Lead 12 Combo review by Marshall

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  • Sound: 10
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 10
  • Features: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.2 (6 votes)
Marshall: Lead 12 Combo

Price paid: $ 200

Purchased from: Congressional Music

Sound — 10
I play Gibson SG and Les Paul, primarily. I have logged countless hours on a P-90 SG Junior with this amp, clean & driven; but in the '80s, I paired this with a brilliant Japanese guitar called an Aria Pro II RS Knight Warrior (heavy wood, robust build, superb quality, set up like a Fat Strat w/coil splitter, but with a locked-nut Kahler Flyer vibrato). However, this particular amp has been crazy promiscuous... At least 30 guitars have plugged in (probably 50, hmm...), and there is a sound for *every single guitar* out there. If you can't find a decent sound out of this amp with whatever POS or Rolls Royce you play, then you probably need to take some audio classes and see some other ways that people explore sound. Seriously. But not just guitars. I have literally put every kind of possible combination of "heck, let's try it!" known to humanity in this amp. Bass guitars (& to this day, I use this amp to record bass tracks - that clear, aggressive John Entwistle sound... It has perplexed so many people, this monster bass on record... How? If they knew I used a 12 Watt transistor amp, are you kidding me? Not kidding). Keyboards! Microphones, for both vocal tracks AND re-amplification... E.g., Mic a bass drum, run into the amp, and then mic the amp, for a sort of "ethereal reverb" play. I have even mic'd a clarinet on the 5005. Nowadays, I've run drum machines and vocal/guitar modelers through it. It's just ridiculously versatile. To say that this amplifier is useful is like saying the water quenches one's thirst. But what does it sound like? Well... The clean sound is heavenly. It's like crystal... Sharp, piercing, but not shrill or scratchy - perfect for capturing the clarity of whatever sound you're recording, so you can shape it later with maximum flexibility. The volume will go to 7-8, but any higher and the amp starts to feedback and protests. Therefore, this is also not ideal for live jams... It won't keep up with a drum kit in volume (unless you want to play noise rock or punk, where you roll off the guitar volume to reduce feedback, and then mic the amp to fatten it up...). But room jamming, or axe-attacking with your buddy and a drum machine working out some new tunes, oh yeah... Excellent. In fact, rather than go deaf (again) by full on live practicing with big amps, I prefer to work out material on this amp. The amp can also be "warm." With the right touch of EQ, you can dial in some mids and bass and get a "thicker" sound, no problem. The Gain can actually add enough distortion to play metal, but it's not the ideal "modern metal" sound that "the kids like today" (e.g., Slipknot, Deicide, or whatever is the "evil" momentary fad... Don't misunderstand, I dig all rock, but the amp is suited to aggressive distortion by way of a stompbox or modeler). For anything else, the Gain is up to task As-Is. I'm trying to be "critical," but it's difficult because the amp is just so absurdly versatile. You could do industrial or hiphop vocals with gain (e.g., Beastie Boys, Skinny Puppy), then do your Pat Metheny lesson, then rock some old Queen on guitar, then put some Lady GaGa beats through it (...Oh yeah, I used it as a yard PA for a birthday party once, forgot!), then twang some Johnny Cash... And if I could give it a "12," I certainly would. *There is nothing you cannot accomplish with this amp if you are creative with sound.* Notwithstanding sheer volume (which is the only limitation), it's perfect.

Overall Impression — 10
I'm in my 30th year of playing guitars, and about my 21st year of being a serious/professional musician. I've had tons of gear - a lot of great stuff, but a lot of junk, too. (See my profile for the few things I have handy nowadays...) I don't normally have "affection" for my tools. Tools are tools, and you use them, they break, you replace them. But as a musician, the two pieces I love are my beat up Gibson SG Junior with ground down frets, and my Marshall 5005 amp. These tools have endeared themselves to me by consistently performing the task at hand, way above the normal call of duty. In a perfect world, the 5005 combo would have the reputation of an AC30 or whatever - sometimes I'm amazed at what studio engineers fiddle with, when they could get the job accomplished with a 5005. This amp is kung fu, it's that simple. If I found another, I wouldn't buy it. First of all, I don't need a backup o replacement (probably forever), and secondly: you should buy it and learn it. Sure, "another glowing review, all perfect 10s!" Well, that's because this amp was worth telling you about. Rock on.

Reliability & Durability — 10
As I said... It needed a service after 28 years. This is by far and away the most reliable piece of equipment I have ever seen. It's almost a joke. The people at Marshall (recall: it's UK made) built this amp like a brick. Seriously. If I need to do work on the house on an upper wall, I use it as a stepping stool - and I have for almost three decades. I often sit on it when I play or practice. I have fallen over many times; the amp is fine, the guitars not so much... It has fallen off a truck and out of car doors (yes, actually, and in fact quite a few times). It has been in a flooded practice room with a collapsed ceiling. It has had beer and vomit spilled all over it. While I wiped it off, I have never properly cleaned it - not once. I have used it with substandard power outlets and generators. I have abused the speaker at full volume hundreds of times. I have performed ZERO maintenance on it, ever. It only "broke down" in a sense because I'm older now, so more attentive to caring for equipment, so it got irritating to me to have scratchy pots and crackle. You know what? I should *try* to destroy it and see what it takes. I give it a Nigel "11." I will die before the amp does, certainly.

