Jim Marshall on designing the Marshall Major
Q: Other than Pete Townshend, which other artists influenced specific Marshall amp designs?
A: The Marshall Major was a 200-watt head made for Ritchie Blackmore, and he's still got the same one. The amp, being 200 watts, overheated a lot because in those days the tubes didn't last very long. The original Majors used EL34s. Then we changed the tubes in Ritchie's amp to KT66s. Customers had a choice to order the amp with either EL34s or KT66s. We made very few of them.
Taken from: http://www.vintageguitar.com/brands/details.asp?ID=90
THE WHO and their Marshall Major Stacks
"Marshall user Tim Comella supplied this information on the Marshall Major amplifier, commonly known as "The Pig". I want to thank Tim for passing it on to the rest of us.
The Marshall 200 was released circa 1967 in response to the need for more power than the 100 watt stacks at the time. The 200 featured active tone controls and was nicknamed a "Pig" by David Bowie's guitar player [Mick Ronson] who swore by them and used his Pigs exclusively throughout the Ziggy Stardust era of late '60s - mid '70s.
In late 1967-early 1968, the front panel and circuitry of the Pig was revised and made wider to be identical in width to the [then] standard dimension of their 100 watt heads. Concurrent with that change, the "Marshall 200" (aka "Pig") was re-named to Marshall "Major".
Note that for both the Pig (Marshall 200) and Major, the height of the box for the head was slightly taller than the standard 100-watt heads in order to accommodate transformers needed for the 200 watt output."
Taken from: http://www.blamepro.com/marmajor.htm
Technically Speaking: Steve Wilson (on his work with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Stevies Marshall Major)
By: Scott L. Tribble
Publisher: Guitar.com (5/15/2003)
At Guitar.com, we always bring you the unbiased word on guitars. In this month’s installment of Technically Speaking, though, we’ll be indulging our bias—amp bias, that is. And, on that subject, who better to consult than the Bias King himself, Steve Wilson?
Wilson got his start as a production assistant before hooking up with Stevie Ray Vaughan. Wilson served as Vaughan’s amp & keyboard tech until the guitarist’s tragic death in 1990. Since then, through his own Ambient Sound business, Wilson has serviced or reworked amps for Marty Stewart, The Black Crowes, Cinderella, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, and many more. Wilson has also designed and developed his own product, the Bias King, to help amp owners keep their tubes in check. And, these days, when he’s not behind an amp, Wilson’s out on the road with the Kentucky Headhunters, serving as the band’s sound technician and friendly DVD supplier.
Wilson recently took part in an e-mail interview with Guitar.com, and we’re happy to share with you the Bias King’s responses.
Guitar.com: Where did you grow up?
Steve Wilson: Louisville, KY.
Guitar.com: When did you first start becoming interested in music and, specifically, playing guitar?
Wilson: I was in high school. I remember hearing TJW [Tony Joe White] do “Polk Salad Annie,” and that was all she wrote! J
Guitar.com: Did you play in any bands?
Wilson: I played in a band all through high school and dropped out of Speed Scientific School at the University of Louisville to go on the road and play rock n’ roll. It would be called “Classic Rock” now –Allman Brothers, Free, Bad Company, ZZ Top, etc.
Guitar.com: What was your own setup back then?
Wilson: Started out with a White Gibson Les Paul Custom (SG style) through an Acoustic 150 on a 4x12 cane front Marshall cab – still have that stack! Went to a Super Reverb on that same cabinet, but switched to a sunburst Les Paul Deluxe. Then, I found a 100W Marshall stack (the first one in Louisville!) with two cane front “greenback” cabs in the newspaper. Stayed with the Les Paul, but the 100W head was too much. Switched to a ’74 50W head with the two cabs. About that time, I switched to a ’64 Dakota Red Strat that I used until I quit playing in ’81. That’s where I stayed for the duration.
Guitar.com: How did you transition from playing in bands to serving as amp tech? What interested you about becoming an amp tech?
Wilson: I love the smell of solder in the morning. :-) I had always been a “techie.” My brother and I would build lighting controllers and “flash pots” out in the garage. I always built and hooked up the PA for our band. I recall one time having all three of our Marshall heads apart (the other guitarist had a pair) 30 minutes before the show started, installing a “new” master volume circuit [that] I came up with after studying the schematic. In this “novel” approach, I took the signal from the treble wiper to a pot and turned down the signal going into the phase inverter. I guess I found out that I would just as soon solder as play guitar.
Guitar.com: Did you have any formal background in this stuff or was it all “learn-as-you-go”?
