Pros: Sounds, Tone and...Tubes!
Cons: Read my review...
On my last review, I introduced all of you to Marshalls entry level MG100DFX combo amp, for the budget conscious beginner looking for a decent practice amp and something that he could gig with as well. This time around, Ive decided to review my buddys FAV gigging amp, the JCM2000 TSL 602, one of Marshalls Triple Super Lead series amps. And just as the MG series amps are at one end of the spectrum, Marshalls Triple Super Lead series amps are at the other end. The TSL series is essentially a three channel tube amp in the mid price range, and Im talking about setting you back $1200 US. And for those of you who want to know a little more information, Marshall also have the DSL series which are dual channel tube amps and the Vintage series plexi amps which are all single channel tube amps in addition to the AVT series hybrid amps.
Also, as with all the different choices of models available, the TSLs come in an array of different sizes and configurations. The TSL 100 (100 watts in head format), TSL 122 (100 watts 2x12" combo) , TSL 60 (60 watt head), TSL 601 (60 watts 1x12" combo) and the TSL 602, a 60 watt combo amp loaded with 2x12" Celestion Wolverine speakers.
Features of the TSL 602:
This Wolverine beast weighs in at about 80 lbs, so after years of lugging around gear, my buddy often complains when moving this baby around and he says that recessed side carrying-handles such as those found on the TSL 122 would have been f*cking great.
The TSL 602 signal path includes 2 Svetlana EL34 output power valves and 4 ECC83 pre-amp valves. Essentially, what you get is a three channel tube amp (Clean - Crunch/OD1 - Lead/OD2), featuring the usual gain and EQ controls found on all Marshall amps. No, Im not kidding! The Clean channel has Gain, Treble, Middle and Bass knobs while the OD1 and OD2 share the same EQ controls for Treble, Middle and Bass. The Crunch/OD1 channel has its own Gain and Volume knob as does the Lead/OD2 channel.
The rest of the front panel attributes are the Overdrive Tone Shift push-switch which cuts the midrange tones and gives you a more modern scooped rock sound. There is a Master FX Mix control to balance the return from the parallel FX Loop, Clean Reverb and a separate Overdrive Reverb, a Master Presence control to brighten up your sound, a deep push-switch to add bass to your sound, and a Master Volume to control the overall volume level of the amplifier. Finally, the TSL 602 has a very useful Standby Switch. More about this later...
The TSL comes equipped with a 5 way LED foot-controller. The foot-switch allows you to toggle between all three channels plus it gives you the ability to switch the Reverb and FX Loop On/Off. The deep and overdrive tone shift modes are NOT foot-switchable.
Rear panel attributes of the TSL 602 are as follows: foot-control socket, FX Loop Send and Return jacks with Loop level switch, 2 x 1/4" output jacks for exterior cabs. The two internal Wolverine loudspeakers are wired for 16 ohm use. With the Loudspeaker Output Select switch you can alter the output impedance of the amp to 8 ohms if you want to add an extension cab. Your exterior cab should be wired for 16 ohm use. Very Important: When using a 16 ohm extension cab along with your 16 ohm interior speakers, set Loudspeaker Output Select switch to 8 ohms use. Any miss-matches here, for instance, using a 4 ohm extension cab, will cause serious bodily harm to your baby. Dont even think about it, ok!
The very last rear panel feature I havent talked about yet is the XLR DI output (line out) with speaker emulation. This balanced line out speaker emulated signal can go straight to a PA System or it can be used for recording purposes. Is it useful, absolutely. Does my Buddy ever use it, absolutely not! Why? Cos he prefers an alternative set-up for recording. But like I said, it is very useful and very usable!
So what does the TSL 602 sound like?
The Clean channel sounds good. It is not a Fender. With the gain set at 8, it does not break up like a Fender either, but there is plenty of headroom just the same. I havent met anybody yet that bought a Marshall for its clean tone. The Reverb is spacious, deep and satisfying. Bottom line: the clean channel is usable!
The Crunch/OD1 channel has that classic Marshall sound and tone youve all come to know and recognize over the years. This channel is the highlight, and is the primary reason why someone would get this amp. It goes from a mild distortion to a more saturated distortion sound a la Guns n Roses. With the Gain set at 4, you get a wonderful classic rock crunch a la AC/DC. I cant stress this enough, Ibanez and Gibson guitars were made to be played through a Marshall amp.
