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+ Points: Possesses THAT sound. Think Judas Priest 'Rapid Fire' crunch. Little to go wrong electronically if maintained properly compared to multi channel valve amps. Simple no nonsense operation. Brash crunchy sound with a tight metallic edge compared to other old Marshalls 50W proves more useful in small venues, practice rooms and studios
-Points: Probably expensive second hand by now Basically a one trick pony Works best with humbuckers (something like an SG sounds sensational) 50W may struggle to be heard if LOUD drummers or other 100W amps share the same stage
Here then is my favourite Marshall. 3 12AX7s, 2 EL34s, a solid state rectifier and a big transformer. Simple. If you like to turn up, turn on, ROCK then spend the evening nodding and smiling politely at groupies you can no longer hear this is the amp for you. Some would say one trick pony. I would argue no nonsense in an area where a lot of nonsense is spoken about presets and settings. It does one thing but it does it beautifully.
Choosing an amp can be tricky these days, what with all the endless voice modeling algorithms and thousand band parametric triple recto whatsits. None of this flies with me. I already have a computer, I want an amp. Transistors have their place but that place is not here. I grew up with that British rock guitar sound a la Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. If you like THAT sound and hate wasting time dialing in endless presets and stomping on little buttons this could be for you. Flexible it certainly is not, although one could argue this 50W 2204 version is more flexible than the 100W 2203 version which requires bleeding ears for maximum crunch.
Having owned both models I can safely say that if this amp is only ever to be used live for larger venues or if you like to be able to dial in a passable clean sound at volume go for the 100W as it has a little more volume and headroom before the crunch kicks in. If you use your amp for a variety of applications such as studio, practice room or home settings the 50W will allow more crunch at lower volumes and won't frighten sound guys at smaller venues quite so much. Clean(ish) sounds are obtainable by rolling off the volume on your guitar slightly. DI connector on the back gives reasonable results but must still be connected to a speaker for the sake of your output transformer. With the master volume turned down the low input will give you clean sounds and the high input will yield a rather fizzy (but still tubey) distortion. If you must play at low volume but need all the crunch try a Power Brake or something similar. Amongst other advantages the 50W has only 1 pair of output valves which is less costly when you come to replace them. It is also a fraction lighter which makes sense if you travel and do not have an army of serfs.
So turn on (for god's sake use the standby switch until it is warmed up) turn the master volume up and dial in the amount of crunch with the preamp volume. Easy. See those other 4 knobs marked treble, middle, bass and presence? You probably don't really need them as the difference they make is negligible unless all the way on or off. Some mids can be scooped if you like that sort of thing, however if you don't like mids do not buy any older marshalls as the mids cut like a knife and are the best bit in my opinion. Changing the brand of 12AX7s in the preamp section or using different combinations of brands (only in the preamp) will yield slightly different amounts of bass, highs and textures of distortion if you are that worried about tweaking your sound.
The high and low inputs can be modified with relative ease to allow a form of channel switching. Make sure yours has not been modified before you buy it. Another common mod is removing either 1 or 2 of the 470pf capacitors in the input stages. This yields less cutting treble and less microphonics and feedback at high volume if using with single coil pickups.
Overall if you are serious about your rock or heavy metal sounds and hate fiddling with knobs, this amp is a solid workhorse that will usually go at least a year between services with biweekly use if using quality output valves (something like a Ruby EL34).