Wilson: I had no vacuum tube background at all. All the college info was transistor-related. Ohm’s Law and Kirchoff’s Current Law are pretty universal. All the tube stuff came from old Navy electronics books [that] I found at flea markets or hamfests. The big flood came when I found the Radiotron Designer’s Handbook: Volume 4. I already had Volume 2, but there’s no comparison to the big red book.
Guitar.com: What was the biggest challenge in your early days as an amp tech?
Wilson: It took me a while to understand just how much the Screen Grid affected the operation of the tube. Once I got that, it seemed much easier.
Guitar.com: How did you come to work with Stevie Ray Vaughan?
Wilson: I was working as a production assistant for a concert promoter at a Jeff Beck/SRV show and met Rene Martinez backstage. He had a blackface Fender Vibroverb apart that had some problems. I offered assistance and gave him my card. When Cezar Diaz left to go with Bob Dylan, I was called to replace him.
Guitar.com: What were your responsibilities?
Wilson: I was Stevie’s amp tech and Reese Wynan’s keyboard tech. During the show, I would watch Reese and Tommy (Shannon), in case they needed anything.
Guitar.com: Describe a typical day with Stevie on the road.
Wilson: I would set up the keyboards and bass rig first. Then, I would break out the rolling shop. I had a scope, signal generator and dummy load in a rolling rack full of tubes and parts that I carried. I would have to replace all the arced sockets in the Marshall Major and any shorted tubes or burned screen resistors. Stevie always closed with “Voodoo Chile” and would look over his shoulder at the Major to see if the pilot light was still on, ‘cause it would blow up about every other night.
Guitar.com: What amps was he using when you were with him?
Wilson: When I started, he had a 1-15 Vibroverb driving a Vibrotone, a Dumble Steel String Singer on a 4x12 EV loaded cab, a 200w Marshall Major on a 4x12 EV loaded cab, and a pair of blackface Super Reverbs with the two bottom speakers replaced with EVs. When we did The Tonight Show, Fender brought him a pair of the new reissue ’59 Tweed Bassmans. I still have the original Fender tags off of those amps. (This was the same time Larry Brooks was taking micrometer and caliper measurements from the neck of Stevie’s “#1” Strat that later became the SRV signature model) He used these new Bassmans in place of the Supers from that point on. These were all hooked up with a passive splitter that was simply a box with several ¼” jacks wired in parallel. The signal loss was never a problem. Stevie didn’t like distortion unless he created it. He wanted to play loud and clean. That’s why he always plugged into the low sensitivity inputs on the Supers.
Guitar.com: Did Stevie himself typically sound check?
Wilson: Always! He loved to play. He even Super Glued his callouses back on when they would come off. That’s devotion!
Guitar.com: What were some of the biggest challenges during sound check? What were the typical problem spots?
Wilson: They always seemed to go well, other that a bit of monitor feedback. Stevie always wore the hat, and that would scoop the signal straight back to the wedges! (Bless you, Randy! I know that was frustrating!)
Guitar.com: Did you guys spend a lot of time refining his sound?
Wilson: He could play through any rig and still sound the same. We once spent a whole day working on the Supers. He was hearing some distortion and we were trying to get it out. Stevie had a great ear! He would tell Rene that one of his speakers was bad, and we would check it out. He was always right on. We had a fly date in Alaska where the gear had to be rented. Stevie played through a 4x12 Marshall cab loaded with Celestions. After the show we were walking around the ice, and I asked him how he liked the Celestions. He said, “What did you think?” I told him that I heard some things I liked about them. He agreed. He liked to get your opinion first, before he gave his. I guess that cut down on the possibility of being surrounded by “yes” people that just agree with everything.
Guitar.com: What was your most memorable concert with Stevie?
Wilson: It had to be Stevie’s last show at Alpine Valley. There was, as corny as it may sound, an electricity in the air that night. Everyone was even talking about it after the show.
Guitar.com: Let’s focus on amps for a bit. Tube vs. solid-state? Any thoughts? ;)
Wilson: It’s actually pretty hard to tell the difference until they distort. That’s when the “magic” happens for guitar. A mentor of mine once told me that solid-state equipment ran on “smoke.” When I questioned him on that, he told me that when you let the “smoke” out of a transistor, it would quit working. I’ve always heard “solid waste” when folks refer to transistor gear, but I just retired a pair of consecutive number Mac 60 mono blocks in favor of some solid state Carver Silver Seven-t monoblocks. The Carvers outperform the Macs in every area. I need to sell those Macs on E-bay!
The natural compression and harmonic content are very musical with tubes. From a repair and mod standpoint there’s no comparison. The tube stuff is just so easy to get around in. You usually don’t need any service info or part numbers. Can’t do that with a solid-state piece. The tube downside might be the weight from all the iron in the transformers. I just worked on an SVT for NRBQ (that’s a lot of initials!), and I could barely lift it up on the bench!
