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These were the second series of Marshalls equipped with a master volume, which allowed for more distortion at lower volumes. Compared to the earlier "Master Volume" series, they offered some advantages, including the possibility to be patched internally and linked with other amplifiers.The first JCM800s were in fact Master Volume amplifiers (Models 2203 and 2204, at 100 and 50 watts respectively), repackaged in new boxes with new panels. Soon, however, the Model 2210 appeared on the market. These were equipped with two channels, which could be activated via a foot switch, allowing for separate lead and rhythm sounds. They also had an effects loop and reverb, also a first for Marshall.
Initially, users complained that the amplifiers (used with the standard Marshall cabinets) sounded flat compared to the older Marshalls, until it was discovered (by accident) that the fault was with the speakers: The new cabs had been equipped with a new kind of Celestion speakers. Marshall quickly reverted to the older Celestions. Still, some users prefer the pre-JCM800 amplifiers, claiming that those have a warmer, less "brittle" sound.
The amplifier was equipped with EL34 valves (tubes) for amps sold in the UK and 6550 tubes for amps exported to the United States. The JCM800 is considered a "hot" amplifier because it has more gain stages than comparable amplifiers, and in "lead" mode (in the "high" input), an extra triode provides extra gain to the pre-amplifier, which "made for one hot rock amp".
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