|Uses||Rhythm, Lead, Crunch|
I have always loved the JCM 800, it’s the amp of amps and I was very excited to see what the sim had to offer. Little did I know there would be four high quality sims in the spark. Along with the 800 there’s the Slash AFD and two different versions of the JMP. It’s basically a Marshall candy store.
The list of artists that have used the amps modeled in the Spark multi-amp suite is far too long for a review. Many a rock God has stood in front of the black and gold.
The sim looks amazing with crisp realistic graphics. The control values are on point with the real thing and it’s real easy to get a really high quality tone. With Marshall amps, I generally like to be easy on the treble while turning the presence way down even on the real thing so with the sim I did the same to start out.
Each of the four included amps has two channels and rather than being a typical high/low gain setup, these channels feel more like regular/modified instead. Four amps with two channels a piece with varying levels of gain across the board and controls with value all adds together to ensure Spark has something for everyone.
I was pleased to see how the controls responded to being pushed, there wasn’t nearly as much digital breakup with things turned up. I also had a ton of fun with the master and gain knobs on all 8 channels of Spark. If you back the plugin’s output off to about 3 on the dial, you can then turn the master and gain knob to max which many will argue is how the majority of Marshall amps should be played. You can do that with Spark and you can feel it respond to being pushed.
The AFD is the most difficult of the bunch to dial in and I found the mod switch added a flavor I was not fond of. It adds a big shot of mids that I later on harnessed into a nice djent tone. The #34 mod is included here, which is amazing. This was a famous mod that everyone had to have installed in the 80s, especially in the thrash scene. Research the mod if you like but if I can condense severely here, I will say that the sound it adds is kind of like a boost pedal with the modern 0-10-10 type settings. I would avoid using the #34 switch when on the higher gain channel of the AFD but it sounds incredible on the lower gain channel II.
The 800 sounds simply awesome. If you read enough around here, you might notice I have a soft spot for Marshall Amps, further reading would uncover my love for the JCM 800. Mercuriall Audio do the 800 serious justice in the Spark suite, it’s mean, nasty, gritty, raw, sawing, cutting and all the other things a real 800 can be. I love both channels of this amp.
I have only used the 800 and Lead 68 outside of the review and I have found most of my spark usage has been for leads and solos. The spark is great for rhythm or lead but for my tastes, the leads are its high point. I really love the way leads cut through any mix with the Spark without a lot of need for processing. I really like the pick attack, warm and sustain of a Marshall for any type of lead or solo and the Spark does it really well.
If you are looking for a plugin to get you to Yngwie Malmsteen’s cheese house (imagine that was a real place?) the Spark can get you there as well. Mercuriall Audio included onboard chorus, delay and reverb with the Spark so you can create everything from Yngwie to Satriani, Eric Johnson or really every power metal lead guitarist’s dream tone. I will note again that the Spark’s leads are really where it shines for me.
Wanna go to the Sunset Strip in the 80s? How about recreating Metallica’s Kill em all tone? I have sat with this sim for hours since I bought it on release day and I have used it to recreate some awesome tones. AC/DC, Van Halen was tough but we got it, 90s death metal, Carcass tones and so many other tone pursuits ended with the Spark.
After doing a few more runs through the amp, I added some muff and fuzz pedal plugins to the signal chain. The 800, Lead 68 and Bass 67 all make incredible amps for that stoner/doom sound we all know and love. The Audiority Big Goat and Blue Fuzz were the two best of the bunch I tried. I think Mercuriall Audio should add a fuzz pedal to their lineup? Maybe a Sovtek Big Muff? C’mon guys!!
I used a couple different warming type effects but a pinch of any saturation / tube warmth type plugin goes a really long way with any amp sim. In this case it helps to add more warmth to fully create that vintage tone. Marshall amps are warm and the Spark sounds fantastic when you find the sweet spots in the settings. Look into how to use saturation plugins to warm up your tone and make the tubes sound more real, it will take your tone to another level.
UPS / DOWNS:
It’s really amazing what can be done with even a plain old unmodified JCM800. I have seen probably 100+ used for every guitar related genre imaginable and in nearly every case, it did the job well. The JMP sims are also really great but it took a little while to really harness the AFD. The amps included in this four amp plugin can really do just about anything. Any type of rock, thrash, death metal, blues, southern rock and so many other things – but if you are looking for something that does modern high gain, I would recommend you to look to one of Mercuriall Audio’s other killer products, the SS-11X!
If there’s an update for Spark, it would be really cool to have the #34 mod on every amp. Even if the switch isn’t on the other amps traditionally, these amps don’t all have two channels in real life so let’s have some fun and give the other amps the bite of the #34!
See more -Riffs, Beards & Gear demo of the Spark