Guitar.com: Who should use tube amps and what should someone look for in a good tube amp?
Wilson: Anyone looking for an amp that will “play” back should check out a tube rig. The bounce from the compression makes it seem like the amp is responding to your touch in an almost human way. I would pick an amp that sounds good clean. It’s harder to make a good sounding “clean” amp than a “bumble bee in a box”.
Guitar.com: What are some of your favorite tube amp models and why?
Wilson: Any pre-’74 Marshall is the stuff! In your face and takin’ names. I really like the BF Super Reverb and the tweed Deluxe. The 1-15 tweed Pro from the late 50’s is a great sounding amp, as is the ’59 tweed Twin and Bassman. There are just so many great amps out there that any of them can hold their own as long as they are in good working order and set up correctly with good speakers.
Guitar.com: What is the most exotic amp you’ve ever worked on?
Wilson: I have tweed Gibson Stereo Trem-a-Vibe that had a leaky coupling cap. Now it sounds great. A 15 in the middle and a 6x9 on each end facing out. The straight sound comes out of the 15 and the tremolo bounces back and forth between the 6x9s.
Guitar.com: Tell us about Ambient Sound…
Wilson: I started Ambient Sound in 1978 or ’79. I was playing in a regional band and started doing mods and repairs on Marshalls along with some audio consultation. I needed a company to order parts through, so I set it up. Now we make the Bias King products and have a couple of other projects in the wings.
Guitar.com: Can you explain for our readers the concept of amp bias? How does bias affect the sound of a tube amp and how can it affect tube life?
Wilson: WARNING! Shameless plug to follow… The easiest way would be to check out this web site: http://www.biasking.com and click on the “What is the Bias and How Does it Work” link.
Guitar.com: When and how did you first come up with the Bias King idea?
Wilson: I’m a tube Hi-Fi buff, and a lot of the old tube Hi-Fi amps had a resistor in the Plate or Cathode to measure the bias current and a set of test points for easy meter access. I didn’t want to modify the old classic gear with holes for meter access points, so the socket idea with a meter attached came to mind. I’ve been making these ever since I can remember working on the stuff, but they looked a lot different! Big round meters the size of a ’57 Buick were the norm. Tom Keifer from Cinderella actually had me make him one with the old style meter, just ‘cause it looked so darn cool! I spent 3 days in the studio with Tom and watched him play a killer old Tele through a 200W Marshall Major (he has about 6!) with four 4x12 cabs. It was the most incredible sound I have ever heard! He would even check the bias between takes to make sure the tone hadn’t shifted.
Like anything else, necessity is the mother of invention. If you don’t want to drill holes in your mint condition ’72 100W Marshall Super Lead with Green Tolex to add meter test points, and don’t want to take the head out of the chassis every time you just want to check the bias, you gotta’ do something! :-)
Guitar.com: Typically, how often should one bias an amp?
Wilson: Every time you change output tubes is a minimum. If you want to go further, you could check it every week, every day, or between songs. I never check mine unless it’s a new set of tubes, or the amp starts sounding different. A quick bias tweak will usually set it straight.
Guitar.com: Where is Bias King available?
Wilson: There are two models. Both are only available through dealers such as: Antique Electronic Supply [http://www.tubesadnmore.com], Mojo Music Supply [http://www.mojotone.com], New Sensor Corp. [http://www.newsensor.com], The Tube Store [http://www.thetubestore.com], and TecSol [http://tec-sol.com/bias_king.htm].
Guitar.com: Can you name some of your more famous Bias King customers?
Wilson: We’ve sold Bias Kings in six countries, so far. Fender, Marshall (Korg), Trace-Elliot, Belov and Ampeg have all ordered Bias Kings for the repair bench. There are a ton of players out there with them from Billy Gibbons and Brian Setzer, to the Kentucky Headhunters and Cinderella – and all points in between. You DO have one or two yourself, don’t you? ;-)
Guitar.com: Any plans for future Bias King products or enhancements?
Wilson: We just redesigned the custom molded cable and power supply this year. I think we’ve squeezed as much juice from this grape as we can get. We’ve got a couple of other projects on the back burner, and when the Headhunters get too old for all this foolish traveling, I’ll have time to work on them! :-)
Guitar.com: Speaking of the Headhunters, how did you get together with them?
Wilson: I had known the guys for years from playing around here and worked on Greg [Martin]’s amps. After Stevie’s accident, Greg called and said, “Come hang out with us on the road and chill.” It felt so good I never left! :-)
Guitar.com: How often do you go out with the guys?
