Marshall has long packed their “affordable” range with small tube heads and solid state combos that approach, but never quite reach the “classic Marshall” sound – no surprise then that, as Marshall has come back into vogue, they’ve taken on a new approach with amps like the Marshall Origin 20 ORI20H.
For a fraction of the price of a vintage, or even modern reissue model, the Origin series has given players a way to get their hands on an all tube Marshall head. There’s no modeling technology or even high end solid state tube tone reproduction – you’ll get honest to goodness ECC83 and EL34 tubes, plus a built in attenuator, so there’s no need to worry about how you’ll get the Marshall crunch without getting the cops called on you!
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we got hands on with the fantastic Marshall Origin 20 ORI20H. Our good friends at Sweetwater were kind enough to provide us with a demo model, although as always, they asked for no editorial input and our opinions in this review are entirely our own.
So, does this budget friendly Marshall nail the classic Plexi tone everyone’s chasing? Let’s find out.
Who is This For?
The Marshall Origin 20 ORI20H is a great choice for everyone from intermediate and improving players looking for great tone that they can realistically get the most out of at home, as well as working musicians with access to a PA or front of house setup at their gigs.
While it aims to nail the tones of its forebears, it has been designed with the modern player in mind, which, in theory at least, makes it a simpler affair to extract great tone than it was from a real vintage Plexi. This definitely increases the appeal to the casual player, and anybody who works with a stereotypically ornery sound engineer will definitely appreciate the modern conveniences the Origin comes with.
Looks-wise Marshall really knocked this head out of the park. It boasts a handsome, timeless design, with classic Marshall aesthetic that would look as good in a living room as it would on stage or in the studio. If you’re trying to stand out, though, it is available in a limited edition (600 pieces) all cream finish – we didn’t actually get to see that version, so we’ll reserve judgment!
As mentioned, we received the 20 watt head for this test, although the 20 watt version is also available in a 1×10” combo format, too.
Generating the tone were 3 ECC83 preamp tubes, and 2 EL34 power tubes. The control panel was all pretty standard, with separate master volume and gain controls, a presence control, a full 3 band EQ, and a Tilt control. If you’re not familiar with the Tilt control, this is effectively how Marshall has chosen to replicate “jumping the channels” as was popular on their vintage models. Using the tilt knob lets you sweep between the normal (input one on a Plexi) through to the jumpered bright/normal position.
In addition to those controls, it also featured a built in FX loop, and the gain boost was controllable via foot switch (which was included).
The key point to remember with the Marshall Origin series, is that they are designed to sound like vintage amps. If you come into this expecting monster JCM distortion, you’re probably going to be very disappointed. Now, if you’re looking for authentic Plexi tone and performance in a modern day, more usable package, this is the amp for you.
Performance-wise, it felt a little like a Fender, insomuch as we needed to really push the gain hard to get it broken up – this was how it was on vintage Plexis, so this should be nothing new if you’re already familiar with classic Marshalls. Fortunately, with the attenuator, which Marshall has called the Powerstem Circuit, we were able to bring it down to 3 watts and 0.5 watts respectively, which made the process of hunting for the sweet spot much easier.
One thing to be aware of, however, is that the EQ doesn’t really function quite as you’d expect. We found that in order to get the best tone, we did have to work for it. We found that it was best to roll back the bass knob on the EQ all the way, and use the presence to control treble, and tilt to control the bass frequencies. This, with the master volume and gain dimed, resulted in some gnarly AC/DC type hard rock crunch that reminded us exactly why we love Marshall tube amps.
The relatively low gain performance made it an ideal pedal platform, too. In fact, if you’re looking for metal tones, and you’re dead set on getting this amp, you’ll need the assistance of pedals, as you won’t get the distortion you’re looking for from the tubes alone.
We found that it performed extremely well through a loadbox, too, in our case it was a Universal Audio OX. If you’re planning to invest in the Marshall for studio use (which we think is one of its strongest suits), you’ll be pleased to know that it doesn’t lose any of the mojo. If you’re planning to run it straight into a front of house setup, it does feature a speaker emulated DI output, too, which makes sure it sounds good, even without a loadbox.
Final thoughts on the Marshall Origin 20 ORI20H
To quote KGR head honcho, Brian, “Marshall has hidden a really good amp in there!”. The Marshall Origin 20 ORI20H definitely makes you work for the best tones, but man, when you find the sweet spot, it’s really a magical little head. It delivers all the fantastic vintage crunch that made the brand so famous, and yet, it can clean up and do country like a Fender if you want it to.
In all, it’s a great gigging amp, an amazing studio tool, and ultimately a really affordable way for the average Joe to get their hands on authentic Marshall vintage tube tones without having to resort to modelers or profilers.