Guitarist found itself in the swanky surroundings of Ronnie Scott’s Club in Soho on Tuesday 28 July for the launch of the all-new Marshall Class 5 amplifier.
When we heard that blues rock star Joe Bonamassa was launching the amp accompanied by his full band – not as a signature model it should be pointed out – we hazarded a guess at a firebreathing modded-Plexi style monster. Why? Well as we discovered in our look around his four 100-watt head live rig back in issue 301, we know that Joe doesn’t really do quiet. However…
The new amp is a class A, five-watt, all-valve combo using two ECC83s in the preamp and one EL84 in the power stage. It has a single, custom-designed Celestion 10-inch speaker in a birch ply cabinet and is designed for rehearsals, recording and small gigs.
Controls are kept to a minimum with just volume, treble, middle and bass for simple turn-it-up fun. There is also provision for using either headphones for silent practice, or hooking up to any 16-ohm speaker cabinet, such as a 1960 4 x 12, for more spread.
The amp’s price is a very reasonable £330, especially considering it’s built in England at Marshall’s Bletchley factory.
So how does a player used to such enormous volume and headroom get on with a five-watt combo, then? “Well it’s about 395 watts less than the amps I normally use,” laughed the ever genial Joe as we chatted before his 45-minute full-band set. “But mic’ed up, you can hear that it sounds great! It feels great too – it’s like a mini Bluesbreaker the way it reacts and sounds. I use them for warming up backstage and at home too.”
“We were using two today,” added Bonamassa’s tech Dave Pate following the performance. “We had a Bluesbreaker standing by just in case, but Joe didn’t need it.”
Fair play to Bonamassa and the Class 5, say we, because everybody in the room – including Marshall dealers and distributors from across the world, artists and indeed the Guitarist team – was knocked out with the sounds, and the man’s incredible playing of course. Who says you can’t gig with a five-watt amp?
On a slight but related tangent, many Bletchley employees were also in attendance at the launch – including Jim Marshall OBE – and the sense of pride in the British build was palpable, not least with the pressures of the current economic situation for every UK manufacturing business. ‘Made In The UK’ has real resonance for Marshall staff, and that resonance was certainly pleasing on the end of Bonamassa’s Les Pauls.
So, anything else new in the Bonamassa camp? “Well, we just recorded most of a new album,” he revealed. “Kevin Shirley [producer] had a window, so we took advantage of that and went to Greece and recorded some great new material.”
A release date? “We like to leave 18 months to two years between albums,” confirmed Joe, referring to current record The Ballad Of John Henry that was released earlier this year.
During his set at Ronnie Scott’s Joe was also playing a very cool Gibson Les Paul with a Bigsby featuring a highly figured sunburst top, and his signature Les Paul model fitted with white plastics instead of black.
“Ha, yeah – I just had some white parts lying around so I put them on there. $30 worth of parts and it totally changes the look of the guitar,” he laughs. “You know, you read some stuff on the internet and people get really serious about black or white plastics on my guitar!”
And the current tour? “We just have a few more dates in Scandinavia, then we’re back home. Man, I’ve been out here since April – we did the show at The Albert Hall which was just great. Eric Clapton came up and played Further On Up The Road – it was just great. And I’ve been doing the radio show weekly on Planet Rock in the UK too – they’ll let me play anything from Robert Johnson to Yes!”
Read the full review of the Marshall Class 5, after we’ve chance to put it through its paces, in issue 320 of Guitarist magazine, on sale 01 September.