Love him or hate him, Yngwie Malmsteen is with out a doubt one of the most influential and important guitarist in the last 30 years of Rock. His genre-defining style, fluid, jaw dropping, technique and beautiful rich violin-like tone single-handedly pioneered the Neo Classical guitar movement during the '80s. His influences included Paganini, Bach, Ritchie Blackmore and Jimi Hendrix. For his entire career Yngwie has produced his beautiful rich tone with classic equipment - a scalloped neck Fender Strat and old, early '70s Marshall 100 watt heads. To celebrate Yngwie's dedication to the electric guitar and loyalty to Marshall Amps, Marshall has released a limited run of 100 watt YJM heads, and I was lucky enough to get the chance to spend some time with this beautiful amplifier.
Signature products can be a problem for guitarists. One thing that often puts me off is the use of garish logos and graphics, and another is a string of pointless modifications that may only be relevant to the artist whose name is on the equipment. In no way does the YJM 100 fall into this category.
To start with, the appearance of the amplifier is very understated - in fact it looks like an old 1959 100 watt four input head, with just a small YJM logo, which is very discreet and subtle. The front of the amplifier has all of the controls you would expect to find: the on/off switch, stand by, presence, bass, middle and treble, plus the two volume controls for each channel. The channels can be "jumped" or connected together with a patch cable, allowing you to thicken up the sound, and blend the two channels with both volume controls to achieve your basic core tone.
And here's where the clever stuff comes into play. For those of you that have used a traditional Marshall, you will be well aware of that fact that to get a great tone out of these amps you have to crank them up, which often isn't easy to do when you are playing pub gigs, or even bigger gigs for that matter, as it's a sound man's nightmare. The YJM head, however, includes a switch to change the head from a 100 Watt to a 50 Watt, turning off two of the four EL34 power amp valves. Additionally, the Marshall features one of the best power attenuators I have ever come across. I was able to get the head cooking at just bedroom level! Even more, you can kick in a booster, with the level and gain control situated on the back of the head. When you do that, the noise gate automatically engages and the threshold of the gate can also be set with a control on the back of the head. These functions can be controlled with the very compact and rugged footswitch, which is included in the price. The gate can also be use when the booster isn't engaged.
Marshall have also included a beautiful reverb, with the level on the back of the head, and again it's activated via the footswitch. There is also an effects loop, which can also be engaged via the footswitch. The amp also includes auto biasing for when valves are replaced and four indicators that inform you which valve is faulty if you have any problems - a guitar tech's dream. As you can see, the amp retains its classic looks and values, but has been brought right up to date with features that really improve the head, and make it very usable and versatile.
Soundwise the YJM performed exactly how I would have hoped, delivering that hallowed vintage Marshall tone to perfection. But in addition to that classic sound, with the extra features I was able to achieve searing lead tones that were controllable and noiseless. The sound was rich, with a beautiful mid range that would punch through in a live situation. It was also wonderfully dynamic, not compressed or mushy at high gain when picking. It even cleaned-up beautifully, when backing down the guitar volume, something that is very important to me as a guitarist.
Even if Yngwie isn't your thing, you can get traditional Marshall tones to suit both classic and modern Rock from this really remarkable head. I was able to produce Van Halen, Hendrix and Page like tones with ease and found it a very inspiring piece of equipment to work with.
To summarise this amp, Marshall really has struck gold here, taking a classic design and adding features that really work and are relevant. The fact that the additional controls are housed on the back of the amp means that it retains it classic look that we all know and love. The addition of the booster, noise gate, reverb, power attenuator and effects loop make this a perfect combination of a vintage style amp but with the addition of the modern features that we have become accustomed to over the past few years.
Personally, I would love to own an original Marshall from this period, but when you consider the price, reliability and the lack of modern features of a vintage amp of this kind, it makes it pretty impractical, and something you would own more as a collector's piece than a professional working tool. But with the YJM you can have that desirable vintage Marshall, with modern features and reliability and at an affordable price. Go check these out before they are all snatched-up!