Marshall The Guv’nor review: the great amp maker’s first ever overdrive pedal gets a faithful reissue
This was the little black beast that kickstarted Marshall’s modern stompbox-making era… and it’s back in production after a 31-year hiatus
Marshall’s The Guv’nor. Image: Adam Gasson
When it comes to the Guv’nor, one thing you really can’t argue about is the aptness of its name. Marshall’s first attempt to capture the sound of its legendary amplifiers in stompbox form, the original unit of 1988 remains the grizzly godfather of the Bletchley firm’s modern pedal family.
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If it looks a little different to the other three pedals in the Vintage Reissue series, that’s because it is: this was the daddy; the others were mere follow-ups. And what’s immediately clear on unboxing the 2023 Guv’nor is that, as remakes go, this one is meticulously authentic.
Actually, let’s not get ahead of ourselves: the box itself is completely new. Anyone who ever owned an original Guv will remember the grubby white shoe poised over the footswitch on the cover photo; that’s gone, replaced by a simple graphic on a mean black background. Ah well, I suppose you can take authenticity too far.
But the wedge-shaped steel enclosure is the same as before, with those distinctive red pinstripes and colour-coded knob markers. It feels just as weighty, and I’m assured that all the internal components are either identical or the closest possible modern equivalents. This does mean that the opportunity to upgrade those plastic-housed jack sockets has been passed up; and I’ll have to wait and see whether the footswitch proves more reliable this time around.
It also means that the most infamously pointless feature of the Guv’nor – its effects loop – has been retained. Literally nobody is ever going to use this, but for the record, it’s a single in/out socket on the top panel that can be used with a Y-cable (TRS at one end, two mono jacks at the other) to run a second pedal within a one-cable post-EQ loop.
One clear advantage this unit does have over the other three in the series is its sturdy metal battery cover. It’s held in place by a Phillips screw rather than a user-friendly clip, but at least it feels more solid than those rattly plastic jobs.
There are plenty of modern pedals that go all-out to recreate the sound of a cooking Plexi or JCM, and some of them do it with spooky accuracy. But while the Guv’nor is the original Marshall-in-a-box, and as British as a vicar drinking tea on a rainy cricket field, it doesn’t actually feel like an archetypal MIAB. Which is not necessarily a bad thing…
Yes, it’s got some midrange bark, and yes, it’s got some compression – but it doesn’t go overboard with either. It might make more sense to think of this as a standard overdrive pedal with its roots in the ‘transparent’ camp and just a whiff of a Buckinghamshire accent.
Keep the gain low and turn the middle control down to around 10 o’clock, and what you get is very close to a crunched-up version of your bypass signal. Now whack up the dirt and you do get some of that classic chiming snarl, but only as much of it as you want – because what’s really impressive here is the distinctly un-Marshall-like versatility of that three-way tonestack.
All three bands can be pushed or pulled to reveal new tonal textures, with plenty of beef available from the bass control and some extra-mean scoopage from the mids. The gain range is seriously wide, and anything in the medium crunch zone responds well to the guitar’s volume being pulled back for a more gentle attack.
The effects loop, just for the record, is fine. Still pointless, but fine. That’s not the real story here, though. The Guv’nor’s back in town, and sounding meaner than ever.