meaning near enough every pedal builder has their version of at least one of the key Marshall Amp flavours. Here are some of the multitude that did not quite make it into my own top 20 favourites above:
I would also like to make mention of the excellent PedalPalFX of Venezuela who make 4 exceptional medium enclosure Marshall varieties - 800 JCM Emulator, 800 Gold Overdrive, 959 Plexi Emulator and 034 Night Overdrive based on Mod #34 - I have no hesitation in recommending those - and I would leap to action myself were they in the more compact enclosure format - all 4 sound tremendous though.
You can't go wrong with a Marshall-style pedal - it is universally the most popular style of distortion and the sound of all those legendary rock records throughout the last decades. There's probably more Amp makers inspired by Marshall than any other brand - and most pedal makers are trying to do the same in the pedal realm.
There is a vast array of different pedals available at every conceivable size and price range - and ever player will have their own preferences and favourites here. You might have other pedals in your chain - like Boosts and EQ's that lend further nuance to these pedals - the Tube Screamer + Marshall or Fuzz Face + Marshall combination has been a classic for decades.
If you're anything like me - then exposure, price and availability will be key factors in determining which pedals you end up acquiring. And once you have one or two pedals from one brand - you kind of get used to how they are tuned in - and so are likely to buy more from the same range. I go a slightly different route - where I actively seek out the best for every category. But you cannot know everything - there are so many pedal brands out there, and depending on where and how you acquire them you may have further limits on what you acquire.
I don't buy a season cinema ticked as I use different cinemas for different types of films - no one cinema shows all the releases - and there are further distinctions between indy / forging language films etc - as well as special events. So I approach pedals in a similar manner - yes I support those vendors that I have a connection with and that give me great service, but then I also continually endeavour to seek out new and under-the-radar pedal-builders - where you might have to purchase direct, or via Reverb.com - second-hand even.
I think most will be satisfied by all and any of the above mentioned - but it does depend on exactly which variety of Marshall you are looking for - and how much gain and saturation you want in your tone - I'm one of the few that likes the full curve of possibilities.