Essential FX: Marshall Guv’nor

IMG_2402001Chris Hanby stamps on a classic Marshall Guv’nor Mk I from 1989

Marshall is a name synonymous with rock’n’roll. Whether its Nigel Tufnel’s ‘this one goes to 11!’ amp or Jimi Hendrix’s stack at Woodstock, the Marshall brand oozes rock credibility. So when Jim Marshall decided to branch out into effects it was obvious that first up should be a ‘Marshall stack in a box’. ‘The Guv’nor’ was launched in the late 80s to critical acclaim among guitar players: skip forward to the late 90s, and we saw a few bassists (most famously Tim Commerford of Rage Against The Machine) enjoying this almost forgotten pedal. Let’s dust off the spandex, find our most pointy bass, crank it up and see what we’ve been missing.

History

Jim Marshall began his career in music as a drummer. Having built up a successful business as a drum teacher, he opened a shop in west London specialising in drum equipment. Ever keen to expand his horizons, Marshall began to stock some guitar amps. The shop soon saw an upsurge in sales, with many musicians of the time popping in to try out the latest equipment – specifically, hard-to-find American amps. After numerous inquiries for high gain amps, Marshall employed a designer and produced the JTM45. It wasn’t long before Marshall amps were everywhere and by the end of the 60s many top acts were using them. With the arrival of hard rock in the 70s, the Marshall stack adorned more and more stages. This increased still further through the 80s and 90s.

In Use

The Guv’nor – so-called as it was Jim Marshall’s nickname – has become very highly regarded by guitar players as a warmer version of the classic TS-9 Tubescreamer. Housed in a sturdy black box, it’s emblazoned with the distinctive Marshall logo. The five controls read much like a conventional amp, which is hardly surprising as the schematic is an almost exact copy of the preamp of Marshall’s ‘Lead 12’ combo with Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble and Level controls. On the back are the usual 9V DC power jack and the ¼” input and output jack sockets. There is also a third socket to connect a loop of other effects via a TRS cable. This allows you to switch on the whole chain with the Guv’nor’s footswitch.

I had to ramp up the Bass control a fair bit to retain my low end, and found the treble control to be more of a high end cut rather than bringing out glassy highs. That said, the middle offered some decent scooped EQ options. The Gain control offers everything from delicate breakup though to warm tube overdrive, which was very responsive to dynamics. Turned fully clockwise, you’re into ripping distortion. Using the level to balance with my clean tone, a wide array of drive tones were available. IMG_2407002

Availability

The MkI Guv’nor has long been discontinued and commands high prices over the pond. It’s worth noting that there are two versions of the MkI, which are identical to look at apart from the battery cover label stating either ‘Made in England’ or ‘Made in Korea’. As usual, the earlier, English-built ones are the most sought after, which means prices are fairer here for a change. They seem to pop up with some regularity on eBay. Expect to pay around £125 for a clean, boxed example. The MkII GV-2 Guv’nor Plus, also manufactured in Korea, has a smaller form factor and the addition of a ‘Deep’ control. They are still in production and easy to find, so expect to pay around £49 or less second-hand.

Alternatives

The Ibanez TS9B Bass Tubescreamer seems the logical alternative, although it doesn’t offer anywhere near the amount of gain that the Guv’nor can produce. There are a wealth of bass overdrives out there and I would advise you try as many as possible to see which ones meet your needs.

Conclusion

While this is clearly an overdrive designed for guitar, it performs well on bass. I personally prefer the lower gain settings where it can add some classic valve grind. If used in conjunction with a clean blend pedal you can get some fantastic results. The late great Jim Marshall got it right with this one. Let’s give a nod to the Guv’nor.

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