Things To Consider Before You Buy A 2203/2204

Discussion in 'Marshall Amps' started by GuitarIV, Nov 18, 2018.

  1. GuitarIV

    GuitarIV Well-Known Member

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    It's been almost a year since I got my 1982 JCM 800 2203 and I think by this point I had enough time with the amp to give my honest impressions about it, both good and bad.

    The reason I'm opening this thread here is that it seems to me that there are a lot of misconceptions on the Internet about it and I thought I'd share a few things I came to understand after I finally got my hands on one.

    Now for starters I've been dreaming about getting a 2203 ever since I got into heavier music and found out that a lot of guitar players I adore and a lot of albums I love had the infamous JCM 800 working it's magic.

    What people don't tell you is that most of those amps were modded. You will not, I repeat NOT get those tones by using the amp stock and not even get close if you don't have the means to really open it up and boost it with some sort of pedal.

    I always thought I could just slap a Tubescreamer or a SD-1 in front of it with some high output pickups and get all the metal tones. Not exactly. It will get you into hard rock and early metal territorry, but you won't achieve anything more modern because the amp is just not voiced for it. And quite frankly you shouldn't buy one expecting it to do modern stuff because there are other amps out there that are specifically built to do it better.

    Now I'm not saying you can't go ahead and play death metal with a 2203/2204, but for me personally I found without proper volume that's gonna annoy the neighbours, something like an EMG 81 or some other high output pickup in your guitar, a SD-1 slamming the front end even more and a MXR 10 Band EQ to fine tune the low and high end you won't be happy. And by this point you have added enough ingredients that make you consider selling it and buying something that's suited better for the job.

    This is where in my opinion all the metal guys (including me) get it wrong. Sure you can find videos on YT and threads on forums that are like "yeah man go ahead you will kill any Mesa or Peavey with the 800" all day long, but the difference in real life is blatantly obvious.

    Just something to be aware of. I have my heavier styles covered because I have a JCM 2000 DSL 100 and a Laney IRT Studio, so I utilize the 800 for blues, rock and hard rock and after a year I learned to love the 2203 for what it is: a simple and effective no thrills amp that gives back what you put into it.

    So lets go ahead and list the good and the bad:

    Pros:

    - 6 knobs, 2 inputs, nothing complicated. You plug in, you fine tune, you play.

    - Extremely open sounding, little to no compression, reacts veeery well to pick attack and the volume and tone pots.

    - Punch and clarity. Every time you hit a note it feels like someone is hitting you in the chest with a sledgehammer. Percussive and very direct, no sag.

    - Simple yet versatile: set a dirty tone you like for rhythms, dial back on your volume pot for cleans, engage a boost or crank the volume on the guitar for leads.

    - Built like a tank: you can drop this thing out of a driving truck, replace the broken tubes, fire it up and play. Haven't tested it obviously, but the transformers are massive and everything feels and looks very sturdy, both on the in- and the outside.

    - Extremely honest. If you're playing well and precise the amp will show and react to it, the sounds you're gonna get will reflect it. It forces you to become a better player.

    Cons:

    - 6 knobs, 2 inputs, nothing complicated. You get what the amp gives you. You can't fine tune all day long without using external devices, most notably OD and EQ pedals.

    - Extremely open sounding, little to no compression. If you're used to higher gain amps it will shock you how much you suddenly have to fight for notes and how much every mistake is gonna show. If you're sloppy the 2203 will expose you in front of everyone.

    - The volume. This is NOT a bedroom amp. The Master Volume goes from nothing to "HOLY SHIT THE WALLS ARE SHAKING". It still sounds well on lower volumes with the help of an OD pedal but REALLY consider this if you're a bedroom player. I am serious. I had to get a loadbox with a D.I. out in order to be able to record and play with it properly at home. I live in an apartment building.

