Dean Markley RM-80-SR

Seeking to expand its horizons, Santa Clara, California-based strings and accessories manufacturer Dean Markley entered the amplifier business in the 1980s with a series of models designed by Terry Laul. The circuitry of these amps was predominantly hybrid, utilizing a solid-state power stage and a tube-driven overdrive channel, though the line eventually grew to include all-tube models well.

The RM-80-SR featured here is one of the earliest offerings, with a footswitchable Drive channel; a shared set of Bass, Midrange, Treble, Presence, Master, and Reverb controls (later models sported independent controls for the low- and high-gain channels); and a Standby switch—something even some 100 percent tube amps don’t have. The 40-lb combo is well equipped with an effects loop and Power Amp-In and Preamp-Out jacks, and the speaker is a ceramic-magnet 12" Dean Markley Magnum.

Perhaps the most novel—and certainly most appropriate for the times—feature of the Markleys is a chassis that can be rack mounted. Remove four screws on the front panel, disconnect the speaker, grab the rack-style handles, and slide out the whole enchilada (including the internally mounted spring reverb) for quick re-installation in a standard 19" rack. It’s likely that many a club player with higher aspirations immediately grasped the value of an amp that could “grow” with their career.

The RM-80-SR is a loud little sucker with a barky attitude, good clean headroom, a decent reverb, and the ability to get very grinding and tube-like as you crank up the Volume control. This amp truly feels like it has 80 watts under the hood, and its active tone controls can elicit some serious bottom and midrange punch—in fact, I had to double check that the cabinet was indeed open-backed after feeling the low-end kick this thing dishes out. You can do pretty much whatever you need to with this channel, which is cool because the Drive mode’s tones are sadly generic—a little odd considering they’re generated by a 12AX7 tube, but, honestly, you could do better with a good distortion pedal stuck in the front end.

Purchased for $100 from a keyboard player (who apparently bought the amp just so he could have a say over what his guitarist was using), the RX-80-SR proved a happenin’ deal for its current owner, who pairs it with an Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer and a modded Gibson II for gigs. The bottom line is you’d easily pay that much for a used pedal, and probably wouldn’t even be able to toss around names like Quarterflash and Andy Summers when telling your friends about it.