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Mar 31, 2021
Best Plexy Pedals and JCM inspired Distortions

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Updated on 03/31/2021

A Guide to the Best Plexi Pedals and Marshall-Style 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.

History and Sound of the Marshall Plexi Amps

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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.

Boxing the Plexi
If you are on the market for the Plexi sound, but in the more portable stompbox format, you need to thank the Carl Martin Plexitone, a 1994 device that started the Plexi-in-a-Box trend. Since then, dozens of similar pedals have been released in this niche.

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 (or fist tap) on the images for indicative street prices and notes;
A click (or second tap) 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-$350)

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.

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Wampler Plexi Drive Deluxe
Based off 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.

Carl Martin PlexiRanger
It combines a Plexi channel and a 15db boost, with separate footswitches. The boost (first in the chain) is a custom silicon circuit inspired by the vintage Treble Booster. Each has an independent EQ section: simple Tone control on the Plexi side and parametric EQ (Range + Freq) on the Boost. This can work as a clean boost when the Range knob is down to zero.
A three-way Low Cut Filter (off in zero position) tames the low end.

Carl Martin PlexiTone Dual Channel
The pedal that started the Plexi trend is still in production and hand-built. It serves up medium-high gain sounds via 2 footswitchable channels and an exta 20dB of clean boost controlled by a knob. There is a single gain knob for the crunch and high-gain channels, and they share tone and output volume controls.

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.

Two Notes Le Crunch
This 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.

Crazy Tube Circuit Ziggy V2
A dual-channel Plexi distortion that runs internally at 18v for extra headroom. The two channels have separate Volume, Tone and Gain controls. Separate footswitches let you stack them on top of each other. The gain knobs also affect the voicing by adding more bass the higher the settings.

Jackson Audio Asabi
A two-channel Plexi-style overdrive + distortion offering digital functionality with a full analog circuit. “Program mode,” allows to chose between 4 different clipping diode options on each channel. The company’s Gain Cycle facilitates the creation of four scalable maximum gain settings. The distortion circuit can be swapped in DIY fashin with a RAT style one costing $50.

Radial 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.

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.

Bogner La Grange
A Plexi-style pedal with a slightly hotter bit of grit – that’s what Bogner likes to do. The variac switch might appeal to Van Halen fans 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.

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).

Fire Custom Shop Carpe Diem
It 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.

LPD Pedals Eighty7
A flexible plexi overdrive/distortion pedal with a full three-band + presence EQ section and two gain modes, Green mode is percussive and dynamic with plenty of body to punch through even the most demanding mixes.
Red is more saturated and compressed for liquid leads and full chugging palm-muted rhythms.

LPD Pedals Eighty7 Deluxe
It offers two independent channels of the regular Eighty7, with a footswitch to toggle between them. As in the original, Green mode is percussive and dynamic with plenty of mids, while Red is more saturated and compressed. Adds internal bright switches per channel, soft-touch true bypass switching, top-mounted jacks, and 9-volt operation.

One Control Dyna Red Distortion 4k
An upgrade to the previous Barefoot version of this full-on Plexi pedal, featuring an extra Presence knob that tames some of the hard mid-range. It’s designed to deliver an organic distortion reminiscent of the early to mid-70s UK voiced amplifiers, cranked up to 10. with the tubes worn down just a little, and maybe a little “browning” of the sound with a Variac. The Presence knob helps dial in the perfect amount of highs for any amp situation.

XTS Atomic Drive
A pedal with 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!

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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.

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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).

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, the presence knob in v2 was replaced by a full EQ section with Bass, Mid and Treble for extra tone sculpting options.

MXR Dookie
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Green Day’s legendary album “Dookie,” recreating the sound of Billie Joe Armstrong’s 100w Plexi amp used in that record, and his two favorite settings, achievable through the “Scoop” button: one scooped with a ton of gain and the other with a well-defined midrange.