    - No loop. If you're constantly playing the amp full tilt and boosted for your heavy rhythm sections there is no way to make it louder for leads. You can't make the amp suddenly jump up in volume if you're already slamming the front end without the possibility of using an EQ or boost pedal in the loop. This is no problem if you play lighter styles and utilize the volume knob for leads as mentioned before, but keep this in mind. You won't get around it without having to mod and drill holes in the amp. Also no delays, chorus, reverb pedals sounding all pretty and hi fi. Just dirty and nasty in front of the amp. Wether you like that or not comes down to your own taste obviously.


    So here's my conclusion and my advice: metal players be aware. If you wanna have a perfect mod platform, go buy an old Marshall that has already been tampered with and won't lose value by modding it to your liking or go get the 2203X reissue which is said to be excellent and a great reproduction of the early 6 can vertical input models, it already comes with a loop and it will be less of a "sacrilege" if you decide to have it modded.

    If you have an untampered with original, before trying to make it something it's not from the get go look for other amps, there are plenty to be had. Don't get me wrong, it's your property you can set it on fire if you want to and nobody has the right to tell you you're not allowed to do so.

    Me personally already having thoughts about modding mine I came to the conclusion I love the 2203 stock, so before I change mine I'm on the lookout for an already modded one (can be had all day long for cheap on auction sites) or a Reissue series 800 that I can have fine tuned to my taste. My 82 model is not only there because of its "collectors value" but also because the one time I really got to open it up it was a religious, sexual experience. I shit you not. And that's the reason I'll never sell it.


    So folks there you have it. Feel free to add to this thread with your own experiences, prove me wrong or share your own pros and cons. I know there's a lot of love out there for the 2203/2204, they are great amps and sometimes less than people think they are, sometimes all you ever need and want.

    Cheers!
     
  2. spacerocker

    spacerocker Well-Known Member

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    Good honest summary!

    I used a 2203 for 25 years! Loved the rhythm guitar tone, and yes - I used to push it with a boost (actually a JHS reverb unit)


    What I liked about it:
    • Killer rhythm guitar tone, paricularly boosted as above

    What annoyed me about it:

    • Mainly, getting a decent lead tone with a reasonable increase in volume. You hit the nail on the head with this statement: "If you're constantly playing the amp full tilt and boosted for your heavy rhythm sections there is no way to make it louder for leads. You can't make the amp suddenly jump up in volume if you're already slamming the front end" There are no end of people who will say that this can be overcome by EQ pedal infront, Tube screamer, turning Volume down on guitar etc etc.....At the end of the day, you can't change the laws of physics...a heavily overdriven pre-amp won't get any louder by pushing it harder. I tried everything, and was never entirely happy with the compromises involved....
    • Lack of a built-in reverb. Not the end of the world, but nice to have.
    • Getting instant access to a decent clean channel. I know the low input gives a pretty sweet clean tone, but unplugging and plugging into it live for a clean intro just isn't going to work.....
    To overcome these (quite considerable) limitations, does, as you say require some sort of intervention - mod for effects loop, switchable attenuator, etc etc...

    My solution was to switch to a JVM410, and mod it to more closely resemble a 2203. Result - best of both worlds! I haven't played my 2203 live in 10 years!.....

     
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  3. chiliphil1

    chiliphil1 Well-Known Member

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    Great post! I think you hit pretty much all of the big points here. When I had mine I also had an SD-1 waza craft OD pedal and that pedal made all the difference. The waza version is a "modded" pedal with a little switch that really boosted the bottom end and it made it very capable of more modern tones, black album Metallica sounded great with that set up. In normal mode the SD-1 wouldn't push it into that territory, it would do excellent 80's tones though and with no boost it was AC/DC all day long.

    I still say that the 2203x was top 2 of the best amps I have ever played, the triple rectifier is the other "top 2" amp. Completely different beasts but, in the same vein. The Mesa would shake the floors but the Marshall just punched you in the face. Different feel and different results but I think the thing that made both special was the power that they had. No other amps will punch like those 2. Once the 2203 got above 6 on the master it was untouchable but getting it that loud is not easy to do.

