Risson Marvell Reviews
Hello, my name is Duke Spalding and this is not your normal Harmony Central gear review. I posted a few reviews on H.C. in the mid ‘90’s when it wasn’t as full of “b.s.” as it is now (or even just a little bit later in the ‘90’s). Even then, before reading a review, I’d scroll to the bottom of the review to find out how long and at what level the reviewer had been playing, what other gear they currently owned/used and what they’d owned/used in the past to gauge their competence to review the amp, guitar or effect in question to keep from wasting my time. Then, as now, most reviewers should have kept their thoughts to themselves-they just waste H.C.’s space and the reader’s time.
To save you the trouble, am going to do that for you right now. If you want more info about me, go to www.MySpace.com/robertlloydspalding. Or email me at DukeSpalding@aol.com. If you question my right to write this review (pun intended), feel free to contact me; just don’t want to spend too much time on me here, so here’s what you should know before you read my review of the Risson Marvel:
Have been performing and recording professionally for nearly four decades. Began playing Risson amps in the very early ‘80s, was the first person to play the original Marvell in 1984 (used to rehearse my band in the lobby of Bob’s shop on Grand Avenue in Santa Ana) and have owned and/or used every model Risson tube amp as well as the solid state head Joe Walsh used for one side of one of a solo album in the ‘70’s. Was playing professionally well before I met Bob and have owned, used or thoroughly tested amps by the following manufacturers: Trainwreck, Dumble, Matchless (original), Komet,
Jim Kelley, Selmer, Vox (vintage), Tone King, Holland, THD (early), Kendrick (early), Victoria (early), Dr. Z (early), Bad Cat, Fuchs, Silvertone, Fender, Alamo, Marshall, WEM/Watkins, Ampeg (vintage), Mesa Boogie, Bogner, VHT, Demeter, Kustom (original and new), Sunn, Bedrock, Trace Elliott, Laney, Crate, Peavey, and Rock. If I remember any more I’ll update the list. There you go, now on to the review.
Though it is common practice to summarize at the end of a review, I’m going to break convention and begin with the summary and maybe save you some time.
To summarize: the Risson Marvell is the finest pure, single channel guitar amplifier I have ever plugged into-period. My recommendation is that you now contact Bob Rissi @ (714) 743-9111 to arrange a time to audition the Marvell for yourself-words cannot adequately convey how good this amp is. Take your favorite axe(s) and any amps you want to put it up against with you and play it. Then read this review and compare your impressions to mine and post a review of your own.
What? You’re still READING? Do you REALLY want more WORDS? Ok…will do my best…………..
Read the review, it's all there.
Is the Marvell perfect? No-NOTHING IS PERFECT, at least not in this world.
Is it a “Swiss Army knife” amp? No, it’s single channel with no onboard effects, which is why I included “pure” in the summary. Guitar signal (with or without effects) in, gloriously amplified guitar signal (with or without effects) out-it’s that simple.
Most of the highly sought after/collectible (and costly) “boutique” amps (Trainwreck, Komet et al) had/have no effects, either. If you want your guitar tone to shine through while having an incredible palate of gain and tonal shadings to work with, the Marvell is for you.
All Risson amps have great cleans-not Fender clean, not Boogie clean, Risson clean. Even Bob was surprised when I found a great clean in his highest gain model, the ETA. The Marvell has a huge, warm, yet detailed clean. Will it sustain? Oh, yeah. If you need more than it’s capable of, get a pedal or ask Bob about finding a CTA for you. Will it crunch? Yep. If you need more, get a pedal or ask Bob about locating a Clone. Is it high gain? No, but more than enough for yours truly. Again, if you need higher gain, get a pedal or ask Bob about an ETA. Can it switch sounds quickly-not without a pedal. Bob’s only 2 channel amp, the LTA is ½ 50 watt Plexi on steroids (with a Fender full sweep midrange) and ½ Ampeg SVT (yes, you can that channel for bass, especially for small venues and recording) and can be found with a great reverb onboard as well. It has the most “on the fly” versatility of all Risson amps.
On a personal note, it is hoped that Bob Rissi finally receives the long overdue critical acclaim and financial rewards he so richly deserves. He is, without a doubt, the most influential “unknown” amp designer in the history of American guitar amplifiers. Besides being a genius (he could have just as easily worked for NASA but picked Fender instead) he is one of the finest human beings it has ever been my privilege to know and I consider it an honor to be able to call him “friend”.
My personal feelings towards Bob (the closest thing to a big brother I’ve ever had), Noralee and the rest of the Rissi clan did not in any way influence this review. Bob himself will tell you I am (sometimes brutally) honest in evaluating gear and am always looking for ways to improve an amp’s onstage usefulness. He’s had plenty of suggestions from me over the years on how to improve his other great amps and something I said after playing the present incarnation of the Marvell for the very first time might have, indirectly, led to the variable gain option now available. If so, I am truly delighted to have had even the smallest influence on the evolution of the Marvell.
Features: Single channel, 12 watts (don’t let the rating fool you-it’s LOUD), all tube head or combo. Controls, left to right facing the amp: Preamp Volume, Master Volume, Treble, Mid, Bass, Presence-all the “usual suspects” but believe me, they are far from “usual”. Let’s take them one at a time:
Preamp Volume-Exceptionally smooth, full sweep with plenty of gain on hand. As far as the volume of the amp itself, it is nearly unbelievable. When Bob was preparing to begin manufacturing Marvell’s, I traded my Marvell back to him so he could use it as the standard to build the others from. Later, when Bob told me he had come up with a way to install a 2nd output section, I immediately told him I’d want one like that, since the Marvell I had traded back to him had only one noticeable (to me) shortcoming-it lacked a “big” clean sound. He told me I should try the updated single output section model, that he was sure I’d be surprised. That was an understatement for the ages. When I got down to Placentia and tried the single output section, I was amazed-the clean sound was HUGE!
