The sound of the Marshall amp has defined a generation (or two, or three) of music, and played an important role in defining Jimi Hendrix’s sound (among many others e.g. Angus Young, Billy Joe Armstrong, etc).
Guitarists do everything they can to get the same sound, but many have neglected to consider using a plexi pedal to get that distinctive Marshall sound.
At a Glance – Our Choice of the Best Plexi Pedals on the Market
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Here’s what we’ll cover.
Table of Contents
- What is a Plexi Pedal?
- Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Mini Reviews
- So, Which Should I Choose?
What is a Plexi Pedal?
These pedals, so named because of the plexiglass on classic Marshall amps’ heads, are a budget-friendly and lightweight alternative to buying a plexi head and emulate the classic rock sounds of 1960s amplifiers. Plexi heads were what you could expect to find before the fronts on Marshall heads became metal.
They were popular in the 1960s and were what helped to create the definitive sound of Hendrix, Cream, and Led Zeppelin. These amps had a full and rich tone and had hand-wired circuitry and large transformers. They could go loud, and they could take a beating. They also cost a lot and continue to fetch high prices as sought after vintage amps today.
Plexi pedals use either analog circuitry or advanced digital programming to emulate the sound that you can plug into whatever speaker you like.
Most purists prefer analog circuitry in their pedals and can tell the difference due to the warmth of tone. They generally have a selection of the controls you’d expect to find on an amp head, including gain, master, and EQ controls. You can keep them on throughout your set, or flick them on at will with the foot-switch.
To achieve their best results, they need to be plugged into the cleanest sounding amp possible, after any other effects you might use. Effectively, these devices aim to take the place of whichever amp you’re using, while still coming through the speaker.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
There are a few things to consider before you buy one of these products.
Do You Need Tone-Shaping / EQ?
Is 3-band EQ an essential part of this amp emulator, for you, or do you have a separate EQ pedal? Perhaps you’re happy to control your highs, mids, and lows via your actual amplifier.
If you are looking for a little pedal that will work just like a mini amp, and you want maximum control, multiple tone-shaping / EQ dials will be an important part of this.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something simple that can take you straight to distorted Marshall-esque sounds, without any messing about, you might opt for something more simple, with perhaps just one tone-shaping dial.
How Many Styles Do You Play?
How much versatility do you need from your pedal? Are you looking for something that works equally as well on clean settings, to achieve bright, airy sounds as it does when reaching heavy, over-driven sounds? Maybe you just want something that can deliver not just overdrive, but lots of different overdrives.
If you’re a heavy rock player, you might be happy to have a pedal without a high amount of clean settings. However, if you want to dive into jazz and blues now and again, it’s important to find a product that isn’t all-or-nothing noise.
How Simple Do You Like Your Devices?
Some of these products are stompboxes with a couple of knobs, while others have multiple foot-switches and an array of knobs. What would suit you? Are you a tech-geek, who demands ultimate control over EQ at all times, or do you prefer something that you merely stomp and it does its thing?
These pedals are available on both ends of the scale, so there’s no need to settle for something that will only frustrate you. Of course, there are also many stompboxes that lie somewhere in the middle. Ones that offer a combination of dials and toggles can give you the option for fine-tuning while also providing instant results at the flick of a button.
Do you Need a Boost?
Are you going to be wanting to suddenly crank up the volume, for a solo or a chorus?
If so, it makes sense to get one of these boxes that doubles up as a booster. Many of them have an additional foot-switch, to add a ‘boost.’ Most of the pedals with this function also have a knob to control the amount of boost you induce. This feature can be the difference between a weak performance and a punchy, dynamically varied musical experience.
Product Round-up & Mini Reviews
Wampler Plexi-Drive Deluxe
The Plexi-Drive Deluxe is packed with features.
There’s a 3-band EQ that can be controlled by dials, plus a toggle switch to boost bass or bright sounds quickly.
There’s also a dedicated boost button, to quickly lift your volume during solos or choruses, and there are gain and volume controls to adjust your input and output volumes.
It can be powered via 9 or 18v DC adaptors, giving you extra options in terms of headroom and it can also be battery powered by a 9V.
The Plexi-Drive Deluxe has true bypass, so you can guarantee transparency of tone and rely on it not to interfere with your sound when it’s not in use.
This will suit those who wish to control their EQ as they would on an actual amp.
- Tonal boost toggles for a quick shift in bass or bright sounds.
- Boost foot-switch and dial to control shifts in volume.
- Three-band EQ gives you excellent control over the tone’s shaping.
If you’re shopping on a budget, the Joyo JF-32 is worth looking at. It is designed to take over the EQ structure of your signal and make it sound like a variety of British amps, in particular Marshall tube amps.
It’s more than just a tube amp simulator though, with various dials to help with tone-sculpting helping you get that 60s and 70s warm, harmonic overdrive.
For the price, it’s surprisingly well built too. It has a thick metal enclosure, smooth control pots and a decent footswitch.
