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Marshall 1962 HW Bluesbreaker and 1973X Combos Reviewed

August 26, 2014
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MARSHALL’S RECENT REISSUING of two classic amps of the ’60s and ’70s is welcome news for anyone who revels in classic British tube tone. The list of guitar amplifiers that have attained mythical status since the 1960s most certainly includes Marshall’s model 1962 combo from 1965—particularly the series II version that Eric Clapton used on the famous “Beano” album (a.k.a. John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers). Powered by two KT66 output tubes, the “Bluesbreaker”—as it has come to be known—was custom built at the request of Clapton, who wanted a stageworthy rig that could fit in the “boot” of his car. Jim Marshall accommodated the young guitarist by taking a 30-watt JTM-45 tremolo head, flipping it on its side with the controls facing upward, and bolting it into an open-back cabinet that held two Celestion 12" speakers. Though about two-thirds the size of a half stack, it was Marshall’s first combo.

Probably seeking to downsize the model 1962, Marshall introduced the 1973X combo around 1966. (If you’re confused by the model numbers and issue dates, welcome to the club!) This amp produced 18 watts from a pair of EL84 power tubes, and it also featured a tube-driven tremolo. Besides being easier to lug around, the ’73X could be driven into distortion at lower volume than its 30-watt sibling, making it more suitable for cranking up on smaller stages, while still keeping the wide soundstage afforded by two 12s in a open-back cabinet.

I tested these amps with a Gibson 1963 ES-335 TDC reissue, a PRS Modern Eagle II, and a Buzz Feiten T-Pro.

1962HW Bluesbreaker
1962HW

Two things visually define the British-made 1962HW: size and style. This big combo is 32" wide and stands almost two feet tall, and it features period-correct cosmetic touches, including salt-and-pepper grillecloth framed in white piping, a gold plexiglas panel, the requisite four inputs, and a complement of controls that includes dual Volumes, 3-band EQ (Bass, Middle, Treble), and Presence, Speed, and Intensity knobs.

Though originally equipped with an aluminum chassis, steel is now used for extra strength, and within this heavy-gauge housing we find hand-wired circuitry on vintage-style tag boards, with very clean wiring runs to the pots, jacks, and switches. The components are primarily from U.S. and British manufacturers and the transformers are from Drake, who was the original maker. It’s all very reminiscent of the innards of a Marshall from the mid 60’s, and the labor involved in building a tube amp this way nowadays—especially at such a high level of execution—makes the 1962HW a real fair deal for anyone shopping in the upscale market.

Firing up the 1962HW is a rewarding experience, as this amp has a burly sound with plenty of headroom afforded by the muscular KT66 power tubes. Even at low volume this amp has quite a presence, and it just gets bigger and badder as you turn it up. The ’62HW isn’t modded for extra gain, so getting to a level of overdrive suited for lead playing requires a healthy twist of the Volume control. It sounds killer when you crank it, but the volume delivered by those two 12s is pretty intense for smaller rooms and stages, and that’s why it’s more practical to use it with a distortion pedal for your higher gain tones.

The tremolo adds a rich throb to the tones, and the range of the Speed and Intensity controls gives you a lot of ways to deploy the effect— everything from a subtle pulse behind a rhythm part to a corpulent stutter that’s great for embellishing breaks, etc. It’s worth noting that a basic design flaw of the original tremolo circuit caused it to become virtually non functioning when the Volume control was set to maximum. As Marshall says, “ This is because there is no series resistance to ‘pull against.’ Only with the volume pot turned lower is this series resistance provided. In those days it was probably hard to imagine someone playing the amp on full volume when using the tremolo anyway!”

Interestingly, the original tremolo’s oscillator was also connected to the HT (high voltage) line in a different place than on subsequent “Bluesbreaker” reissues, which caused a subtle modulation of the power supply, especially when the amp is driven hard. Marshall notes that the screen grid resistance is also higher on the original circuit, which lowers the maximum output power a little, as well as affecting the transient response. Both of these circuit elements have been restored on the 1962HW due to their subtle but discernable sonic impact.

