This is what I consider somewhat of a guide to the Marshall Class 5. I began this as a response to a forum question and as I got going, decided I would do an all out review/guide to the amp since it was so long. Take this for what it’s worth. I often see questions from people wanting to try or buy the amp, but have no idea what it will do or how they will like it. This obviously won't completely solve those problems, but will hopefully give people an idea of if the amp with work for them. I will admit that the Class 5 is my absolute favorite Marshall and guitar amp in general, but I will try to keep the bias to a minimum as I will be the first to tell you this amp is not for everyone. As with any gear review or opinion, your milage may vary. Feel free to comment on or question anything that you don't agree with if you are a Class 5 owner. My Experience with the Amp:
I believe that I may have one of the most complete experiences with this amp and wanted to weigh in since I’ve put it through it’s paces in many different situations over the 5 years I’ve used it. I’m not trying to brag, just trying to give everyone an idea of what scenarios I’ve used the amp under. Here are what I consider noteworthy about my experience with the amp:
-I have owned both the Combo (C5-01 Version) and Head. (I currently gig with the head)
-I have played over 100 shows with the Class 5 in venues ranging from small Coffeehouses and Churches to large outdoor festivals and indoor concert venues.
-I recorded a 10 song album in a professional recording studio with the Class 5 as my main amp.
-I have used the Class 5 for band rehearsals as well as live shows.
-I have mainly played the Class 5 with my Blues/Rock Trio (think ZZ Top set up) but have also played with a worship band, full jazz band (with horn section), jazz combo and jam band set up.
The only thing I have not done with the amp that guitarist may want to know is tour with it. It has stood up to the normal abuse of taking it from my house to a venue/friends house/jam session but has not been “road tested” as far as throwing it around in a trailer or van, so I cannot speak to that.Volume:
The number one question I hear from guitarists regarding the Class 5 is “How loud is it?” generally followed by, “Can it keep up with a band?”
My answer to this is simply “It depends”. An awful answer, but let me explain. First off, it simply is pretty loud. This is not an amp you’ll be able to crank in your bedroom comfortably. Realistically, your Wife/Husband/Significant Other will not be very happy if you put the Class 5 on anything higher than 2. So if you are looking for a bedroom amp only, I would steer clear of it. Keep in mind the tone changes as you turn it up (I will get into this in depth in the “Tone” section) so anything below 2 is clean with just about no hint of breakup. It should be noted however, that the C5-01 combo has a “Low Power” switch on the back that you can flip on and crank to 10 with hardly anyone noticing, so there’s that. I find the headphone jack to be a bit pointless because, again, you have to crank the amp past 2 to get any kind of crunch or overdrive and that literally translates to turning the volume of your headphones up just as you would an iPod or any other device, which gets painful after 3 or so. Both the Combo and Head have the headphone out feature.
Now, the scenario changes when we talk about band practice. The Class 5 fits in a funny spot of being loud enough to make out, but not much more when you get a full band involved. A lot of it depends on your drummer. If you have a drummer that hits mild to medium, the Class 5 will be fine by itself un-mic’d. If your dummer really plays hard or plays busily (think Keith Moon or Ginger Baker) then you’re going to have a hard time hearing it. It’s not like a practice amp where it disappears completely, but you’re going to feel covered up and needing more volume. Especially the more instruments you have in your band.
Now, reading that, you may think the amp is useless. Too loud for home practice and too soft for live use with a band. Here’s my general take on that. If you are in a venue that the Class 5 is not loud enough to fill, it should have a PA to mic it. I have never played a venue that the Class 5 wasn’t loud enough for that didn’t have a PA. And it is actually a little too loud for small coffeehouse gigs, but if you play with the volume and settings correctly it can be done. This amp shines when you’re able to put it behind you, throw a mic in front of it and let the PA system throw out the glorious classic Marshall tones this little guy kicks out when you crank it. So if you play in a large loud band that plays big venues with no PA, then no, the Class 5 will not work for you. If that’s not the case, then you can most likely make it work. The only issue you may have is during rehearsals where there is no PA to properly run the amp through. But again, you can still hear it enough to get through a rehearsal.