- Marshall tube amp emulator with tone-sculpting capabilities
- Superb price
- Well built and made to last
- True bypass
Radial Tonebone Hot British V9
The Hot British V9 makes controlling the EQ easier than ever, using dials and switches. There are just two EQ dials on this device: low and high, but there’s also a contour control to adjust your overall tonal quality.
Although there are just two EQ dials, this product also has a mid-boost switch and a top-end switch which takes you instantly from dark to normal to bright.
There are level and drive controls, to determine how distorted your guitar sounds as well as how loud the output it, and there’s one foot-switch to turn it on or off to buffered bypass.
It can run off a 9V battery or 9V adaptor.
- Low, high, and contour dials allow you to sculpt your sound and vary the character of the distortion.
- Top-end and mid-boost switches enable you to bring out desired frequencies quickly.
- Level and drive controls give you access to clean tones as well as gritty distortion.
Voodoo Lab Giggity Analog Mastering Preamp Guitar Effect Pedal
The Voodoo Lab Giggity is an analog device that works well after your pedalboard and before your amp to shape the sound into something superior.
One of the main things that would draw you to this pedal would be its intuitive body and air controls, which allow you to fine-tune low and high frequencies and there are also master and loudness controls which enable you to decide how loud your output is and how distorted it is before it comes out. There’s even a sun/moon dial, so you can choose how bright your tone is or – conversely – how dark it is.
This quirky stompbox is quite expensive, but not the priciest on our list. For the number of features you get, it’s undeniably good value. The Giggity even has a plexi top panel, adding to its authenticity. Like most pedals, it can be powered off either a 9V adaptor or a 9V battery.
The Voodoo Lab Giggity will suit guitarists who are looking for something that will easily shape their tone to sound similar to a traditional Marshall amp. It will be less suited to those who are looking for a straight-up distortion pedal that has Marshall qualities.
- Body and Air controls allow you to fine-tune low and high frequencies.
- Loudness control lets you go all the way from clean up to gritty, compressed sounds.
- True bypass ensures a bright tone and lack of interference.
Tech 21 Hot-Rod
The Tech 21 Hot-Rod is similarly priced to the Voodoo Lab Giggity, and it’s a similar product, with the added advantage of doubling up as a boost pedal.
This analog pedal has level, tone and drive controls, but it also has a ‘thump’ dial which adjusts the low end to make your guitar sound like it’s coming through a 4×12 cabinet.
Clarity of tone is maintained thanks to the high-impedance input and low-impedance output, which also encourages the vintage, spacious sounds of a plexi Marshall.
It has two foot-switches, one of which works as a boost and one that cranks up the distortion. It can take a bit of setting up and getting used to, but this robust device can deliver a trusty tone time and time again, once you find the right settings.
This will be well suited to tech-friendly musicians who want something specifically capable of old amp sounds, with the inclusion of a boost switch and the exclusion of extensive EQ settings. It will be less suited to those who require hi/mid/low controls, or to those who want something straightforward.
- Doubles up as a boost pedal.
- Tone, thump, level, and drive controls give you a decent amount of control.
- High-impedance input and low-impedance output maintains the clarity of tone.
Carl Martin PlexiTone
This is an exceptionally versatile, high-end product similar in a similar price range to the Wampler or Hot British V9 above. Like those two pedals, it allows you to adjust the tone, though only with one, all-in-one tonal shaping dial.
It has a separate boost and drive foot-switches, making it quick to hit the overdrive on or to get suddenly louder, and there’s an on/off switch in the middle.
The best thing about the Carl Martin is that the overdrive has both a crunch channel and a high gain channel. This gives you a fantastic amount of access to a high range of sounds.
It’s a powerful pedal, and it takes a 12V adaptor (rather than your standard 9V) to power it.
It will be perfect for those who want access to a wide range of Marshall style distortion tones. The separate drive channels give you an amazing amount of control over your over-driven sounds.
It might be less suited to those who would rather have their control in the EQ department.
- Works as a boost pedal and has a separate foot-switch for this.
- High gain and crunch dials allow you to control multiple distortions.
- Tone control allows you to boost lows, mids or highs.
So, Which Should I Choose?
There are a lot of these little beauties out there, and it can be difficult to decide which features you prioritize when you’re shopping for one.
If EQ control is your priority, the Wampler takes EQ shaping to the next level with its 3-band adjustment settings and toggle switches to boost lows and highs.
If you’re looking for something that works exceptionally as a boost, as well as a vintage amp emulator, the Tech 21 Hot-Rod, Carl Martin Plexi, or the Wampler will be best suited to your needs.
The Carl Martin offers superior distortion options, and the Tech 21 has a ‘thump’ knob, which can make the amp sound more like a classic 4×12.
Guitarists on a budget, or those who like to keep it simple, you can rejoice in the Joyo JF-16. This tiny little stompbox is straightforward to use and will fit easily into any almost-packed pedalboard.
Whichever of these products suits you best, we hope this helped. Enjoy exploring the sounds of the past, they’re right at your feet.