Master Volume: Am not a fan of master volume controls, never have been. The Risson Clone and CTA were the only ones that I was ever even (semi) happy with. The Marvell I traded back had the best one I’d ever played, I even asked Bob if he could put one like it in my LTA, but he said it wouldn’t work in that design (one of that amp’s few weaknesses). It had a very useable range and smooth taper-the revised one is even better.
To me, the tone controls had been just fine on my original Marvell, so when Bob told me that he had improved the bass, midrange and presence controls along with the Master Volume, I was a bit skeptical, maybe even a little dismayed (should have known better-lol!)-the one I’d traded back had the best mid control I’d ever used.. Bob, like all great inventors, constantly improves his designs-have never had even one of my Risson’s serviced by Bob without him improving it while it was there. I liked the Marvell the way it had been (except for the lack of a big “clean, which he had already addressed) so was a bit concerned.
Bob told me he had had an epiphany concerning the amp; that he had went in changed a few of these and a couple of those-no experimenting with values, just “knew” what was needed. He then tested the amp and knew it was as good as he could make it-a first for him. I couldn’t believe he actually uttered those words. Had never heard Bob say that about any of his previous designs. As noted above, he always found ways to make them better tonally.
By the way-the Marvell is Bob’s first completely original tube amp design, all of the others were (definite) improvements on existing designs-if you want a better ‘70’s Boogie-find a Risson CTA-the list goes on and on). All of his amps are great, but the Marvell is the best Risson amp ever-hands down.
Treble: The original was just fine and Bob left it alone, it wasn’t included in the epiphany. With my original Marvell, I would simply set the treble and bass straight up and change the voicing of the amp with the midrange control (more on that later) unless I wanted crunch, then I set the Preamp Gain, Treble, Midrange and Presence @ “7” and the Bass a@ “3-4”.
Mid: Another semi-standard guitar amp feature I usually dislike. Most do not seem to be voiced correctly, at least to my ear. Bob’s earlier amps all had better than average midrange controls, but I have never played any amp whose mid control even approximates what the Marvell’s does: it changes the entire voice of the amp. As you sweep from minimum to maximum the Marvell goes from “Fenderish” to “Voxish” to “Marshalish” while maintaining it’s own unique identity. Somehow, Bob managed to improve it, too-to my complete and utter amazement. The transitions are even smoother than on the one I traded back. You have to hear it to believe it.
Bass: The revised bass control is smoother as well and it seems to offer both a bigger and tighter bass tone with a wider “Q” to boot.
Presence: In my opinion, this is the biggest improvement in the Marvell revision. Once again, Bob took a control I don’t normally care for (just set it and leave it) and made it a magnificent tone-shaping tool. It brightens/darkens the entire signal-it can truly be called a “presence’ control. All the others I’ve ever played only affected the treble; this one
treats the “whole enchilada”, bravo!
Bob did find a way to “improve” the revised Marvell, but not tonally. He found a way to vary the gain without affecting the overall tone or volume of the amp and it can even be done with a customized pedal if so desired-just what I’ve always wanted an amp to be able to do. Have tried a myriad of volume controls, but they always affected the guitar tone negatively. His design varies the gain at the amp-just too coool.
So, what does it sound like? It sounds like a Risson Marvell-you’re going to have to play one yourself to “get it” and then you’ll want to get it! If you want the “same ol’, same ol’”-don’t waste Bob’s time. If you want as fine a pure, single channel guitar amplifier as there is available at any price, give him a call.
As far a “build quality” you will never find an amp built better than a Risson; nor will you find anyone who stands behind their product more steadfastly than Bob Rissi. If you have a problem with one of his amps it will be taken care of straight away. Risson amps have always been extremely undervalued despite the fact they were superior in terms of tone and build quality to the contemporary models by Marshall, Fender, Mesa Boogie, et al. Paying more doesn’t necessarily get you more.
In either ’93 or ’94, while having lunch at the El Pollo Loco near his house, I suggested to Bob (the first of many times) that he go the “boutique” path, citing the success of
Kendrick, THD and especially Trainwreck as examples. Told him he should build the Marvells by hand and charge “an arm and a leg” for them (and that was the original design). In all fairness, Ken Fischer could have charged even more than he did and not have overcharged his customers.
Despite my repeated suggestions, Bob still wanted to get back to having a factory and produce amps in a semi-assembly line manner to keep the price down for the consumer while maintaining high quality standards-the way he had learned while at Fender. Bob’s personal standards and principles are incredibly high and this was just another example of that facet of his personality: he could have catered to the rich doctors, lawyers and elite musicians who buy whatever is the latest high dollar “in” amp on the market, but he has always wanted all guitarists and bassists (yeah, he makes killer bass amps, too) to be able to afford to play his creations. He has held true to his convictions, oft-times to his own financial detriment, but that’s a big part of what makes him such a special human being.
Was really happy when he finally decided to produce hand made Marvell’s-but he STILL doesn’t charge enough for them-not even close. If you doubt me, take your latest, greatest “in” amp and favorite “geetar(s)” down to Risson and play the amps side by side. Don’t worry-Bob takes “trade-ins”.
To summarize (again): the Risson Marvell is the finest pure, single channel guitar amplifier I have ever plugged into-period. My recommendation is that you now contact Bob Rissi @ (714) 743-9111 to arrange a time to audition the Marvell for yourself-words cannot adequately convey how good this amp is. Take your favorite axe(s) and any amps you want to put it up against with you and play it. Then read this review and compare your impressions to mine and post a review of your own.Duke Spalding
rated this unit