Posted by
Mar 27, 2020

Best Plexy Pedals and JCM inspired Distortions

Updated on 04/20/2020

A Guide to the Best Plexi Pedals and Marshall-Inspired Distortions

(Almost) everyone who is familiar with the electric guitar loves the sound of a cranked Marshall amp.  From Eric Clapton and Angus Young to Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, Plexi amp and their later, higher gain reincarnations from the JCM series have been used by many guitar players over the years and have defined the sound of iconic rock albums.

Before we venture into categorizing the various devices belonging to this “pedal family,” it’d be useful to define the terms “Plexi” and “JCM” so that even the least knowledgeable among our readers can understand what we are referring to.

The Sound of the Marshall Plexi Amps

The legend wants that the first Marshall Plexi was built after The Who’s Pete Townshend asked for a louder amp. The 1959SLP was Marshall’s answer to this request: launched in 1965, it was a tube guitar amp boasting 100 Watts of power. It featured a plexiglass front panel, hence the nickname “Plexi.” 100 Watts give you a lot of volume, but, for today’s standards, Plexi amps can’t really be considered “high-gain”, simply because they only had one volume knob (no preamp or gain stage), and could deliver lightly overdriven tones only when cranked up to ear-damaging levels. But don’t forget that distortion, in the ’60s, was a very new concept, and these were among the first amps designed to deliver it; the fact that they ended up in records by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton is a testament to their importance.

The “Plexi sound” was so influential that it became the signature sound for Marshall, inspiring a lot of the company’s post-1965 production – here’s a video with a rather comprehensive overview of many different models belonging to the Plexi category.

The Sound of the Marshall JCM Amps

In the early ’80s, with rock music increasingly embracing distorted guitars, Marshall thought it was time to produce an amp that delivered something similar to the Plexi series but with a focus on distortion.  The JCM 800, available also in combo version, was that amp. Sporting a circuit very similar to the Plexi, but with an added cascaded gain circuit (i.e. a preamp section) this amp could produce distortion at the preamp level. Because of this, the JCM 800 could achieve a more distorted sound and at lower levels than the Plexi, sounding thicker and more compressed, although with an obvious loss on the dynamics front – but loud genres like metal and hard rock don’t need as much dynamics…

Therefore, strictly speaking, JCM amps don’t belong to the Plexi family, but since their circuits are very similar we decided to include them in this article. Many of the pedals in these lists can deliver both tones.

If you are on the market for the Plexi 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 guitar effects on the market that give you the Marshall sound at a fraction of the price (and at more manageable volumes).

This interactive page sums up most of the options you have at different price points; 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. We know this is an imperfect indicator, but it still gives you an idea of how much interest there is around the pedal.

HIGH END / VERSATILE PLEXI PEDALS ($220-$299)

The pedals in this category are more expensive than the average but – for the most part – offer extra features and/or can deliver a variety of Marshall-Style tones.

Wampler’s Plexi Drive Deluxe
Based off of their standard Plexi Drive (see category below), this Deluxe version offers an additional footswitch for added gain. This extra bit of saturation and volume can make your solos stand out and sound even fatter and thicker.

Friedman BE-OD Deluxe
Two channels of high-gain Plexi-style BE-OD circuits in one pedal with an added mid-range knob. The Channel footswitch alternates between the two.

Look into 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.

ThorpyFX The Bunker
ThorpyFX’s reimagining of the legendary Lovetone Brown Source pedal, designed in collaboration with the original builder. A “brown sound” Marshall style overdrive, that can be pushed into distortion. Smaller and louder than the original, it offers extra tonal flexibility through a Texture control, a three-way Mode toggle switch, and second footswitch bypasses the Tone stack.

Weehbo JTM Drive
A very dynamic FET based Plexi-style overdrive that can be used also as a clean-boost at lower drive settings. It features a flexible three-band EQ section with a toggle switch to set the center frequency of the Mids knob (from low-mid to high-mid).

The Fire Custom Shop Carpe Diem offers an excellent 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 footswitch adds a lot of gain but keeps it sounding like a nice old vintage tube amp.

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.

Pedal Pal FX 800 V3
A handmade pedal that uses the same circuit schematic (3-band EQ included) that you will find in the most famous British Amps from the 60’s, using transistors instead of vacuum tubes. V3 adds a three-voicing toggle switch and a I/II footswitch with a 6db boost difference, emulating the behavior of the classic JCM. A toggle named #34 activates a modded tone dear to Guns’n’Roses’ guitarist Slash.

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!

Radial’s Tonebone Plexitube
It 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.

LAST GENERATION MID PRICED PLEXI PEDALS ($140-$220)

Marshall-style overdrives and distortion never seem to go out of fashion. The mid-priced stompboxes in this section are somewhat new, having been released between 2014 and 2020.

