Rating: 9 / 10
Guitar amp royalty is the thought that comes to mind when I think about the Marshall Plexi. In it’s analog form, the Plexi / Super Lead completely reinvented the rock guitar sound. It may not seem it with what high gain amps have become but the Plexi was one of the very first amps capable of breathing fire.
There’s a very good reason players have continued to choose the amp for 60+ years. Legendary players like Johnny Ramone, Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Page, Billie Joe Armstrong, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Angus & Malcolm Young, Paul Gilbert, Andy Summers, Daron Malakian and my goodness the list is miles long.
Softube initially released this amp sim as a Universal Audio exclusive meaning only those with Universal Audio hardware could use it. This review is for the native version that is compatible with almost any interface. The plugin includes the amp and a detailed cab section.
The GUI looks phenomenal to say the least. A lot of time and effort went into ensuring there would be a vintage vibe to the digital experience. Everything functions smoothly and there’s never really a feeling of “where is ____ ?” when navigating the simple layout. Plus points in this area for sure.
I went into the experience using the presets to try and match up with some classic album tones. The Softube Plexi really brings out a lot of the versatility of the original in a convenient package. I would say that this one is about as precise as possible in a plugin as I think a lot of the analog Plexi’s versatility kind of has to be felt with a lot of volume.
No marks off for the few characteristics that aren’t there because even using an analog attenuator or an IR load box with the real amp takes away the same missing pieces. Parts of the real amp can only be brought out when it’s wide open with you somewhere in the vicinity. That’s just the way it is with any and every plugin or modeler out there today. The same can be said for missing pieces or characteristics in almost any amp sim.
The secret to the amp’s versatility is all in the four inputs. It’s remarkable to me just how much you can alter the gain across the various inputs on the amp. The Fender Bassman was the first amp to do this but who did it better? It depends who you ask but essentially they are very similar and both provided benefits that were unintentional. The two gain controls are for the two sets of inputs but they are both active when inputs are jumped.
The best explanation for how the inputs work together came from a Cakewalk forum of all places. Since I love analogies and I believe understanding the inputs is crucial to the enjoyment of the plugin, here we go!!
“Imagine that the sound coming out of your guitar is like water in a pipe. All of the water backs up when it gets to a little funnel just behind one of the jack inputs on the Marshall. You can put more water into its twin input jack, but you still have the same funnel behind it and no extra water gets through.
BUT, if you divert some of the water into the second channel it has another little funnel that lets more of the backed up water flow into the amplifier’s sound reservoir. When you get more water flowing into the reservoir the water changes colour and makes even more wonderful sound shapes in the air around the amplifier’s speakers.
Even more simply put, plug your axe into Ch 1, top input (we’ll call this 1/1), take a short patch cord and come out of the lower input (1/2) and plug it into either of the channel 2 inputs. Try the various combinations and see whatcha like” Some dude named Ric
Softube have done a great job at modeling the inputs, their interactions and reactions. While the plugin is not quite as responsive to input channel patching as the analog amp, it’s still pretty convincing. They also ensured that the presets demonstrated how the inputs sound on their own as well as jumped. Doing the jumping manually in the plugin can take a few minutes to get used. It just becomes figuring out what to click to engage the different jumpers. This is a function/feature that I strongly recommend everyone examine fully if you really want the full spectrum of what the plugin can provide.
In addition to the inputs, users get the front panel controls. The standard Marshall controls all responded very nicely. I am not a Plexi professional but the various familiar parameters made the amp very easy to dial in. When I have gone from genre to genre, often times, there really wasn’t a lot of work to do. Sometimes just tweaking 1-2 knobs just a little can be all it takes to go from one iconic sound to another.
The uses / applications for the Softube Plexi are really endless but I would say the plugin excels most in the vintage rock genres. I hit it with speed metal, thrash, punk rock, hard rock, southern rock, classic rock, funk and it just spit them back at me with a sneer. The lead tones that can be conceived with the plugin can be used in any modern or vintage genre but the rhythm tones are better suited for classic and vintage uses.
Like many Marshall amps, the ’59 Plexi plays well with overdrives, distortions, modulation, delay and many other effects. There’s a 60 year legacy of players that have hit the iconic amp with every tool imaginable. I’ve always found that Marshalls can make great “blank canvas” type tones to apply stomps and other effects to.
The plugin version of the amp is a lot of fun to use in the same way. I used a ton of different effects before and after the plugin with a lot of success. I watched some Paul Gilbert videos to see which effects he was running with his Plexi, how they were running and so on. The sky is the limit with effects but not all amps work so nicely with such a variety of effects. Make an effects journey part of your trial period with the plugin to unlock even more tonal options.
The cabinet section is terrific though not fool proof, it takes a little getting used to and as always, knowledge of mics, mic positions etc can always make life easier in Pluginland. It features a 1960BHW speaker cabinet shot by engineer/producer Tony Platt with three different mic setups (FET, Valve, Dynamic). There’s also a room mic that can be blended in to taste though I preferred it either very low or all the way off. It’s quick and easy to find!
The cab section adds a ton more ways to shape the tone but I will say that a second cabinet option would add more value to the plugin. For those that choose their own IR collection over the internal cabinet, the bypass is easy to find and I found the Plexi plugin played very nicely with nearly every IR I threw at it. It’s always a bonus when developers understand the need for users to experiment with IRs. It can really add to the love, reliability and lasting factors of any plugin.
UPS / DOWNS
The Softube Marshall Plexi Super Lead 1959 is a plugin that I would definitely recommend. It’s important to note that while the plugin has been out a while in it’s UAD exclusivity, the plugin has been updated for it’s native release. In no way shape or form is this an old plugin and I would say it has a lot of effective years left in the tank.
While the price puts the Plexi plugin in the higher price bracket, the value is still very present. It really depends on the user as some users really like more components but like many other single amp sims, the single amp has been modeled to a very high level with no corners cut. If you find the plugin a little out of your budget, every developer has sales so put it on a list and your time will come!
For some, the Plexi will be a jack-of-all-trades or a Swiss Army Knife and for others it can be their one and only go-to option for all things rock. It’s up to you.