Lead 12 Combo Review

manufacturer: Marshall date: 07/11/2013 category: Guitar Amplifiers
Marshall: Lead 12 Combo
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).
 Sound: 9
 Overall Impression: 9
 Reliability & Durability: 8.7
 Features: 8.3
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reviews (3) pictures (3) 4 comments vote for this gear:
overall: 8
Lead 12 Combo Reviewed by: Blompcube, on june 30, 2010
2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Price paid: £ 60

Purchased from: Trevor Davies Music

Features: 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. // 8

Sound: 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! // 9

Reliability & Durability: 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. // 7

Overall Impression: 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. // 8

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overall: 8.5
Lead 12 Combo Reviewed by: unregistered, on january 23, 2012
2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 150

Purchased from: eBay

Features: I originally purchased this 12 watt combo amplifier second hand off eBay for $150. This was probably the best amp that I've ever bought for that price! According to the stamped chassis, the amp was made in 1985 and has the lighter brown mesh that was popular around the early/mid 80s. It has a single channel with three band EQ (treble, middle, bass), two inputs (high, low), a gain and a volume control. The front panel also features a line out/head phone that can send the signal to a larger cabinet. As mentioned before this amp has a 12 watt solid state power section with a ten inch Celestion speaker stock. This on the surface makes the amp a solid buy alone. I bought this amp for the sole purpose of practicing at a low volume in my bedroom hence the headphone jack. The amp itself is plenty loud for what I bought it for. The combo has no reverb although I've seen some Lead 12's with it as an option. // 8

Sound: I'm currently playing a faded Gibson SG through it and the humbucker have a good overdriven sound to them, especially through the neck pickup. This Marshall is capable of producing some solid leads when the gain is cranked and the volume is set to at least three o'clock. There are basically only three gain stages despite the knob going to ten. The clean is anything between one and five, then the amp starts to break up around six with full on distortion at nine and ten. One can easily get a good 1970s rock tone with the higher gain setting. The clean is very disappointing however because it lacks "meat". The sound is tinny and weak and it doesn't help to tweak the EQ at all when the gain knob isn't turned up. This combo doesn't give the player a very big variety to choose from but the Celestion speaker does enhance it a good amount. The speaker alone is worth a third of what I paid for the whole thing. The line out jack is a really good feature. When I plug it into my 1960A, it really sounds similar to a JCM 800. It obviously doesn't have the thick sound as the JCM but I was still impressed what this little amp could do when paired with a big cabinet. I do have a few complaints: The pots are pretty scratchy and even after I cleaned them, they still crackle in spots. The amp also makes a very high pitched squeal when the gain is cranked and there is no 1/4 jack plugged in. // 8

Reliability & Durability: I haven't had it for very long so I haven't ran into any problems yet. The squeal is reason of concern though. It almost sounds like one of those whistles that only dogs can hear. For 26 year old amp, this one is in very good shape. I would depend on it only if I were playing a smaller venue as it wouldn't produce enough volume for anything very big. It's built Marshall tough however and I couldn't see the thing breaking unless you had some really fat chick sitting on it. // 9

Overall Impression: I would never use this amp on stage without a mic or at least running the line out to a bigger cabinet because although it can keep up with some drummers, it would eventually be drowned out by the entire band. It does sound good, especially the gain, for a small practice amp. I've tried the Marshall MG line of practice amps and they are horrible, this one is vastly superior despite the lack of effects. I own several Marshall amps both big and small and for what it is, the Lead 12 is harder to beat. It gives you a taste of the classic Marshall crunch albeit in a small compact practice package. // 9

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overall: 9.8
Lead 12 Combo Reviewed by: Tortexnisse, on july 11, 2013
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 200

Purchased from: Congressional Music

Features: 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. // 9

Sound: 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. // 10

Reliability & Durability: 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. // 10

Overall Impression: 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. // 10

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