February 14, 2006

In 1962, Jim Marshall designed a new 4x12 speaker cabinet that was proportioned to look right with one of his JTM 45 heads sitting atop. Within a few years, and at the behest of Pete Townshend, the cabinet was redesigned to house eight 12s. This made its power handling capability in-sync with the new 100-watt heads Townshend was using, but complaints soon arose from the roadies who had to carry these ultra-heavy boxes. The big 8x12 was subsequently cut in half and further modified to become the familiar dual 4x12 stack. Of course, Marshall’s original concept worked just fine for many players, and, over the decades, the “half stack” has been a staple of the rock scene.

Once you’ve experienced the sonic glory that a 100-watt head and 4x12 cabinet can unleash, nothing less is likely to inflict such a similar primal charge on your nervous system. Now, you may ask, “Isn’t a half-stack a tad excessive for most gigs—like taking the kids to school in a Hummer?” In some cases, probably so. But since when have guitarists cared about overkill?

This Roundup focuses on four tube-powered half stacks that range from expensive designer tone machines to a feature-laden marvel any teenage rocker with a gig at K-Mart could afford. I tested each setup with a Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster, a Gibson SG, and a PRS McCarty. Let’s rock!

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