    All in all, if you have the ability to turn it up, even from time to time it is more than worth owning one.
     
  4. Mitchell Pearrow

    Mitchell Pearrow Well-Known Member

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    The early 90’s my buddy John had one, my only other Marshall amp experience was with a modded 1987, the 1959, and my 2104, the 800 2203 was a fine amp but I had always preferred my 2104, all great amps but I no longer can assess , access any of them, to the op! No one could possibly be more accurate in the way that you described it and it’s capabilities
     
  5. Matt_Krush

    Matt_Krush Well-Known Member

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    I agree with the OP.

    I prefer to get all the base tone from the amp.
    I don't want Distortion pedals, Overdrives, Boosts etc.
    I have enough to be thinking about between playing rhythm, solos, vocals, and everyone else, without adding more crap on my floor and which switches to activate.

    I had built a 2204 (after all the raves) and was quite unimpressed.
    For what it was, it was probably great.
    However, it wasn't for me, Metal player.
    *It has been modded to give good metal tones and is no longer a 2204 circuit.

    No the JCM 800 series doesn't do metal (adequately) without serious surgery and outboard help.
    Yes you can argue that any amp can do metal, even a Fender Twin, but it doesn't sound right....at least not to people that are fans of metal. To the discerning ear, no...it sounds wrong.
     
  6. Jethro Rocker

    Jethro Rocker Well-Known Member

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    My best experience with such was my 83 2203. I never knew shit about OD pedals and such back then. Played old school (then it was current!) metal. I completely agree with @GuitarIV impressions.
    I was able to push the amp both in a studio in a garage and live. Rarely mind you. For day ro day small gigs it was useless. Waaaaay too loud and not enough compression. But turned up??

    Got to do a huge outdoor show in 83 and had the master to like 6 or so. Angled ot a little so I wasn't in front of it. Scary good old school metal. Chest thumping, raw, screaming fun!! It was incredible. (Most 100 watt amps will do that today if turned up but my experience was with the 2203.) Didn't need a boost, it was a 3 piece.

    We then recorded some originals in a garage studio. I had it up in the same ballpark volume wise. Chords would sustain briefly then start yo bloom into feedback. F'ing perfect!!

    I now own a 1982 4010 and it's the same in a compact package. Goes ridiculuosly loud real quickly. I like it for the open raw sound but goose it good with a Bad Monkey. I use a Bad Cat Unleash reamper for live use.

    Well done post OP!! Cheers
     
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  7. Adrian R

    Adrian R Well-Known Member

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    Very accuate post. There's a reason why Marshall released new models to address the 'cons' as illustrated... But these changes come with compomises.. These 900s, 2210s, Jubes JVM etc...while all very cool, are NOT a 2203. Nothing's free man... A properly modded DSL 100 though will get you close...I swear by them...that is give you 800 like characteristics...but with more modern, high gain voicing..and an an FX loop with two channels and reverb. To the OP..replace the transformers and add a choke...turns the DSL 100 into a killer metal machine... I just modded one for an old buddy of mine who is a Peavy, all original, all hardcore metal guy...a full stack guy... He was completely blown away, as well as his band...and other musicians within earshot of their studio.
     
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  8. John BNY

    John BNY Well-Known Member

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    Good original post. I have a stock 2204, and I only use it for edge of breakup tones that are great for blues and classic rock. I much prefer my JVM for the higher gain stuff and for solos.
     
  9. MonstersOfTheMidway

    MonstersOfTheMidway Well-Known Member

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    Truncated form: try it before you buy it.

    A lot of the general ideas in the review can be said of any amp, really. I know people say it's hard to find some products in their area (especially used items), but ya gotta chill (i.e. don't be in rush to buy) and put in the work (i.e. make an effort to find one to play).