Features — 9
This afternoon, I got my Marshall 5005 Combo back from the shop... (for decades, I have always called this amp a Marshall 5005, and known it as such... But it does say "Lead 12" on the front, and it seems most people agree that's its identifying name). The amp needed a servicing after *28 Years*; its first servicing as the pots were all scratchy and cut in/out with "dead spots" on the volume & gain pots. More on this in the "Reliability & Durability" section. After 28 years, I'm ready to render a verdict on my favorite amp. This amp was purchased brand new in, I believe 1985, at a local music store in Maryland (long defunct & out of business). This little solid state combo has been my studio workhorse through seven albums, as well as an essential participant in 16, 378, 964 Jam sessions & spontaneous rock outs. I live in Arizona, where using valve amps at home or cramped studio/practice rooms can make a HOT room even more uncomfortable - so when just running a quick song idea, or practicing, the 5005 is the GoTo amp, rather than "flight checking" the valves, waiting to warm up, dialing in, etc. It's "turn on, find tone, let's rock." *This is* an essential feature, as it reliably simulates a Marshall tone (but also has its unique sounds; more below...), and it keeps the creative vibes alive by ensuring you don't get bogged down in fiddling with tone. This is a ONE channel amp, transistor, with two inputs (High & Low, which functions like a practical attentuator, but can be used at the same time also, e.g. drum machine, keyboard et al). There is a Line Out/Headphone jack - not a speaker out. The Line Out can be plugged to an amp for boosting the sound. The Headphone jack is *perfect* for certain kinds of "double live" studio overdubs, because it does NOT cut the speaker! The speaker plays while the player can isolate their playing into headphones. However, for "bedroom" playing, you can "trick" the input into cutting out the speaker - by plugging in the 1/4" headphone jack about three-quarters in. The amp has 5 traditional pots, in this order: Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass. The Gain dials in transistor Overdrive, progressively emulating "break up" until full-on warm distortion is present. The Volume... Anyway, the Treble, Middle, Bass are a graphic EQ to shape tone, and as such, they do affect the volume to an extent (e.g., fully cranked T/M/B will add about "1-2" to the relative volume). The amplifier is 12 Watts, powering a Celestion 10" 8ohm speaker (G10D-25 Type 3535). Finally, the amp is made in England, and sports a classic '80s Marshall look. Black textured surface, with black netting and classic 3/4 white piping, with a matte-gold painted faceplate holding the pots & inputs, and the classic red-light Rocker switch for power. "Lead 12" is presented in elegant script over the Line Out input. And, of course, the Marshall corner protector caps, and full-sized "Marshall" white logo over the speaker. The amp is an aesthetic joy, a special treat... Everywhere I go, for years and years, I see people eyeball it... And after every session, somebody always wants me to sell it or loan it to them (as if I'd ever see it again...). If you like amps, you'll love it. But if you like Marshalls, you'll dream of it in your sleep. By virtue of its "vintage" issue (30yrs is almost vintage, a generation-&-a-half in rock), its perfect presentation, and it's compact size but big presence, it is now a defacto "boutique" amp. I rate it a 9... Because it doesn't serve me coffee or pay my taxes. But it's as useful a tool as it is beautiful.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I have a vintage 80's Lead 12 mini stack (3005)in my basement and couldn't be more satisfied with it. I plug my Epi 60's Tribute / Line 6 Pod in to it and the Lead 12 has what it takes to make me smile. It's the "mini me" to a full size Marshall stack...and chicks dig it.
    VIRTUALLY Real tube sound from solid state. Spot on of what marshals sound like when all the dials are rolled to the right It's about a 99.8% of 100% in the tube sounding department when I tried this amp with new active Emg's for the fist time. I thanked chebus for not letting me sell it in over 15+ years of collecting dust. Ive had many small/med amps and a couple large (line6 2x12 spider2)<-2.75 stars, (randall G2 200w and 1 randall cab),Ive never had active emgs,(only warm Seymor Duncans that came in a early 90's BC rich, and Emg-Hz's), but with my new active emgs now, no amp Ive ever had has sounded that good, and I am amazed at the fact. It has overdriven tube sounding marshal distortion, and ball-shattering metal sounds when you scoop some mids out, no need for a metal/distortion pedal, when tested with active emgs, really. just simple marshall amp and guitar with emg's(81/85)..., simple and as so crystal clear wall of tone, but your your own boss. One thing for Emg, but another is that this is a great marshall. Its even just the right size, or a pair of even, in a small micd isolation cab,... possibly ported, and it be all the salad you'd need I'm guessing. I see they can cost a few more somolians than used amps of similar size, but as reviewed, worth it!!!!
    Just figured I'd toss in that this amp was not first produced in the mid 80's but, as early as '81, perhaps earlier. I opened mine up in order to find out what pots are in it, as they are in need of replacement, and the circuit board is marked 1981.
    I saw the mini stack on flee bay and not much info on it. I just found out all I need to know. The thing is not a tube amp.