Wilson: We usually do the weekend State Fair thang or a festival along with a couple of 3-4 week runs thrown in throughout the year.
Guitar.com: What are your official responsibilities?
Wilson: I mix the FOH and take care of any technical issues that may crop up, but my main job description is provider of DVDs for the bus! BTW, be sure and check out the new Headhunter CD called Soul!
Guitar.com: One final question: When you’re out on the road and working on amps, what separates a good day from a bad day?
Copyright © 2005: Scott L. Tribble
REVIEWS OF MARSHALL MAJOR AMPS
(taken from http://www.harmony-central.com/Guitar/Data/Marshall/Major-01.html
Can you say sound pressure levels, boys and girls. As everyone else has pointed out this amp is lethal. The sound that comes form it is pure and can reach unreal volume levels. I'd say it could be used as a weapon if necessary. I'm going by memory which is foggy since I was so involved in the sound of this amp that I almost didn't even look at the controls or options. I did notice that the amp head was very heavy with a transformer the size of a small dog. I had to put it up on top of 2 4x12 cabinets and it was all I could do to lift it.
Sound Quality: 10
I used a strat with it and tried all of the 5 ways positions for sound. It seemed as if the sound was so big that the smallest change made a dramatic difference. I cranked the volume and stood back with a 30 foot cord, turned up the guitar and hit the strings. Since this was in a music store and after hours I proceeded to wail out on it while everything in the store rattled. It was great, I had to stand well back to avoid screaching feedback and hearing damage but it was the rush of a lifetime. At 7-8 on the volume (no master) this thing would sustain any note indefinately. Although it was great to play through it. It would only be practical if you were doing a concert in an arena or outside. Imagine a JCM800 on steroids and growth hormones.
After I had had my fill I shut her down and left to go to the drug store next door in the strip mall to find the clerks picking up stuff off the floor complaining about the mad man next door playing guitar really loud. I said nothing bought my cigarettes and slipped out the door with a silly grin on my face.
It's a tank I think it had at least 4 6550 power tubes. Like most tube amps they need regular maintenance but I'd say this thing was a pretty tough amp. It had to be 20 years old and looked like it was hardly used. No longer made so definately no warranty issue here.
Customer Support: N/A
not applicable this amp's warranty was long gone.
Overall Rating: 10
If you're the kinda person who thinks a 5150 has a big sound you have no idea what you are talking about. A Marshall Major would eat several of them for breakfast. This amp is only for someone who has a twisted idea of how loud you have to be and how big your amp needs to be, but that being said the Marshall Major is the boom. Although I've never used a double JCM800 stack, I imagine it would be getting close to what a Major sounds like. I heard that Richie Blackmore used these things in concert. They have two handles on the top since they are best carried by two people. This amp was hands down the loundest proudest tone machine I have ever had the pleasure to play through. Try one out sometime if you can, you'll understand what I'm saying.
Submitted by Mike B at 03/15/2005 12:53
This amp has just enough control to get the sounds you want, nothing more, nothing less. All the standards: Presence, Bass, Mid, Treble &* Volume..each set of inputs having their own set of knobs. There are 2 sets each with 2 jacks....
Sound Quality: 10
This amp can produce some of the fattest clean sounds out there! As with all old amps there is no "gain" control..so if you want to push it, grab your earplugs...but the tone only gets better as you crank the knobs to 11. I have a variety of guitars ranging from a 88 PRS custom 24, to a LP Classic, then to an old 360 ric with is beat to death. Although the sound varies a bit I can still get everything from spanking clean tones all the way to low clip finesse.
I havent had it very long a friend of mine's father owned it and had it stowed in a stoage bay!!!! I have been recording with it now for a few months and after a bit of Cleaning and TLC the amp has been working like a champ!
Customer Support: N/A
Overall Rating: 8
If you find one buy it. If you know someone who has one, play it, then try to buy it. I dont recommend this, however, stealing one would be worth it as well. Sounds awesome. Weighs a ton. Loud.
Submitted by Greg at 06/20/2004 17:46
The amp is a 1969 Marshall Major. Which is the same amp and even year as Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore's primary Marshall heads, although they did not change except when they got rid of active electronics in 1968 (which I have never used but only heard bad about) until they stopped making them in 1974 because the tubes were becoming too expensive.
The tubes are kt88, but many people modify them with 6550s (which completely butchers the amp... please just sell the amp if you are going to do that, because there is no point in having it!) because the kt88's which are really massive tubes but also high end audio tubes, start at around $120 a pop and could run you near $200 for high end tubes, and it is a set of four, so one could imagine the dent in one's wallet. I am thankful they have held up very well for me.
