Updated on 04/20/2018
(Almost) everyone familiar with the electric guitar loves the sound of a cranked Marshall Plexi. From Eric Clapton and Angus Young to Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, Plexis have been used by many guitar players over the years and have defined the sound of iconic rock albums.
If you are on the market for that sound, but in the more portable stompbox format, this is your ultimate guide to get the pedal that’s just right for you. We’ll take a look at the best 29 guitar effects on the market that give you the Plexi sound at a fraction of the price (and at more manageable volumes).
This interactive page sums up all the options you have; to navigate it, follow these guidelines:
– Hover on the images for indicative street prices and notes;
– Clicking on the thumbnails will open a demo video!
– In the galleries, pedals are presented in order of their “perceived” popularity (number of YouTube plays). We know this is an imperfect indicator, but it still gives you an idea of how much interest there is around the pedal.
BOUTIQUE / VERSATILE PLEXI PEDALS ($249-$299)
The Two Notes Le Crunch is a great pedal if you need a very versatile drive that can get you from Hendrix like Plexi cleans (yes the Plexi can do clean tones marvelously as well as rocking your socks off with filthy saturation) to… well, Hendrix-like drive. It also features great extras like a cab sim and a great sounding XLR-out, as well as a Headphone out, that way you can practice at night without waking the wife or neighbor, or plug straight into the console in the studio or live.
The XTS Atomic Drive has a bit of a saggy distortion that really nails the Turned Up To 11 Marshall sound. The Mid Selector really helps define how present the guitar is in the mix and can get you from 70’s crunch a la’ Free or Led Zeppelin to Metallica or Megadeth scooped mid metal!
Look to the Bogner La Grange if you want a slightly hotter bit of grit – that’s what Bogner likes to do. The variac switch might appeal to Van Halen fans as as it lets you recreate the effect of starving a Plexi of some power to make it scream at lower volumes. The channel blend allows you to mix in two different decades of Plexi amps together and can give you access to an incredibly diverse world of sounds.
The Fire Custom Shop Carpe Diem Overdrive Pedal is a truly fantastic playing experience as the Classic mode gets you girthy full low end and does a good job of making your 1×12 speaker feel like a 4×12. The Lead mode foot switch adds a lot of gain but keeps it sounding like a nice old vintage tube amp.
Radial’s Tonebone Plexitube 2-Channel Tube Distortion actually has a 12AX7 tube inside of it to give you the real deal kind of distortion. This pedal sounds really rich and beefy with a lot of range for you to play with in the mids department. The tonal shaping options can be a bit excessive at first but with this remarkable unit you can really go from boomy to scooped mid distortion and anything in between.
Wampler’s Plexi Drive Deluxe is based off of their standard Plexi Drive (see below) but offers an additional footswitch for additional gain. This extra bit of saturation and volume can make your solos stand out and sound even fatter and thicker.
MID PRICED PLEXI PEDALS ($100-$200)
The Tech 21 Hot-Rod Plexi is a great amp in a box pedal that can get you Plexi crunch through practically any amp.
Calling the Wampler Plexi-Drive an amazing pedal is still an understatement. The Plexi Drive is fat and warm with a nice vintage sounding low end that’s not really tight, but still has definition.
The Xotic SL Drive is a high gain Marshall-voiced pedal that actually excels at giving you the sound of a JCM 800. On a lower gain setting, it does sound like a Plexi, but it sounds like a really bright modern Plexi amplifier which is great for cutting through a heavy mix or a band with a lot of different instrumentation.
The LovePedal’s Purple Plexi is visually stunning and offers a lot of warm gain for early 70’s Marshall sounds.
JHS Pedals Charlie Brown Overdrive v4 – This lower gain overdrive sounds much smoother than the other Plexi pedals on this list, maybe because it’s an overdrive pedal not a distortion one. It can still be an aggressive effect depending on how you have the gain set, but it cleans up very well and responds beautifully to picking dynamics.
Keeley El Rey Dorado
Based on Robert Keeley’s own JTM 45/100 full stack, this pedal features two gain modes accessible through the Power Toggle: old school crunch in Low Power mode (louder, has more girth, fewer harmonics), super lead tones in the High Power mode (more compression, more harmonics and a more defined tone).
