Marshall's JVM series was internationally hailed as a masterpiece when it was unveiled in 2006. It must have been hard for the Marshall team to decide what was left to do when they sat down with a blank sheet of paper before designing it. What was left? The answer turned out to be mate the huge power and enormous tone that had made Marshall's the universal Rock amp since the 1960s and add enormous versatility. The problem was how do you make an amp versatile without making it too complicated to drive?
The JVM 410 is a classic British valve head, deriving 100 Watts output from four EL34s in the power amp and five ECC83s. Constructionally, the JVM makes more use of circuit boards than the vintage Marshalls of the '60s, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as it as been done to Marshall's usual standard so should guarantee reliability and consistency, from sample to sample.
The first sight of all those controls on an amp's front panel can generate two quite different emotions. Some players will look at them as a gift for getting precisely the sound they want, while others are going to wonder if they are going to mean too much fiddly complexity. Well, there's no need for group two to worry. Yes, the Marshall has four distinct channel, with controls to match, but it is not complicated to use. In fact it's simplicity itself.
Taken channel by channel, each has controls for Gain, three bands of EQ, Volume and Reverb. The secret weapon is that each channel also has an LED indicated (Green, Amber, Red) three stage pre-set for gain levels - more which, anon.
Having initially set the channels how you like them, you then get to play with the nicely thought-out master section, which gives you twin, switchable, Master Volumes, plus the old familiar Marshall Presence control, and Resonance.
If this was all you had, you might already think you'd died and gone to amp heaven, but the JVM goes on getting better, the deeper you dig. It comes with a fully programmable pedal board (gratifyingly, included in the price - other manufacturers take note!), a serious number of speaker outputs, series and parallel effects loops, speaker emulation line out, MIDI in/thru sockets (yes, the JVM is MIDI controllable!), a host of speaker outputs... OK, the kitchen sink was missing but we'll let them off.
You've heard the saying 'jack of all trades but master of none?' Well, forget it. This Marshall effortlessly delivers a catalogue of Marshall's historic tones - and then does something quite unexpected in addition - it delivers a remarkably good clean sound. Now, before you start thinking 'Why would I want a Marshall with a clean sound?' think again. This isn't an amp that has a clean sound or a distorted one, this is an amp that has just about all the versions of distortion you could dream of, as well as a clean amp to rival just about anything. The perfect head? For many, it may well be.
In fact it was probably the JVM's excellent clean performance that attracted Joe Satriani's attention. Joe is famous for using his pedals and his pickups to get 'the sound' - meaning he needs an amp with massive headroom and tonal fidelity to deliver. And that's what the JVM 410 has - in spades.
As Danny Gill's video shows, the big surprise of this amp are its sophisticated clean sound which, with a bit of onboard digital reverb (and it's a very high quality reverb, in case you were wondering) delivers sparkling, clear tonality you just don't expect for a full-on Marshall valve head.
Watch the video and you'll also see Danny demonstrate how the Marshall's intuitive, Green, Amber Red, switching system lets you conjure-up almost any sound. Don't forget - you have four channels to play with, plus those three, footswitchable, colour-coded Gain settings as well. By the time he's up there in the red light setting in channels three and four, the Marshall is simply smokin'!
As Danny says, one of the frequently overlooked qualities of Marshall amps is that they like working with pedals - not all amps do and no doubt this was another of the things that attracted Satch's attention.
Once you've got over your surprise at finding the clean channel, the rest of the JVM's offering are just what you hoped for when you opened the box. Here's your personal Marshal time machine - taking you from early Marshall warmth to the out-and-out lunacy of today's metal.
What swings the Marshall even more into our favour is its excellent price. Bear in mind that this is a genuine hand-built amplifier, made in the Marshall factory in sunny Milton Keynes, England, by some of the same production staff who were making amps since before some of us were born. True, it doesn't feature the laborious point to point hand wiring of ultra-traditional valve amps, but there's a plus side to that, too, as it means JVMs are likely to be more consistent.
Originally, we were going to give this a four star rating - pretty much as good as it gets for quality in our book. Then we started thinking about the price the cost of the handful of valve/tube amps that can compete with the JVMs versatility. That clinched it. The Marshall went up to four and a half - as good a rating as we've yet given anything we've seen.