3203 Artist review by Marshall

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  • Sound: 10
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 10
  • Features: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 9.3 Superb
  • Users' score: 7.4 (13 votes)
Marshall: 3203 Artist

Sound — 10
Ok i have a few guitars, mainly play a Gibson LP Custom w EMG 81 85, stock Gibson LP Studio and an Ibanez JEM7v. Also a mex tele n a BC Rich. The stock Gibson sounds awesome - really chunky, plenty of bass response and crisp highs. The EMGs are a bit more versatile and I can get a spot on Metallica tone, generally doesn't sound as dark as the stock gibby, but still dark. Ibanez - a bit weak, lacks brightness. Suits any music style pretty easily. Not very noisy, slight buzz with high gain, not bad though, no shreeking feedback. Clean channel breaks up around 7 or 8, not the best clean tone though.If you want that distorted Marshall sound though this thing is pretty mean. I've played JCMs and the 3203 has just as good high gain tones, if not better.

Overall Impression — 9
I play hard rock and metal. This amp fits in perfect. Great ballzy high gain sound. I've been playing for 8 years, the only other amp I have atm is a Fender frontman 15g, just for bedroom practise and thats all I need. Don't be fooled by the 30 watts though. This amp is loud. To mix in with a drumkit it only needs to be on 3 or 4, so theres plenty of headroom. The only possible improvements would be a better clean channel and full eq on the gain channel. This amp sounds like a JCM, not one of those cheap AVTs that have tube preamp and ss power. But a sweet amp. I'll definitely try to replace it if it were stolen. Fairly hard to find though.

Reliability & Durability — 10
I've had it for 5 years or so now, never had any problems. I recall the transformer was replaced not long before I got it however. It is dependable, I gig with it a fair bit and never have a back up.

Features — 8
Ok, this amp was built in 1986. Its 30 watts class a, with tube power amp ss preamp. Its 2 channels, clean and boost/gain, with footswitchable reverb. Effects loop in the back, 4 8, or 12 ohms. One flaw is the gain channel, it doesn't have a proper eq section, just one tone knob. This can be fixed with an eq pedal however. Its good for most kinds of music, doesn't get real good cleans, but with some tweaking you can get by. The gain channel is phenomenal. Gets everywhere from blues to ACDC to Metallica and harsher sounds. I know these amps came out in the eighties for a few years before being discontinued. Most of them had 2x El34 power tubes, some 2x KT88 tubes. This one has the KT88s. Apparently they don't sound so different, just KTs have better bass resposne. 8 out of 10 due to lack of gain channel eq, and average clean tone.

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    considering the price you can pick these up for i think its worthy. Id say there are more people who would pay $500 or less for this than would fork out the big dollars for the aforementioned amps.
    Too many low ratings on this. It's like most people saw "ss preamp" and instantly gave it a 2 or a 1. Sad, uneducated masses...
    These are really nice amps. ive owned 4 since 1986. the BIG problem with them is that they are not that expensive. as a result, morons who want a JCM800 but dont want to pay for one, will buy a 3203-ARTIST and pretend its a JCM800 by sticking great big 6550 tubes in it, the curent draw of which burns up the nice DRAKE transformers. the same morons , or perhaps other ones,(who want a Fender amp) will go into the circuit and clip capacitors until it "sounds good clean". so unfortunately most of these amps have been destroyed and will need to be rebuilt, or have already been rebuilt and dont sound like they once did.
    seemeel wrote: 9.3 ... so this is an Outstanding amp? Almost perfect? Better than just about anything that has come before it? Your ratings are waaay too generous. I'm sure it's good, but it's no original AC30 or 1959SLP is it?
    I've got one of these sitting out in my practice room. It's a very nice little head for the price. You can buy these for $350 to $450. Considering the price range, I say this rating is not too far off - maybe just a wee bit high.
    I have a 1986 Artist with EL34s unmodded.This head is hands down one of the best heads you can find.The fact that the preamp is SS has nothing to do with the awesome tone of this head.The word "Sterile" will never apply to this beauty.Try one before you speculate and leave anal comments.You will love this amp.This review is very truthful "tonewise" about the Marshall Artist!
    Are you naysayers kidding? ..and what's with Mr. Ac30 and Plexi snob? Get a life dude. The Artist 30 is absolutely a killer amp. Probably one of the best sounding combos out there at any price. I own plenty of vintage Fenders, Hiwatts and a Dumble OD special. They're all top notch with amazing tone. That said... for the price and ease of carrying around my lil ole' Artist amp... nothing can touch it. The cleans rival my 64 Deluxe Reverb and the gain is right there with my 1970 Superlead100... except at a volume that won't send you to the hospital with severe ear trauma. My 73 Strat can nail dead-on SRV tones through the amp using the stock EL34's. The compression is superb! Period. I don't care what axe you play... this little brute can make any guitar sound awesome if you got the chops.If you can find one... GRAB IT!!!
    Okay since doing this this review I have done the homework I should have done beforehand. Also I am playing through a 1960a cab now. The distortion side (gain channel) is virtually identical to a JCM 800 - meaning you can get that killer jcm tone at low volumes. but there only one tone knob for that side so an equalizer pedal is a must. They came out with EL34s, 2 of, but some models were fitted with KT88s, which gave more middle crunch i hear? Anyway, mine has KT88s and puts out monster tone at low volume but easily loud enough to gig with. Like I said an EQ pedal like the Boss 10 Band is a MUST. You will be surprised. These go really cheap aswell, if you see one, jump on it.
    In my opinion, this is one of the best amps out there. The possibilities are endless. I have tried several amps, digital and analog, and this one tops them by far. Granted you need to add a few pedals to add some flavor, but you can dial in what ever you need. Also, I am lucky enough to have a custom cab with 2 12's and 2 10's as opposed to just the 4 10's or 2 12's. So I get a total variety of sounds with all the tube power marshall is known for. All Nay sayers just need to realise that you need to tinker a bit to find your sweet spot, but when you do, man is it SWEET!!!! Hats off to Marshall once again!!!
    I have one of these little gems too, and I have to agree with the other posters here who hold this amp in high regard. I also have the cab (1965b?) with the 4 x 10 inch speakers in it (Celestions? I don't know as I haven't opened it)built to go with the amp and I regularly gig with it. It seems to prefer humbuckers - or it could just be my singular lack of talent. The clean channel is adequate, but as I never play 100% clean it does for me. The boost channel is just plain gorgeous. To me s solid state front end doesn't matter when you have engineers as good as Marshall's designing it, if anything it seems to add to the clarity and bite of the amp. Mine had 6L6's in it when I got it but I swapped back in the EL34's and now it flat out rocks! If you see a nice one of these do yourself a favor and buy it they are one of the few bargains in old gear left, probably because many people are put off by the idea of a hybrid amp? Too bad it's their loss with this one. Bad points? As someone posting here already mentioned - a lack of proper eq on the boost channel, but easily fixed with an equalizer. Plenty loud enough for gigging- looks great on stage (it's baby Marshall stack ahhhh....)and one final GREAT point about it - you can lift the thing (cab) in and out of a car trunk with out a forklift or a hernia. 9.3 from me!
    Class A amps are not ballsy. They're transparent. I'd think you were fooling, if I didn't look it up on my own.
    9.3 ... so this is an Outstanding amp? Almost perfect? Better than just about anything that has come before it? Your ratings are waaay too generous. I'm sure it's good, but it's no original AC30 or 1959SLP is it?
    you mention 2 channels, and a solid state preamp. I'm pretty sure thats class AB not A. just a side note.
    Yeah dont qoute me on the class a part. Thats something I've never read about properly and maybe should have.