Lead 12 Combo review by Marshall

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  • Sound: 9
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reliability & Durability: 7
  • Features: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.2 (6 votes)
Marshall: Lead 12 Combo

Price paid: £ 60

Purchased from: Trevor Davies Music

Sound — 9
So far I've only really tried this amp with my Gibson Les Paul Studio faded and my Fender Baja Telecaster - but that does allow me to get a good idea of how the amp responds to different pickups. I play a lot of classic rock, as well as punk, grunge, new wave, indie, blues and some Jazz. The amp will handle most distorted styles of music very well, however the clean settings tend to come out quite brittle, and leave a lot to be desired. On its own, the amplifier also is a little dry and fizzy sounding, which I assume is down to the rather transparent power section. Between a clean sound and full on distortion on the gain control, there's a bit of a "dead spot" in which you just get a clean tone with some buzzy overtones. Still, acceptable for bedroom practice and does have its uses with recording as well - the small cabinet can also give off a quite boxy sound that doesn't project very well. The speaker, however, is impressive for a practice amp, in that you can turn the gain and volume all the way to 10 (not quite 11, but it is a practice amp!) and still have good sound quality, in fact, superb sound quality, better than running the amp at lower volumes, and that's probably because the amp's RMS output is rated at 12 watts yet the speaker is rated at 25 watts, so you're not overpowering it at all. With the gain full on, you've got a nice '80s hard rock lead tone - not "extreme brootalz" gain but certainly not lacking in the gain department either. Due to the single channel design of the amp, you can't get a clean sound at higher volumes, because there's only so loud the amp will go when you've got the gain low enough for a clean tone. Through headphones the sound is about the same as the sound out of the speaker, provided you've got a half-decent set of headphones. Again, passable for silent midnight bedroom practice. It's when you plug the direct output into an outboard power amplifier or the FX return of an existing amp that this little amp really comes out of its shell. When i plugged it into the FX return of my Laney VC30, thus running it through the VC30's 30 watt EL84 power stage and 12" speaker, suddenly the mouse became the lion, so to speak: It really roars when setup like this, and everything negative i've said about the sound simply ceases to apply - you get a thick, roaring distorted tone with no dry fizziness, so powerful and raw, and the cleans get a lot more "balls" too (though still not the best clean sound out there). I actually like it better than my VC30 alone, because the solid state overdrive is very tight, with a razor sharp edge, and no sag or sloppy bass to be found anywhere in the tone. The only disadvantage of setting the amp up like this is that you do get a bit of extra hum in the background. But this amp has become my "secret weapon", and a fierce one at that!

Overall Impression — 8
I find that this amp is a good match for any style of music which makes use of anywhere between low-gain crunch tones and medium gain soaring lead tones (think '80s rock like Guns n Roses or Aerosmith). I've been playing for about 12 years and never in all that time have i found an amp that's so useful for all applications. If I were to have this amp stolen or it stopped working i'd probably seek out another one. It would have to feature the direct output though - the early models didn't, though the early models are also supposed to sound a bit better, too. I love the usefulness of the amplifier, and how it can be an effective bedroom practice amp, a direct recording amplifier and a perfectly good gigging preamplifier if you've got a good power amp to power the sound through. It's a bit of a shame that the sound of the amp on its own is a bit bland sounding and a bit fizzy, but it's still passable. the direct output is definitely my favourite feature on the amp, because you could combine the fantastic solid state crunch of the preamp sound with any amp that has an FX loop meaning there's a whole world of possibilities of variations on the basic "poor man's JCM800" preamp tone, which can really enhance the sound an awful lot. I compared this amp to the MG4 series and I have to say it really put the MG to shame. Why Marshall would discontinue the simple and effective lead 12 with an amp that offers quantity of features over quality of tone is beyond me. The sound is just so much better than the MG series and at the price I got it for, was an outstanding deal - and there are probably a lot of them going. So if you're planning on getting an MG.. Don't bother, look for a lead 12. You'll thank me later.

Reliability & Durability — 7
Haven't had the amp very long and have had a few problems such as the amp cutting out but these seem to have been less and less frequent and I would blame it on dust in the headphone jack. It seems reliable enough, and there isn't really a lot that can go wrong with it, barring misuse. It's lived 19-22 years and still going strong.

Features — 8
The Marshall lead 12 was in production from sometime in the mid 1980s until 1991 and was a small solid state practice amp said to be part of the famous JCM800 range, and its claim to Fame is that the model features on ZZ Top's "My Heads In Mississippi". My lead 12 is a later model, made between 1988 and 1991. It is a 12 watt solid state combo in a very small cabinet, featuring a 10 inch celestion G10, which is an exceptionally good speaker considering it's a practice amp. The amp has a single channel featuring 2 inputs (hi and low sensitivity), a headphone jack, a direct output jack (more on that later!), and very very simple gain, volume, treble, middle and bass controls. It's pure simplicity as this amp was made back in the day when Marshall amps were built for one thing - tone. I have used this amp for bedroom/headphone practice, and band rehearsals (run direct into the power section of my Laney VC30's EL84 power amp) and it has performed brilliantly in any situation - the Direct output makes it a very very useful amp indeed, as it enables you to plug the direct preamp signal into a different power amplifier giving you more power than the amplifier alone will give you, which is extremely useful. Another feature worth noting, for those of you who are wondering, my Lead 12 is in a nice '80s retro red cabinet. People have already accused me of telling lies about this amp! I'd like to give this amp 10 for features as what it has are simple but effective, however, that would only be taking my own personal tastes into account, and perhaps the lack of any FX (even reverb) and/or channel switching may be an issue for anyone looking for a practice amp these days.

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