Friedmann SmallBox
A stompbox rendition of channel 1 of the company’s Small Box, a compact Plexi-style amp. More nuanced and classic sounding than the popular Friedman BE Overdrive, the Smallbox features six controls, just like its big brother amp: Level, Gain and four EQ knobs: Bass, Mid, Treble and Presence. A toggle switch on the side panel changes the effect’s gain structure, delivering an extra push for a more in-your-face, high-gain Plexi tone.

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.

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.

MXR FOD Drive
A lower price evolution of the MXR Dookie,” it’s based on Greenday’s Billy Joe Armstrong’s two custom Marshall 100w Plexi Super Lead amps. A center toggle switch offers mid punch, mid-scoop and a flat option.

Formula B Super Plexi
A two-channel Plexi pedal with a clean boost on one side and a Marshall JTM45 emulation on the other, using transistors to mimic the character of the tubes. Each channel features its own footswitch, and a toggle switch lets you place the boost before or after the overdrive. A tone knob, placed in the overdrive circuit, lets you tweak the signal EQ to your liking.

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.

Bogner Ecstasy Blue Mini
It captures the classic blue channel of the company’s Ecstasy amplifier, a popular choice for its classic rock-n-roll Plexi tones. It can deliver also high-gain tones with great headroom thanks to its high internal voltage circuit. Offers great flexibility through a three-way EQ section and toggle switches offering varying levels of gain, pre-EQ and Variac, which produces a looser low gain tone.

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.

One Control Plexifier
It 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.

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.

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.

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.

Cusack Music Meta Plexi
This take on the classic Marshall tone gives you all the expected settings and control, plus a second footswitch (Lead) that can add 3, 6, or 9dB boost after the distortion circuit, giving you additional volume without extra saturation. A Toggle switch lets you pick two voicings: “Vintage” (more dynamic and defined) or “Modern” (more saturated with a little mid scoop).

LPD Seventy 4
A pedal that emulates the full distortion delivered by Marshall Plexi and Master Volume amps from the mid to late ’70s, with an extra dose of gain and a 4-knob EQ section (Low, Mids, Highs and Presence) for extra tonal flavor.

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.

Nabla 1987
A two-channel overdrive designed to sound like a Plexi hot-rod pushed to the max. The two channels can be toggled through the left footswitch, and have each their own volume. The Tone knob and two 3-way toggle switches (Tight and Mids) allow for a wide range of tone sculpting.

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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.

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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.

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.

NUX Fireman
A Dual Channel Plexi-Style pedal inspired by the Deluxe version of the Friedman BE-OD. Key differences here are price (almost half!) and an EQ section that affects both channels. It can work at 18v for extra dynamic range and features handing Buffered/True Bypass switch in the back.

TC Electronic Dark Matter
This is a great dirt box that takes a clean amp and turns it into a hi-gain modded Marshall. Incredibly useful and inspiring for its price range, this Marshall/Plexi-inspired distortion produces very balanced and responsive tones at all gain settings, delivering particularly well at low and medium gain levels. It’s also remarkable when stacked into other high-gain devices.

Marshall’s Guv’Nor pedal
This 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.

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MINI PLEXI PEDALS

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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 this price, you could buy two and still have plenty of space on your pedalboard.

Wampler Plexi Drive Mini
A boutique mini pedal that delivers the same tones as its bigger, popular siblings but at a lower cost and smaller footprint. The circuit integrates the three basic Gain, Tone and Volume knobs with two toggle switches for Bass and Mids, essentially offering a circuit very similar to the one found on the popular Deluxe version, minus the extra Boost.

One Control Purple Plexifier
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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Xotic SL Drive
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.

Carl Martin PlexiTone Single Channel
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.

Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Mk-III
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!

LovePedal’s Purple Plexi
It lets access many different eras of Marshall Plexi tones via the responsive gain control and tone stock, letting you recreate those enormous tones at a whisper volume. Very responsive to the guitar’s volume and pick dynamics. There’s also a version with an extra boost circuit with its own footswitch.

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.

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.

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by Matthew Wang and Paolo De Gregorio


Video Shootouts and Other Useful LInks:

The Andertones
Guitar Bonedo
That Pedal Show

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!