    The bullsh*t hype hooks at least one person. I can't tell you how many times I was pressured and/or slammed with hype to either trade, sell, or buy some sh*t. You just learn to step up to the plate and be your own man, step away from the internet (yes, even this site) from time to time and go get experienced (i.e. go play).

    With experience, you'll learn within 5 minutes whether an amp is right for you.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2018
  10. dptone5

    dptone5 Well-Known Member

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    My 2203X is a great amp. Probably my favorite. I'm not doing metal. More early 80's rock, some blues. Perfect for that.

    I use Xotic OD pedals up front. They have independent bass and treble controls, so I boost the bass a little. Use an EQ in the loop, primarily to boost solos. I really love the simplicity.

    DP
     
  11. marshallmellowed

    marshallmellowed Well-Known Member

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    As far as rock and roll amps go, the 2203 is one of the benchmarks, most likely "The" benchmark. It's true that you won't get dark metal tones from a 2203, but that's not what Marshall's are known for. IMO, a 2nd master volume (for solos), and a bit more gain would make the 2203x (with loop) a near perfect one channel amp. Enter the JCM 900 SL-X. I've been using my 2203x as the "benchmark" tone for modding my SL-X, which already has more gain (all tube) and a 2nd master volume. So, for those looking to mod their 2203, take a look at the SL-X as a platform for tinkering.
     
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  12. BftGibson

    BftGibson Well-Known Member

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    good review..i set my DSL to match my jmp 50 on classic channel and it darn close and then use Ultra to get those more modern gain tones needed..DSL for gigs makes it so easy to be a 1 amp live rig that nails everything..but the 2204 is def the best at what it does...nothing like it when volume is up,,the thump..the depth !!
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2018
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  13. Michael Roe

    Michael Roe Well-Known Member

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    Ok, now everybody start hyping up the JCM 900 DRs. I got one for sale and would like to make some serious cash for it :)
     
  14. Mitchell Pearrow

    Mitchell Pearrow Well-Known Member

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    The local mom n pop shop where I live has a nos 100 watt JCM 900 DR but he wants nos money for it /1,200$ he has offered it to me on a layaway plan, if it was a 1987xl I would be all over it, if I need a 900 tone I can borrow one from my buddy John
     
  15. BftGibson

    BftGibson Well-Known Member

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    here is my 2204, PTP , 4 holer, trainwreck3 PPIMV guts, have a peek Optimized-plexiguts.jpg
     
  16. pedecamp

    pedecamp Well-Known Member

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    2204 theres nothing like it, sounds great at any volume. I set mine edge of breakup and pedals to push it further. If I ever get back to gigging I'd get a Bad Cat Unleash for lead boost. :yesway:
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2018
  17. Wolvieberzerker

    Wolvieberzerker Well-Known Member

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    Just ordered a 2204 from Ceriatone. Should be here next month. This thread is not helping....,,.
     
  18. SonVolt

    SonVolt Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    Where the heck you been lately? You disappeared. :cheers:
     
  19. SpHj

    SpHj Well-Known Member

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    Good honest description. I especially like how you worded "If you're sloppy, It'll expose you". Thats exactly what all these old amps are. The age old "Tone is in the fingers" rings true. The best thing I ever did to help my playing was to take the plunge, sell my JCM900 MKIII 50 watt and grab my first 2204. That was almost 15 years ago now. You have no idea how many people have stopped by my place, seen my Marshalls and be absolutely blown away about how they "Can't play them". Not enough gain, not enough compression, Wow why does it sound so "dull" etc...only for me to grab the guitar from their hands and make them scream. They're a simple circuit, and not well suited for the beginner/intermediate player. It's an amp you grow with, an amp that you will love one day and absolutely detest the next, but one that once you finally have "mastered" will be hard to live without.
     
  20. ibmorjamn

    ibmorjamn Well-Known Member

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    Does it have 5881 tubes ? I'll trade my EVH 5150 lll LBX 15w for it ! It comes with a carrying case and the original footswitch !
     
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