Rothwell Hellbender Overdrive Pedal – This overdrive pedal utilizes a multistage distortion circuit that helps it feel and sound like a real tube amp. It is handmade in England and has true bypass for extra signal clarity in your rig.
The Carl Martin PlexiTone Single Channel is a vintage-voiced Marshall distortion pedal that sounds organic and not too colored in a way where you can engage it and feel like you’re just using the 2nd channel of your amp.
Tech 21 Sansamp Character Series British V2 – this pedal is very similar to the Hot Rod Plexi listed above, but it includes a speaker sim so you can plug it into a DI box and record your guitar direct into a recording console or audio interface. It is a great backup option if your amp happens to break at a show or if you want a dual amp setup live but don’t want to lug around your Friedman Brown Eye 100 to your next bar gig.
Analog Alien Bucket Seat – Analog Alien makes some truly inspiring pedals and their Bucket Seat overdrive really nails the squishy compressed sound of a great late 60’s Plexi.
Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret MK III – All the sizzle and spice and everything you love about Plexis in a cool looking pedal. The Preamp and Master gain on the Dirty Little Secret act like they would on your favorite old British amp and give you a lot of different options for gain staging. This is also Andy from ProGuitarShop’s favorite Plexi-in-a-Pedal stompbox and considering all the plexi pedals he’s tried, that means a lot.
Greer Amp/Elliott Guitars Little Samson – A full but natural sounding high gain pedal with smooth high end and tight low end. Delivers hunky drive at lower gain settings and singing lead tones.
Ramble Fx Marvel Drive – The first thing you’ll probably notice about this pedal is the really cool Marshall knobs and red indicator light stolen from a Marshall. This pedal sounds great and reminds me of the sound of early AC/DC records.
STANDOUT BUDGET PLEXI PEDALS (Under $140)
Boss ST-2 Power Stack
Even though it’s not presented as a “Plexi” pedal, the Boss ST-2’s golden/black color code betrays a Marshall inspired circuit. As often true with Boss, this pedal delivers exactly what’s promised without frills. However, the “Sound” knob has an interesting spin: it blends gain amount and sound character.
Marshall’s Guv’Nor pedal is arguably the first “amp in a box” pedal ever created and many of the pedals on this list wouldn’t be here today without it. The late 80’s stompbox found popularity after it was discontinued in the early 90’s and is still the “go to” dirt box for many players who want to add some British-tuned distortion to their rigs.
Electro-Harmonix OD Glove Overdrive/Distortion – the Glove is a remarkable pedal that is often mistaken for a metal distortion pedal because of its appearance. In reality, think more Spinal Tap as the name implies. This dirt pedal has a really unique internal switch to change the feel from a more spongy vintage distortion to a more clear and articulate type of drive.
TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion – it’s a great dirt box that takes a clean amp and turns it into a hi-gain modded Marshall. Do note that it was designed to be used with a clean amp and will not sound its best when plugged into an already distorted amp.
MINI/AFFORDABLE PLEXI PEDALS (Under $80)
Biyang DS-10 Max Distortion – This Chinese stompbox sounds like a dying Marshall that is turned up all the way with tubes that are fighting to produce a blissful dirty tone. It captures the essence of playing through a cranked amp.
Tone City Golden Plexi – This is a very responsive Plexi-sounding pedal that has tons of gain on tap but still fairs equally well on low gain settings and high gain settings. At the price, you could buy two and still have plenty of space on your pedalboard.
Movall Audio MM-07 PlexiTroll – This is a truly inspiring pedal. You can turn up the big Fury knob to add a lot of gain or back it down and use the Tone knob to shape a really chimey or warm clean sound.
The One Control Plexifier might be mini, but, at $149, it’s not exactly affordable. That’s actually the company’s angle: raising the standards of the mini format.
Mooer Blues Crab – Based off a Marshall Bluesbreaker, this mini pedal offers lower gain Marshall drive in a tidy enclosure.
Talent PlexiTron – Cheap and easy to operate thanks to just three knobs and one switch. Lots of fun for the price.
The Joyo JF-32 Hot Plexi pedal responds well with a clean amp and gives you a classic distortion sound at a low price.
The Outlaw FX Deputy Marchall packs all the features you need in a mini enclosure, including tone knob and bright/normal toggle.
by Matthew Wang
Here are a few useful forum threads about the Plexi-style distortions:
Related Post: Amp in a Box Overdrives with a Boost Footswitch.
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