Fender Stage Lead, Marshall 30W Lead
STAGE LEAD: £371
A renewed spirit of adventure has settled over the Fender camp of late. They have an (elderly) reputation for guitars and valve amps of classic design and performance, but in recent years they've been guilty of sitting on it rather than living up to it.
The Stage Lead is a sign of Fender finding their feet and their heart once more. It's a tranny amp poking nearly 100W through a single 12in Fender speaker. It's part of a new generation of valve and transistor combos from the American company that covers most power ranges and speaker configurations.
Construction is to a high standard, both the parts you can see — such as the all-steel electronics enclosure, well protected reverb spring and eight (not four) bolts for the speaker — and the bits you can't — for example the 20½in x 9¾in x 17in cab fabricated from marine ply rather than chipboard.
The slim black front panel has its controls all in a line and divides into clean and dirty channels, the first with volume/treble/mid and bass knobs, the second featuring volume/gain master and then the EQ.
The clean sound is crisp and full of life and best demonstrates the beautifully smooth and realistic reverb sound, one of the loveliest I've heard in a combo.
Volume and gain are the two secret ingredients in the dirty section. Both introduce distortion, but as far as I can make out, the volume produces a thick overload, heavy in the middle frequencies, and the gain creates a brighter, clangier fuzz that crackles with treble. Between the two there are dozens of useful settings for lead and rhythm work.
I think the 100W estimate is over-generous, but the speaker handles what it's given with a speedy reaction that keeps fast solos distinct in every note. As a final touch there are pre-amp out/power-in sockets at the rear, and accessible fuses for the amp and speaker.
It's a weighty creature, but a reasonable one-man carry, unless you've got arms like a stick insect. The speaker cloth is silver with traces of black and bears the curly Fender logo that can hardly have changed since Adam came off rusks.
On first impression it's a gutsy sounding combo that bodes well for the rest of the series. Whether it or any of its mates can go on to match the decades long traditions of the Twin Reverb etc, is something which, as they say in the worst black and white BBC films... only time will tell.
30W LEAD: £133
An unpredictable creature. The name immediately conjures up visions of glowing valves and four x 12 cabs, yet it's an all transistor combo. The price suggests a high class practice amp, yet in reality it has a big sound, plenty of volume and wouldn't be ashamed to stand on stage.
But the greatest schizophrenia comes in the controls which only work at the extremes of their travel, and they're all out when they get there. The pre-amp volume does nothing for three-quarters of the way, then suddenly drives the amp into lion-like overload.
Its inherent spangliness makes it a fine match for single coil guitars, but fruity humbuckers might suffer from bass loss. It's a large cab for the single 12in Celestion speaker, and that must help the roominess in the sound.
The white piping round the black speaker cloth and gold control panel make it unmistakably Marshall, and there's no sign of cheapskating in appearance. Round the back the purse strings have been tightened as it does without external speaker and effects sockets luxuries, even a fuseholder for that matter.
The speaker isn't centred up, but moved a few inches to one side to balance the weight of the transformer, making the Master Lead easier to lug around. Could be that it's cheaper to produce it this way as well.
It hits 30 watts effortlessly and Marshall say the 12in cone is capable of handling up to 70w. They've also produced a 12w mini version and a 50w split channel alternatives. They also seem designed to capture a new audience who'd like a Marshall logo at their backs without the hernia or bank loan involved in a twin cab stack. This one stands a good chance of making it.
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