Friedman BE-OD
A popular and highly regarded emulation of a JCM amp, from a builder that’s grown a stellar reputation for manufacturing great-sounding Marshall-style amps (the pedal is said to be a compact version of the Friedman BE100 amp).

Carl Martin Panama
This pedal adds to the Plexi-style three typical controls (Gain, Level and Tone) a Damping knob that tightens the low end, allowing, when necessary, the achievement of a less flabby, more focused tone.

JHS Angry Charlie V3
A more aggressive version of the company’s Charlie Brown, it replicates the high gain Marshall tones reminiscent of a JCM-800, with lots of range for both gain and tone, and a presence knob to add detail and definition.

Friedman Dirty Shirley
Based on the company’s similarly named 40-watt amp, this is a lower gain Plexi-Style pedal that offers a 3-band EQ and Presence knob for flexible tone sculpting, and an extra Tight switch on the side to increase punch. It can deliver a wide range of tones.

Keeley El Rey Dorado Overdrive
It covers a lot of classic British amp tones (including Robert Keeley’s own JTM 45/100 full-stack), with its 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).

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 is a great mid-range option that can produce tones reminiscent of the sound of early AC/DC records.

JHS Charlie Brown V4
This lower gain overdrive sounds much smoother than the other Plexi pedals on this list, and can be categorized as an overdrive rather than a distortion. 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.

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, and that’s exactly what it does, offering a very responsive distortion and a 67db gain. A side trim pot lets you control the mid frequencies.

Teisco Distortion
A classic British distortion pedal paired with a colored boost. It offers plenty of tonal shaping possibilities, plus an optional extra gain stage to really ramp things up.

Tech 21 Hot Rod Plexi
A great amp in a box pedal that can get you Plexi crunch through practically any amp. In Stock mode it emulates the preamp of a stock ‘68 Plexi. Hot engages an extra “12AX7” pre-amp gain stage with up to 28dB of pre-amp boost.

Dawner Prince RedRox
A supercharged «hot rod» kind of distortion that can deliver anything from pure clean tones all the way to a grease- melting distortion. The Countour knob lets you pick the overall frequency emphasis (mid boost or cut), while the Tone knob controls the highs.

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.

Analog Alien Bucket Seat
Analog Alien makes some truly inspiring pedals and their Bucket Seat overdrive really nails the harmonically rich and dynamic distortion of a great late ’60s Plexi.

OLDEN BUT GOLDEN MID-PRICED PLEXI PEDALS

This is a list of pre-2014 Plexi-style pedals that are holding up very well in the current market.

Wampler Plexi-Drive
Now out of production (replaced by the Deluxe version), this was one of the most popular pedals in this category. It sounds fat and warm with a nice vintage sounding low end that’s not really tight but still has plenty of 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 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.

ZVex Box of Rock
Designed to nail the sound of a dimed Marshall JTM45, it does so convincingly. The controls couldn’t be simpler – Drive, Tone, Volume, and a single volume knob for boost (which can boost up to 50x from unity gain, that’s A LOT of boost!).  The mojo in this pedal is really in the interaction between the Drive knob and your guitar’s volume control – just like old Marshalls. Even when maxed, it never seems to get smeary or harsh.

All the sizzle and spice and everything you love about Plexis in a cool looking pedal. The Preamp and Master gain 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!

Rothwell Hellbender – 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 LovePedal’s Purple Plexi is visually stunning and offers a lot of warm gain for early 70’s Marshall sounds.

Tech 21 Sansamp 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.

 

STANDOUT BUDGET PLEXI PEDALS (Under $140)

The pedals on this list are more affordable and factory-built, but do a good job in recreating the Plexi sound.

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. The one pictured here is Version 2.

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.

Electro-Harmonix OD Glove
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
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)

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.

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.

Xvive T1 Golden Brownie
An affordable mini-pedal that nails the JCM 800 tone and offers a good amount of sculpting options through the Tone and Presence knobs.

Mooer Blues Crab
Based off a Marshall Bluesbreaker, this mini pedal offers lower gain Marshall drive in a tidy enclosure.

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.

Outlaw FX Deputy Marshall
It packs all the features you need in a mini enclosure, including tone knob and bright/normal toggle.

Joyo JF-32 Hot Plexi
A pedal that responds well with a clean amp and gives you a classic distortion sound at a low price.

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.

Talent PlexiTron
Cheap and easy to operate thanks to just three knobs and one switch.  Lots of fun for the price.

by Matthew Wang and Paolo De Gregorio

Here are a few useful forum threads about the Plexi-style distortions:

Marshall
Gear Page
Harmony Central

Related Posts:
Best Selling Overdrives of 2017
Amp in a Box Overdrives with a Boost Footswitch.

P.S. Did we forget something or posted incorrect information? Please post a comment and we’ll look into it!