It is identical to the plexis, with a high and low input for both channels (channel 1 is highs, 2 is lows) with presence, bass, middle, treble and a volume control for each channel. If you cross link the channels, the tone control is now as if you have a 5 band EQ or more. There is one modification that has been done to the amp: a master volume has been installed before I bought it, which I was ticked when I learned it was modified, but I realise that even though the amp sounds best with the poweramp maxed, it is very necessary so I do not wake the entire town at every band practice. I do suggest earplugs however!
If you need power, this is the amp for you. It completely buries any amp I've played against.. in fact it easily buried my friend's 150 Watt Mesa Triple Rectifier head cranked with the power amp up about a third by eye and a lot less by ear! (Both played through my 300 Watt Marshall cabinets too!)
My cabinets are JCM800 era 1960 and 1960A, with the 75 watt Celestions. Creation of these cabinets are a blessing to any Major player, as back in the 70s, you had to run the amp through four of the old 100 watt Marshall cabinets just to reach your ideal amp-speaker wattage, but I can make do with just one 300 watt cabinet just fine.
Sound Quality: 10
There are so many different settings in this amp, that I have honestly had it for years and still not touched half of its potential. My one gripe with the amp is I would like more gain, however I am finding that it has a lot more gain than I realise if I am willing to sacrifice hearing. (Actually has about as much gain as an unmodded JCM800 which was during its day supposed to be a high-gain head).
However no new Marshall (especially with the JCM2000 which has been dubbed the "numetal" amp for a reason, and the AVT/MF shit!), except the Plexi reissue heads which are pretty faithfull reissues, can match the tone of the old Marshalls. In order to get gain, you have to thin the tone out, and this amp is very fat sounding. Even my '92 UK edition Vox, which was an exact replica of the 60s models with a standby switch added, compared to the newer AC30s that they "modernized" is much fatter sounding and has more bass, clarity and just more tone than the "modernized" amps, and they didn't even mod them for gain, they just tried to remove some of the lows. (They also cut way back on the reverb, and Vox's had the best reverb so that's a big thumbs down!)
I have three guitars... first is a G&L S-500 which is total junk and doesn't have enough balls for the old amps, hardly even gets warm (keep in mind they are a fraction the output of the cheap Fender pickups such as on a mexican strat even! junk!)
Second is a 1995 Gibson Les Paul Classic, with 10s or 11s. I really would like a LP Standard much better, especially through a vintage amp as a standard can pull off the Led Zeppelin tones perfectly. The classic comes close, but doesnt quite cut it. If you cross link the channels, put all the controls to 10 and the bass at the halfway point (or all the way down for a more 80s tone), and set the master volume if you have it installed to enough power to shake the floor, the resulting tone while it is by no means high gain, is nonetheless an extremely heavy tone that sounds something like Liquid Tension Experiment's Acid Rain. If you cut the middle to halfway, it's a very dark, Black Sabbath tone.
Third guitar, which is becoming my favorite is an Ibanez Jem 7vwh I got last November. I have only had 9s on it so far, yet it still has plenty of tone. The pickups have twice the output of the Les Paul, however the mids and highs are boosted so that it maintains the clarity of the string almost like a single coil... very cool sound! Generally the Jem does not obtain the dirt the Les Paul does because of its clarity and the guitar rings new, so I have a very tough time finding my tone between the two. What I found today is if I leave the middle at the halfway point and back off on channel 2 (the lows) and crank the power amp up to make up for any lost gain (and use one cabinet and stand as far away from it as I can so I can preserve my hearing!), it sounds just like Iron Maiden (Fear of the Dark era)! Roll off the bass and it sounds closer to powerslave. The Jem is pretty close to a strat with humbuckers anyway,
I am thinking of buying an input booster for more gain and a treble booster to get a more modern type of distorted tone.. My friend had a wireless unit with an input boost and the amp instantly had about as much gain as a JCM900 with the power amp to where it kicks in, or maybe a JCM900 or modded 800 just so I can practice with more gain at lower volumes.
The amp even has the original chord. The tolex is in better condition than most Marshalls that old are. Tubes lasted me almost 4 years now. No problems at all so far.
Customer Support: N/A
Warranty? Back in 1969 that word wasn't even invented yet!
Overall Rating: 10
I paid $800 for the head, and $700 for 2 cabinets. I have had offers for this head for over three times what I paid for it. It is certainly not for sale.
And if someone stole it from me, I would hunt them down, and drop the amp on their head a few times, as it weighs approximately a pound per watt and I have a great repairman :)
Submitted by Dean at 02/27/2004 11:58