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.
So, let’s take a look at this wonderful, underrated pedal.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Plexi Pedals on the Market
- Voodoo Lab Giggity
- Joyo JF-32
- Tech 21 Hot-Rod
- Wampler Plexi-Drive Deluxe
- Radial Tonebone Hot British V9
- Carl Martin PlexiTone
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Here’s what we’ll cover.
- What is a Plexi Pedal?
- Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Mini Reviews
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 which lie somewhere in the middle. Ones which 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
So, now you know what to expect from one of these little emulators, it’s time to take a look at some of the best products on the market. To make it easy for you, we’ve pointed out what makes each product hot, and we’ve considered the kind of player each one would be most suited to.
Voodoo Lab Giggity Analog Mastering Preamp Guitar Effect Pedal
The Voodoo Lab Giggity is an analog device which works well after your pedalboard and before your amp to shape the sound into sometime 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.
Who is this suited to?
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.
- It’s quite pricey.
- It’s a bit bulky.
- EQ is limited to two-band.
The Joyo JF-32 is an incredibly affordable device that’s also compact and easy to use.
It has just three knobs: volume, distortion, and tone, as well as an on/off foot-switch that’s true bypass. The volume dial controls your output; the distortion dial lets you crank up the gain and compression, while the tone dial easily boosts your low, mid or high tones, depending on its positioning.
The Joyo JF-32 is pretty much always distorted while turned on, unlike some other plexi emulators, which have a variety of clean tonal options. However, this is perfect for those who know what they want, and who want distortion.
Its small size also makes it extremely portable, which is added to by the fact that it can be powered off a 9V battery as well as a DC adapter.
Who is this suited to?
The Joyo JF-32 will be perfect for musicians on a budget who would like something affordable and straightforward to instantly improve their tone and give them a Marshall-like distorted sound.
It will be less suited to those looking for something more controllable, with EQ options or clean settings.
- Just three knobs make it simple to use.
- True bypass enables a transparent tone.
- It lacks tone-shaping controls.
- It’s quite flimsy.
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.
Who is this suited to?
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.
- It’s not that simple to use.
- It’s quite expensive.
- It’s pretty bulky.
Wampler Plexi-Drive Deluxe
This pedal is a pretty high-end device that’s 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 pedal 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.
Who is this suited to?
This will suit those who wish to control their EQ as they would on an actual amp. Its price makes it appropriate for professional or semi-professional musicians. It might not be the option for those who want something simple and inexpensive.
- 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.
- It can seem a little complex to those who aren’t particularly tech-friendly.
- It’s pretty pricey.
Radial Tonebone Hot British V9
The Hot British V9 makes controlling the EQ easier than ever, using dials and switches. It comes at a similar price to the Wampler above. 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.
Who is this suited to?
It will be well suited to guitarists who wish to control their EQ but like the option of doing so instantly as well as through fine-tuning dials.
It might not suit those who want a simple distortion pedal.
- 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.
- It’s expensive
- The EQ is limited to 2-band.
- Buffered bypass.
Carl Martin PlexiTone
This is an exceptionally versatile, high-end product similar in 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 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.
Who is this suited to?
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.
- The tone control is limited to one dial.
- It’s pretty expensive.
- There’s no 9V battery option.
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 Voodoo Lab Giggity, Radial Tonebone Hot British V9 or Wampler Plexi-Drive are the obvious three to choose from. The Voodoo Lab makes tonal shaping easy with its intuitive dials, and it’s also a little cheaper than the other two. The Hot British V9, however, makes EQ adjustment easier still with its low and high dials as well as switches to instantly boost mid or high-end frequencies. However, like the Wampler, it’s a little more expensive. 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 e Tech 21 Hot-Rod, Carl Martin Plexi or the Wampler will be best suited to your needs. As already established, the Wampler also shines in the EQ department. 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-32. This tiny little stompbox has just three knobs and will fit easily into any almost-packed pedalboard. It produced distorted Marshall-like sounds easily but struggles with anything that’s moderately clean.
Whichever of these products suits you best, we hope that it helps you on your journey back to the 1960s. Enjoy exploring the sounds of the past; they’re right at your feet.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.