First here was the limited edition Marshall Slash head, Now the legendary amp maker is back with a second collaboration, this time aimed at distilling Slash's sound into a 1x12" all-valve combo. Can it be done? Michael Casswell volunteered to find out.
I have used many different amps over the years, but the name I inevitably come back to is Marshall. They are well made and reliable, sound great, have good aftersales service and generally treat you as a player, rather than just another customer. Reassuringly, the high-end stuff is still made in the UK, and that high-end stuff certainly includes both the Slash AFD head and this SL5 combo.
It's named the SL5 presumably because it's a Slash signature amp, and it delivers five Watts. That five Watts (being a valve/tube derived five Watts) is reasonably loud, so it is switchable to a still reasonably loud one Watt output via a switch at the back. Round the back you also have extension speaker outputs but you don't have an effects loop. Slash isn't big on effects and we all know he gives off the 'plug in and go' vibe which carries over to the design of this amp. Although, let's be honest here, if you check out photographs of Slash's rig, he is using plenty of racked stomp boxes as well as switching between various Marshall heads, probably all switched via his tech so that Slash doesn't have to concern himself with pushing buttons and is free to put his foot on the monitor and throw some shapes. If he uses the SL5, then it's for practice and pre-show warm ups. Which doesn't detract from the merits of this small combo, but it's as well to be realistic in your expectations!
The SL5 is all tube and runs true class A operation. There are three ECC83 pre-amp tubes and a single EL34 output tube within the typically Marshal bomb-proof box and as soon as you fire it up, you immediately get the grinding JCM 800 type sound that Slash is famous for, especially when you use a Les Paul. Mission accomplished! If you are after that sound, here it is. Just add a humbucking powered guitar.
Plug a Strat in, though, and you realise that even though the SL5 has been designed for Slash, there are plenty of tones to be had that he cannot lay claim to. Most of the sound comes from you as a player anyway, so you should always buy any signature product with your ears, not because your hero has his name on it (we'll remind you of that if there's ever a Michael Casswell signature amp! - Ed)
Speaker duties in the SL5 are handled by a speaker which it seems Slash and I share the same opinion of - the Celestion Vintage 30. It's a great all-round speaker with a nice bark around the low mids, and the SL5 is lucky enough to be loaded with the 12 inch version, giving it a really big sound for a five Watt combo. In fact the SL5 has larger than usual dimensions to it, which adds hugely to how this amp sounds. It looks more like the size you would find in a higher wattage combo, and with that great speaker, combines to make this five Watter sound very grown up indeed.
It comes supplied with a footswitch to switch your clean and dirty channels and also turn on and off the rather tasty digital plate reverb. The reverb is very usable, unlike a lot of the spring reverbs that come supplied with many amps. I'm not a fan of spring reverb, and prefer anything that's more studio like, but that could just be me. I usually run digital reverb in the effects loops of my amps and use it just to add a little depth to the sound, and reverb on the SL5 is very nice for doing just that.
The EQ for both channels is shared, but with some stomp boxes in front of the amp you can add extra versatility to your tone. Let's say you added an everyday Tube Screamer style overdrive stomp box in front of the amp. The effect of that one pedal will be different on both channels. Your clean channel would beef up and get a bit bluesy, and your dirty channel would go to silly amounts of gain, or, alternatively, go some way to help lower output pickups. Using a Les Paul, there is plenty of gain to be had, but if you own a Tele, obviously that amount of gain will be down a little, so any type of pedal that pushes the front end can expand this and any amp's versatility, and because this amp is all valve, it responds well to this trick.
As I say, you should never buy a guitar or amp just because it has your favourite player's name on it. You should buy it because it sounds great, does justice to your playing and inspires you. The SL5 can do all those things. In a sense it really is like a scaled down Marshall AFD head but even so, as the review progressed, I started to look on the SL5 as a Marshall Five Watt combo, not as a Slash amp. It's more than that and, in fact, it's probably the coolest sounding five Watter I have tried. The only reason it wouldn't work for me is because it lacks an effects loop, and I think that Marshall has missed a trick by not fitting one in the design. But I guess if Slash said no, then that's that.
Overall? Shop with your ears. There's a lot more going on here than the name Slash suggests. Expensive? Maybe, but this is a handmade product of real quality and surprising versatility.