Guitar Bar: What to Consider When Buying a Used Marshall Amp

Hey, all! Welcome to the Guitar Bar blog, where I'll share with Guitar World readers what's been going on in our shop, Guitar Bar in Hoboken, New Jersey, and answer questions from our customers that might hopefully help you in some way.

I've had Guitar Bar for 15 years (and I’ve worked in some other cool shops over the years). We deal with used, vintage and some new gear. The staff and I still play out and tour, so you'll be privy to a lot of hands-on experience.

Recently, someone asked me, "What should I look for when buying a used Marshall amp?"

Although it’s a question that invites a lot more questions, I'll try and boil it down to the basics. Of course, some of this advice can be used when looking for other amps, too.

First off, does it work? Turn the amp on and plug in. Jiggle the cable in the input jacks to make sure the signal doesn't cut in and out. If it does, a bad jack -- if on a circuit board, like most of the Valvestates and MGs are -- can be a costly repair.

Turn each knob to see if you hear any crackling. If so, you have a dirty pot. Sometimes you can work the dirt out by just rocking the switch back and forth. If not, it may have to be opened up and sprayed out.

How does it look? If it's beat up, it may have been used on gigs, so things could have gotten shaken up a bit inside. If it's clean looking, it may have just sat in someone's bedroom and been cared for. How does it smell? Like cat pee? While it's powered on, give it a whiff; where there's smoke, there's fire -- or a repair bill.

What do you need it for? If it’s just for a bedroom/practice amp, you probably don't need a full 100-watt stack. The little Valvestates have a great little crunch along with a good clean sound, and the DFX models with built-in effects can be fun to mess around with, but they won't give you the versatility that a pedal would.

If you're going for a tube model, find out its age. The older it is, the more you’ll want to know what servicing has been done to it. Were the tubes ever changed? Have the filter capacitors been changed? If we're talking an amp that's 20-plus years old, if they haven't been changed, they'll need it soon.

Those are my basic tips for today. I hope it helps you find the amp that makes you sound righteous and drives the neighbors crazy!

Guitar Bar, at 160 First St. in Hoboken, New Jersey, 201-222-0915, has been serving New York City and New Jersey musicians since 1996. Vintage, new and used guitars, effects, amps and other cool stuff abound, and expert repairs and lessons are done on site. Owner James Mastro is an active touring and recording musician whose credits include Ian Hunter, Patti Smith, John Cale, Health & Happiness Show, The Bongos, Garland Jeffreys and Donovan, to name a few. Ask him gear-related questions (or anything!) by commenting on this and future blog posts.

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