The Lead/OD2 channel is simply HUGE sounding. Iron Maiden and Van Halen are both here. The amp hisses with the higher the level of Gain. The overdrive reverb is...usable!
The deep switch is just great for filling out the bottom end when playing at lower volume levels. Not really recommended at higher volume levels. When the tone shift push switch is activated it produces a more mid-scooped metal sound. I preferred activating the tone shift on the Crunch channel rather then the Lead channel. This feature is also useful for deepening the tone at LOW volume levels. Even if you dime the Gain on the Lead channel, you will obtain a very modern high gain crunch sound, just dont expect Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier sounds or Peavey 5150 High Gain sounds at higher volume levels. Simply not going to happen with this unit! You cant make something sound like something it most definitely is NOT unless of course you add some exterior effects unit like the Hughes and Kettner Tubeman or a Boss Metal Zone with a parametric EQ for instance. In fact, I always use an EQ between my guitar and whatever electric guitar amp I use. :)
What you need to know about the TSL series amps?
You operate the TSL 602 with the included 5 way foot controller which comes with an 8 metre (25 feet) long lead and 6 pin DIN plug. The most important thing to remember here is to set both the Clean/OD and the OD1/OD2 channel mode push switches on the front of the panel in the pushed IN position. Otherwise, the foot switch will not properly operate.
Need a solo boost? Providing you dont use external effects in your FX Loop, heres the solution! Insert a dummy jack plug into the Return jack socket of the FX Loop on the rear panel of the amp. Using the foot-switch, ensure that the FX Loop is switched OFF. Now, set the Channel Volume and Master Volume at the loudest setting required for the gig. Using the foot-switch set the FX Loop ON (the LED should glow red). All you need to do now is set your quieter volume using the FX Mix control on the front panel. Access the solo boost by toggling FX Loop On/Off via the included five-way foot-switch. Voila, instant access to a solo boost. You may wish to try the Loop Level push switch on the rear panel to see what works best for you, pushed IN (-10 dB) and OUT (+4dB). In any event, a little experimentation is required to set everything just right. Normal operation will require that the FX Loop be switched ON all the time and switched OFF when a solo boost is required... :)
Many people damage their amps simply because they dont follow instructions very well. When powering ON the TSL 602, follow these very important instructions all the time:
Always turn Power switch ON first! Wait 2 minutes, preferably 3, then turn the Standby Switch ON and you are good to go! When taking a short break, turn Standby Switch OFF! When you return, turn Standby Switch ON and you may resume playing immediately. At the end of the gig or whenever you finish playing turn the Standby Switch OFF first and wait a few seconds before Powering OFF the amp. Always allow your amp to cool off before moving it or loading it into a vehicle. If you dont like following rules and instructions, then you must be one of those people who enjoys repairing his tube amp often? Dont be stupid. Take good care of your baby like your life depended on it and spend all that extra money you save on your honey. Both baby and honey will love you for it!
No output mute switch for silent recording via the line out when you just have to get that riff down on your four-track, but it's the middle of the night and the kids are sleeping. So whats the solution? Set Master Volume to zero and you are good to go for silent recording using the Crunch or Lead Channel.
No virtual power reduction switch to enable the TSL to sound like a much smaller valve amp being driven hard. Again, the TSL 122 has all these little extras that make it so much more appealing. The power reduction feature is designed to approximate the tone of a 30W unit on full blast and, if you've ever heard a 60W or 100W Marshall amp running at full throttle, you'll understand its usefulness. It will keep all the noise-sensitive people at your local venue including the sound man very happy, all the while squeezing every bit of tone out of your output tubes. :)
Now, I dont personally favor Marshall gear. But that doesnt mean that I dont like Marshall products. On the contrary, I love both the TSL 602 and the MG100DFX models, the latter being an excellent entry level amp for beginners and intermediate players just starting out in a band. While the TSL 602 is perhaps the perfect gigging amp, it's not flawless, and the TSL 122 has got those extra little features that elevates its overall usefulness to pro-level status.
I would find the task most difficult if I had to choose one over the other. I would have to AB both the TSL 602 and TSL 122 for a sound comparison test and if this exercise failed to reveal a FAV, I would then evaluate my needs and the pros and cons of each unit before making a final decision.
Prices in US dollars:
TSL 60 - $1099
TSL 100 - $1429
TSL 601 - $1169
TSL 602 - $1229
TSL 122 - $1699
TSLC212 extension cab - $419