3203 Artist review by Marshall

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  • Features: 7
  • Sound: 8
  • Reliability & Durability: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.5 Good
  • Users' score: 7.4 (13 votes)
Marshall: 3203 Artist

Price paid: $ 250

Purchased from: Local Craig's deal

Features — 7
Locally acquired from a young guy who just upgraded to a point to point Avatar. I've been a fan of the Mosfet Lead 100's having two heads with matching 4x10 cabs and a rare 1x15 combo. Found a custom box which emulates a JTM 45 and housed it. Tis an '89. It's essentially a JCM 900 with a solid state preamp section. Features all the options on the back a period tube Marshall has with an even more versatile Direct Output volume knob which the Mosfets have as well. If I'm just running out to a jam sans pedalboard, I run a Fulltone Fatboost in the loop which thickens the sound and adds watts.

Sound — 8
This head is feather light - 10lbs lighter than the solid state period Mosfets. Smaller power tranny to credit. As with others, I use an EQ in the loop so no need for the C 13 clipping. With all the SS Marshalls (including the Lead 12 and 20) the apparent low volume harshness goes away when the gain and masters are up. The 30 watts can be maxed out and I did have to switch to the Lead 100 head when a kid came up to jam and cranked his Blackstar one night. I have over 30 pedals to compare and nothing comes close to sounding like that Marshall sound in your head as the drive in these Marshalls. That said, the clean channel has quite a lot of crunch to it. It mixes real well with clean boosts and overdrives and one can ride the whole night without the channel switcher. Having a boost upstream and an EQ downstream will get you in JCM territory. Gibsons sound real thick and have tons of sustain with these half hybrids.

Reliability & Durability — 7
Truth be told, this particular unit does hum a bit when cold and when on standby. Had new blues installed and biased by a tech who said there's nothing obviously wrong and to just accept it. I have so much gear that there's not much demand on the Artist. Plopping an extra head on top of the ("Honey I slightly shrunk the Marshall Stack!") makes the whole shebang-with casters-still 6 feet high. So yes, I gig with a backup. It's nearly 30 years old and so are the backups. It's dirt cheap to retube, accepts standard twin post footswitches and has spirit. There's no embedded micro components as all resistors and the like are above board and discreet. Do caution and check voltage stored in the caps and/or bleed them before poking around. The tube sockets have flying leads so you're not cooking the board with heat. In fact this is the coolest running amp I have. The front plate never gets warm and in back only a touch when straining on two cabs. Still I shut down and switch heads between sets.

Overall Impression — 8
Despite having two JCM 900's, a Granger Plexi, Carvin V3M and a Mesa combo, the solid (and hybrid) states get used all the time. There's not a huge panoply of versatility here, that's what humbuckers, single coils and a pedalboard is for. I've been playing since the seventies and have been hankering for eighties gear made in UK or the US. These amps were a grand in today's money, made with union labor, and by the same folks and materials as the top heads and combos of the time. The Marshalls suit my finger style rock/fusion/psychedelia well. These get you, with a Uni-Vibe and an octave fuzz on your board, close to Jimi at Woodstock. In fact, the Vibes get lost in the mix without the brightness and lack of compression of the solid state pre-amp. This amp won't impress that much you on its own, but is a good platform for your pedalboard. Go ahead, slam the front end with all the boosts you got, it'll love it.

1 comment sorted by best / new / date

    I've had one of these for about five years. its my main amp and right up there with the top amps i've ever had. i have a dr.z power attenuator mounted semi-permanently in the back of the head. i have the 1965a and 1965b cabs, but in the bottom cab i made a new baffle and put in a single 12" celestion gold. in the top cab i put in two 10" jenson alnico reissues then sealed the two extra 10" holes with plywood. i ALWAYS use the clean channel and I ALWAYS leave the master volume all the way up. I set the gain right on the edge of breakup. then i control the volume with my dr.z power attenuator. so i start out right on the edge of a natural Marshall clean, then my first overdrive pedal will put the amp into a nice natural overdriven crunch. my second overdrive pedal will boost the amp into a naturally compressed and 90% natural Marshall creamy lead tone. the bottom line is that my overdrive pedals are actually just boosters that essentially are just over saturating the power section. guys, preamp distortion is fake distortion. power tube distortion is what you want.