by Mark King
|20 WATT MARSHALL ORIGIN HEAD AND COMBO AMP|
The Marshall 20 watt Origin series is a bargain. It's a versatile vacuum tube guitar platform that complements a huge variety of tones ranging from jazz to blues to rock. These amplifiers are designed by Marshall engineers in England and they are manufactured in Viet Nam. The build quality and reliability have been equal to my Boogie and Fender products.
Back in the late 70's I ran the Marshall factory service center for Merrits Underground Music Center. In the 1980's I had my own music store which bought, repaired and sold nuerous classic used Marshall heads.
All of this repair work gave me a good understanding of the circuitry in Marshall heads and a unique perspective on particularly good sounding examples of Marshall craftsmanship. There were also plenty of bad heads along the way. The plus or minus 10% variability of parts back then played havoc with consistency. Fender products were also subject to widely varying levels of quality control.
Back to the Origin. What is it?
|VINTAGE MARSHALL PLEXI HEAD, 2-PREAMPS WITH 4 INPUT JACKS|
Look at older Marshall heads that have a cluster of four input jacks, two for each of the two input volume controls, one with a dark tone and one with a bright tone. Hendrix and many other players would put a jumper between the channels so both preamps could get involved in creating the tone. The jumper allowed the bright and dark channels to be blended together.
|INPUTS JUMPERED TOGETHER|
I don't have any inside data, Marshall did not comment for this article but I'm going to share my experiences and what I think is going on.
Basically I think Marshall engineers put a pan pot between the bright and dark input channels of a vintage Marshall preamp design, the control is labeled "Tilt" on the Origin series. You get the tone of the two preamps and the ability to blend them together however you want with the turn of a single knob, no jumper cable required.
|TILT CONTROL IS SECOND KNOB FROM THE RIGHT|
To me this is a big improvement over patching the two channels together externally. An external patch cord introduces additional resistance in the signal path which can affect tone in adverse ways.
The output section of the Origin is based on classic Marshall tube circuit design. They provide a switchable effects loop before the output stage.
MY ORIGIN AMPLIFIERS
|20 WATT MARSHALL ORIGIN HEAD|
I bought my 20 watt Origin head over a year ago. I bought my Origin 20-watt combo about six months ago. The electronics for both of these amps are identical, only the cabinet packaging makes them separate and unique models.
There are no effects like reverb or tremolo built into these Marshall Origin amps. With the exception of the effects loop I would say these amps look, sound and feel like vintage amps. After personally owning over 50 Marshall heads and amps I can say they don't all sound good with any old guitar.
The Origin 20 watt head is a nice compact physical size, it features classic Marshall styling and I love the light weight. The vinyl and control knobs are classic Marshall in appearance. I miss having a "Standby" switch, instead you get a high-medium-low output power switch. I think the Origin sounds best at it's highest output power.
|MARSHALL 20-WATT COMBO AMP|
The Origin 20-watt combo is similar in size to a Fender Deluxe Reverb. This Marshall features a 10" Celestion speaker in an open back enclosure and the whole package looks like a miniature Blues Breaker combo. There is a back panel where you can access the effects loop and unplug the stock speaker to use the amplfier portion to drive external speakers. I'm not a fan of top mounted controls like those on the Origin 20-watt combo but it allows them to use the exact same chassis in both products.
|VENTS AND TOP MOUNT CONTROLS PREVENT STACKING ON TOP OF COMBO|
The head and combo are identical and feature:
Removeable IEC power cord
Foot-switchable effects loop
(2) EL34 power tubes, (3) ECC83 preamp tubes
Selectable output impedance of 8 or 16 ohms (no 4 ohm loads are supported)
Includes two button footswitch for effects loop and boost
Head = 20.7 pounds, Combo = 30.6 pounds
Tilt control, three-band EQ, master volume and master presence controls
The effects loop on any amplifier is a compromise in signal level, should it be right for instrument level stomp boxes or the bigger signals used by line level, studio gear? Some manufacturers have attempted to offer both with varying levels of success and additional complexity.
|MARSHALL 20-WATT ORIGIN HEAD REAR PANEL|
In my experience I think Marshall has done a good job of finding a compromise on the effects loop that works well with small-instrument-level and big-line-level signals. I regularly use a Joyo Atomosphere reverb pedal in the effects loop of my Origin combo which does not have an inbuilt reverb of any kind. It is a lot more convenient using a stompbox reverb than a rack mount style.
The Boost feature on the Origin is handy but it sounds different depending on the instrument and pickups you're using. Sometimes Boost sounds great but sometimes not. These are analog vacuum tube amplifiers and there are a lot of different impedances inside which are trying to get along. Some combinations of pickups may not flatter the Boost feature and likewise Boost may not flatter some guitars. It is something you need to try.
|ORIGIN 20 WATT COMBO REAR PANEL IS DIFFICULT TO REACH|
The open back Origin combo is not going to give you a great metal sound by itself. I mention this because the Marshall brand has been associated with some of the biggest metal and hard rock acts in the world. You can route the amplfier portion of the Origin combo to an external 4x12 cabinet and get into the right sonic territory but you'll need the assistance of a stompbox to achieve real metal tones.
The Origin head driving a Marshall 4x12 loaded with Vintage 30 speakers is getting you close to metal tones with the boost function engaged. A Waza Metal Zone pedal takes the Origin to a fun heavy sounding place. An OCD or Tube Screamer combination might also work.
I tend to think of the Origin amplifiers as good starting points for sounds and various tones. The combo Origin has a nice classic bright and tight sound through the internal 10" Celestion. I thought I might hate this speaker but it has a big full sounding voice in the Origin combo cabinet.
I like the sound produced by the Origin head when it's driving a 4x12 closed-back cabinet full of Celestion speakers. It produces the best tone in high power mode. Unfortunately the low power modes don't sound great to me, useable but not great. Perhaps it's just my old ears but the amp sounds less warm, more dry and solid state tone using the medium and low power modes. It does not sound like it's working hard or straining which is where I think a lot of classic Marshall tonal magic exists.
|POWER SWITCHES, OUTPUT CONTROLS AMOUNT OF OUTPUT POWER|
These amplfiers sound good in high power mode at almost all input and volume settings. A 5150 Overdrive pedal lights up a 20-watt Marshall Origin in classic sounding ways. These amps sound good when pushed with a Tube Screamer. I think the 20-watt Origin amps are a great bargain and both provide the user with a good basic tube amplifier for very reasonable prices.
I bought my Origin head first and liked it so much in the studio that I added a 20-watt combo to my fleet when it was on sale. The combo is a favorite of mine when I want a fast way to check out a new pedal, guitar or effect. The Origin combo has a nice full tube sound without a bunch of unnecessary or unneeded features.
Driven with a Gibson SG loaded with full size humbucking pickups the Origin is capable of delivering classic rock tones without additional assistance. Add a couple of your favorite effect pedals and you've got an excellent performng amplifier for a rock bottom price.
Great tone, light weight and affordably priced, the Marshall 20-watt Origin models offer a lot of performance no matter what your budget and music styles are.
Good music to you!
BTW this review is copyright 2021 by Mark King, it's not ok to copy or quote without written permission. H.o.T. is a labor of love so there are no affiliate links or advertising. Thanks for reading.
|20-WATT MARSHALL ORIGIN HEAD AND COMBO|