For sheer reference on volume, I used to own a made in England 100 watt Marshall DSL half stack, and the Class 5 gets as loud as the half stack on 3-4. Think about that for a second. I can’t recall a time I practically needed to get the 100 watt half stack past 3-4, so for all intents and purposes, I’ve found the Class 5 plenty loud enough to play shows.Tone:
The Class 5 is often regarded as a one trick pony. While I can see where people get that, I think it has a few more tricks up it’s sleeve. Not many, but a few more. The Class 5, to my ears, is basically a Marshall Plexi that you can turn up past 2 without blowing your eardrums out. When I recorded my band’s album, the studio owner actually brought in an original ‘72 Marshall Plexi for me to track some parts with. On the recordings, the Class 5 went toe to toe with the ‘72 Plexi and it was hard to tell an incredibly large difference. He ended up using both the tracks as a kind of “doubling” of the part, but they were both very similar. The Class 5 has a little more gain from what I can tell and is obviously much more bearable to be in the same room with when it’s on 7.
The Class 5 has a very raw, mid focused, raunchy tone. To be honest, if you were to simply listen to it in a room by itself, you probably would not care for it, as it sounds fairly harsh and barky. This can be smoothed out by rolling down the Middle and Treble and adding Bass, but this is still a low mids intensive amp. The interesting thing (and why this is my favorite amp) is how well it sits in a band mix. Once you add a drummer, bass player and vocalist, the amp absolutely sings. The bark sounds very natural and appealing when in a band setting and really cuts through the mix. The notes are very articulate and solos have no problem carrying out. My personal favorite thing to do with this amp is put it on about 3 or 4 for a nice breakup/crunch sound and then turn on an overdrive pedal with the level cranked to push the amp into sweet overdriven lead tones. You can also achieve this by putting the amp higher and using your volume knob on the guitar to roll between clean, crunch and lead tones.
The good and bad thing about the Class 5 is that the tone 100% depends on the volume. The amp fully utilizes the preamp tubes, power amp tubes, EQ section and speaker to get it’s tones. It is all how these things change and interact as you turn the amp up and down. If you think the amp sounds great with the volume on 7, there’s no way to get that sound any softer or louder, it is what it is. I find this to be charming, but I can definitely see where people would get frustrated that their lead tones were to loud and clean/crunch tones were too soft. It should also be noted that I like the head better than the combo simply because you can pair it up with different speakers. You can also hook the Combo up to a extension cab, but it’s kind of pointless to carry the extra weight of the combo to plug it into something else. The best Marshall tone I’ve heard came out of the head through a Marshall basketweave 4x12 cab loaded with Greenbacks.
An overall scale of tones would be this:
3-5: Edge of Break Up to Crunchy
5-7: Overdriven Lead Tones
8-10: Distorted to Slightly “Fuzzy” kinda sounds
Personally I did not like the Class 5 past 7 as I found it got a little flubby and undefined. But I’m also not a very high gain player, so take that for what it’s worth. The cleans are also a tad “rude” and have to be dialed in differently than when the amp is crunchy.Pedals:
If you use conventional pedals into the front of the amp, you’ll love it. Overdrives, wahs, and phaser/choruses sound wonderful. I run a Way Huge Green Rhino, Crybaby Mini, MXR Univibe and JHS Morning Glory into this and they all sound great. I’m sure a delay pedal would also work if you messed around with the settings. If you approach it the same as the guitar heros of the 60’s and 70’s did, you should have no problem.
However, this amp does not tend to like digital or “amp in a box” type pedals, especially the latter. Since the Class 5 has a lot of personality in it’s tone, it’s not what I would describe as a “clean palate” to run your pedals through. Digital systems and “amp in a box” pedals tend to like clean amps that they can take over and create their sound on. When I used any of these kind of pedals with the Class 5, it definitely sounded more on the fake side.Overall:
I love this amp. I think this is the most accessible and practical way to capture vintage Marshall sounds for your rig. It definitely is not a swiss army knife, but if you only need the amp to put out a handful of great classic Marshall tones, look no further. I personally am able to create quite an array of tones using different pedals, volume knob positions, guitars and pickups. I believe most people are turned off by this amp because it is loud and sounds harsh by itself. But if you can put it through it’s paces with a band, you’ll understand what Marshall’s intent was with it. It’s the same thing as a Plexi or Bluesbreaker, if you never get the volume past 1 or 2, you’re not tapping into tones that are in the amp’s wheelhouse. Luckily, it’s much easier to get the Class 5 past 2 than it is other classic Marshalls.
As a style guide, I say this.
It’s a great amp for:
-Rock (Classic, Indie, Alt, Pretty much any kind)
-Blues (Again, pretty much any kind)
It’ll work, but there’s better options for:
Steer Clear for:
-Metal (This amp will not do anything from Metallica or beyond. It’s simply too mid heavy and does not get enough gain)
-Cover bands/Bands that tackle a ton of different genres.
Hope that helps anyone looking at this amp make a decision. Thanks!