Tested By Art Thompson
In the summer of 1965, Marshall introduced three 18-watt combos at the British Music Fair, which were somewhat confusingly called the model 1974 (1x12), the model 1958 (2x10), and the model 1973 (2x12). Considered by Marshall aficionados to be the best-sounding EL84-powered amplifiers of Marshall's handwired era (which ended in 1973), the 18-watters were unique in their use of an EZ81 rectifier tube and the availability of optional tube-powered reverb. These amps were only produced from 1966 to 1968, and are now extremely rare, so Marshall's decision to reissue the 1x12 version in all its handwired glory is exciting news for anyone who has been priced out of owning an original model.
The second amp to be reissued is the 2061X, which is based on the model 2061 Lead &Bass 20-one of a series of 20-watt heads offered by Marshall between 1967 and 1973. I tested both amps with a Gibson Les Paul and ES-135, a PRS McCarty, and a Fender Strat.
With its top-mounted controls, neatly applied black covering, and gray/white grillecloth, the 1974X resembles a small Bluesbreaker combo (or model 1962, as it was called in '65). As with its ancestor, the 1974X sports two channels, each with dual inputs and a set of Volume and Tone controls.
The Tremolo channel also has Speed and Depth controls for the tube-powered trem circuit. The proprietary Celestion T1221 speaker, which is rated at 20 watts and has a 15ž impedance, is made to the original 1967 formula and has been specially aged by matching the magnet flux to that of an original 1967 Celestion. The cone material is also made more pulpy in order to replicate the response of a 37-year-old speaker.
Removing the rear panel on the birch-ply cabinet frees the chassis, and inside there's tidy, point-to-point-wired circuitry with carefully routed leads to the chassis-mounted pots, jacks, switches, and tube sockets. Marshall tells us that the Dagnall mains and output transformers are meticulous duplications of the originals in terms of construction, materials, and electrical characteristics. At the bottom of the chassis are dual speaker jacks, an impedance selector, and a jack for the vintage-correct tremolo footswitch.
The 1974X is a real beauty with its gold plexiglass panel and white and gold accent piping. In fact, the amp looks so pretty I almost didn't bring it to a dusty gig held at a local ranch. I'm glad I did, though, because cute as the 1974X is, it's a little terror sonically. With its low power, the amp doesn't have a lot of clean headroom, but by pegging the Volume and using my Les Paul's controls to determine how hard the amp was being driven, it was easy to get a spectrum of gritty-clean to grindingly distorted sounds. The tones delivered by the single 12 were bright with a richly detailed midrange that made chords sound ravishing and single-note lines sizzle with bold, stinging presence. The low-end girth was adequate (remember it's an open-back cabinet), and the tremolo yielded juicy sounding throb at speeds ranging from a swampy crawl to staccato pulse. A Fulltone TTE tape delay set for an ultra-short, almost reverb-like slap enhanced the 1974X's bright, ballsy tone by adding a shimmering sense of dimension that made the distortion tones sound positively explosive. The Tremolo channel isn't quite as loud as the normal channel, but, even so, I had no trouble matching the volume of our other guitarist, who was playing through an old silverface Fender Deluxe Reverb.
On a completely different gig, and playing a mix of jazz and world music, the 1974X pumped out reasonably clean rhythm tones and a nice, sweet lead sound with its Tremolo channel volume at about 3, and using mainly the neck pickup of a Gibson ES-135 (which is basically a skinny ES-175). While the amp wasn't competing with a drummer in that situation, it was loud enough to cut it in this outdoor park setting without any P.A. support. It wasn't even necessary to use the matching 1974CX 1x12 speaker cab ($850 retail/$599 street). The 1974X doesn't have enough clean headroom for super clucky country twangin'-it's not available with reverb either-but if you're a blues/roots-oriented player who loves the idea of getting vintage-style Marshall tones at volumes that allow you to take full advantage of the output tubes' radiant chime, this little combo will rock your world.
2061X Lead &Bass 20
So why did Marshall choose to produce so few 18-watt combos compared to the number of 20-watt heads it churned out between 1967 and 1973? After all, most Marshall aficionados agree that the 18-watt models are superior sounding. Perhaps it's because the 20 watters were considered better all-around workhorse amps for guitar, bass, and even P.A. use. Their simpler design also didn't require a rectifier socket or a third preamp tube for the tremolo. (Though it was possible to order the original 20-watt Lead model with tremolo.)
As per original spec, the 2061X features an impedance switch instead of a voltage selector, and has a metal front panel instead of the plexiglass panel fitted to some earlier 20s. Like the 1974X, the 2061X's circuitry is handwired on a phenolic board, and the balance of the components are chassis mounted. The workmanship on the new amp is very clean, with neat soldering evident inside the steel chassis and tidy covering and piping on the birch-ply cabinet. It's worth noting that despite the variety of 20-watt models originally available, the differences between them were slight, amounting to minor changes in capacitors that gave the Bass and P.A. models more treble rolloff than the Lead version (early P.A. models also had front mounted mains and speaker jacks, although that configuration was dropped in 1968).
Mirroring the specs of the original Lead &Bass 20, the 2061X features distinctly voiced channels, with the one on the left being the brighter. Having two channels with different voicings is handy if you're using humbucker and single-coil guitars-a Fender Strat and Tele both sounded noticeably thicker and meatier though the right channel-but it's also very useful for effects equipped with wet and dry outputs. For example, paired with a Van Amps Reverbamate reverb unit, I was able to get a great distorted straight sound from the 2061X's left channel, and then blend in just the right amount of splashy reverb with the right channel's Volume control.
Not surprisingly, the 2061X sounded a little louder, brighter, and tighter than my 1969 P.A. 20.
I've used that old amp quite a bit, and I can say from experience that the new model is definitely the more gig worthy-especially if it's the only amp you're going to be playing through. The 2061X doesn't offer as much chimey complexity, or quite the degree of sustain as the 1974X combo, but, due to its solid-state rectifier (which produces higher internal voltages) and closed-back 2061CX angled 2x12 cab ($1,100 retail/$799 street) which features Celestion G12H 30 speakers, the 2061X definitely kicks out a more muscular rock sound. The head/cab combination sounds like a shrunken half-stack, delivering a maximum volume that's much more compatible for small stages than the usual 50-watt head/4x12 setup. If you're into the notion of talking big while carrying a small stick, this is the amp for you.