My only issue with the tremolo is that a special footswitch is required (which is included), and it has to be connected for the tremolo to operate. Size- and weight-wise, the 1962HW is a pretty serious heft, but sonically speaking, it has all the cool harmonic complexity and touch responsiveness that early, tube-rectified Marshalls are so famous for. Bottom line: There’s nothing else like this amp, and for anyone who wants to own a piece of British rock history, the 1962HW accurately represents a bygone time when Jim Marshall was getting his company off the ground by working diligently to accommodate the needs of some of the best blues and rock guitarists in England.

1973X
1973X

Featuring the same period-correct styling, the 1973X looks basically like a shrunken version of the 1962HW. On closer inspection, however, the control layout is quite different, as this amp has two independent channels: one with Volume and Tone controls, and the other with Volume, Tone, Speed, and Intensity knobs. Both channels have dual inputs, and while the ’73X does not have a voltage selector, it does have a second speaker jack—something that’s not offered on the ’62HW.

The hand-wired circuitry maintains the same high standard of workmanship we see on the 1962HW. The workmanship is extremely neat and every soldered component and wiring run is attended to with perfection. You really get what you pay for here, and it shows that Marshall is capable of not only doing solid reissues of their early amps, but also replicating the small-production quality control standards that went into them back in ’60s. Too bad they have to put metal cages around the tubes to keep small children and dumb adults from burning themselves on the hot glass, but alas, that’s the world we live in today.

The 1973X has a lot to offer players who love to drive a low-wattage amp hard to take advantage the distortion and compression generated in the output stage. That said, this amp has nice range of cleaner tones, with impressive headroom for an 18 watter. The ’73X definitely comes alive when turned up, delivering sweet distortion when you dig into the strings and cleaning up well when you lighten up on the pick or turn down the guitar volume. The two 12s automatically give this amp a lot of sonic spread, and the fun really begins when can you turn it up enough to get the power stage sweating and the speakers pushed to where they’re adding to the sonic brew. Running the EL84 tubes in class AB helps to give this amp a badass British sound that reminds me a lot of my late-’60s Marshall PA-20 head.

Contrary to what you’d expect, the Tremolo channel is louder and brighter than the Normal channel, and that’s just fine because the effect is so addictive. The ranges provided by the Speed and Intensity controls allow for a satisfying variety of organic sounding tremolo textures, and considering it doesn’t have reverb, the 1973X is very open and dimensional sounding. Reflecting its vintage heritage, this is an amp that sounds great on its own or with pedals, so if you want the old-school, low-wattage Marshall experience in a convenient combo format, the 1973X is simply a stellar choice!

MODEL

1962HW BLUESBREAKER

CONTACT marshallamps.com
PRICE $3,999 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS 2
Controls Volume 1, Volume 2, Bass, Middle, Treble, Presence, Speed, Intensity
TUBES 2 x KT66, 4 x 12AX7, 1 x GZ34 rectifier
POWER 30 watts
EXTRAS Impedance selector (4/8/16Ω). Voltage selector. Footswitchable tube-driven tremolo (footswitch included).
SPEAKERS Two Celestion G12M Greenback 12"
WEIGHT 71.6 lbs
KUDOS Great tone. Superb build quality.
CONCERNS. Only one speaker jack. Requires a dedicated footswitch to activate tremolo.

1973X

PRICE $2,799 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS 2
CONTROLS (Normal channel) Volume, Tone. (Tremolo channel) Volume, Tone, Speed, and Intensity.
TUBES 2 x EL84, 3 x 12AX7, 1 x EZ81 rectifier
POWER 18 watts
EXTRAS Impedance selector (4, 8, 16Ω). Dual speaker jacks. Footswitchable tube-driven tremolo (footswitch included).
SPEAKERS Two Celestion G12M Greenback 12"
WEIGHT 50.7 lbs
KUDOS Great tone. Superb build quality.
CONCERNS Requires a dedicated footswitch for the tremolo.

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