Marshall ShredMaster review: one for the hard rockers… but much more than that besides

Marshall ShredMaster review: one for the hard rockers… but much more than that besides

The Marshall ShredMaster is an eminently sensible overdrive pedal that offers a variety of tasteful crunch sounds for restrained guitarists. That is, until you turn the gain knob past 3 o’clock, at which point it becomes a blood-slurping rock fiend.

READ MORE: Marshall DriveMaster review: the underdog of the Vintage Reissue group has no shortage of pep

Of the four pedals in the Vintage Reissue series, this is clearly the most angry – and yes, it’s got the word ‘shred’ in its name – but that doesn’t mean it holds no interest to anyone except downtuned djent chuggers and high-speed widdlers. Might it actually be the most versatile unit of the whole range?
Launched in 1991, the original ShredMaster was intended to replicate the sound of a cranked Marshall JCM900. That’s actually not very ‘metal’ by today’s ultra-high-gain standards, so it’s perhaps just as well that this black wedge also found plenty of fans among the British alt-rock crowd of the 90s, most notably Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead.
Marshall ShredMaster. Image: Adam Gasson
In design terms it’s almost indistinguishable from the DriveMaster, only with gold lettering instead of red (and grey position markers on the knobs, for some reason); those five knobs are the same as the DM’s except that the central one is marked ‘contour’ instead of ‘middle’. That’s probably more or less the same thing, right? Well, yes, sort of…
Like its three siblings, the new ShredMaster is built in the famous Bletchley amp factory, with a mild steel enclosure and – where possible – identical components to the old one. That means it’s true bypass, the circuit board is a proper through-hole type and the jack sockets are mounted in cheap-looking plastic casings. It also means you get a clip-on battery cover, surrounded by floor-gripping foam with just enough room for a bit of Velcro.
Marshall ShredMaster. Image: Adam Gasson
In Use
Did somebody mention a blood-slurping rock fiend? The only place to start with this one is at full gain, and what comes out is so ‘rawk’ it practically pinches the harmonics for you. With strident mids and a smoothly crisped-up top end, this is the most Marshall-like sound available from any of the four pedals in the range – but we’re talking fiery JCM, not creamy JTM.
The contour knob does indeed control the midrange, scooping it out as you turn it clockwise. So all the way down it’s extra-clanky, and all the way up it’s almost Muff-like. But, just as with the Guv’nor and DriveMaster, there’s a lot of rich territory to explore by twiddling all three knobs: any combination of one at maximum and the other two at minimum will give you a worthwhile starting point. It does djent pretty well, and as long as you’re not expecting the full Boss HM-2 undead-summoning experience, this is a whole lotta noisy.
But that sensible stuff I mentioned briefly at the top? It’s only a gentle tweak away: with the gain backed off just a few degrees the rock fiend has already retired to its cave, to be replaced by some pretty straightforward – and pretty versatile – crunchy overdrive. It even passes the ancient blues players’ sacred initiation test, cleaning up well with a twist of the pinkie on the guitar.
Marshall ShredMaster. Image: Adam Gasson
All of that remains true right down to zero on the gain control, where the ShredMaster makes a mockery of its name by very nearly qualifying as a tone-sweetening clean boost pedal. Pair it with the neck humbucker of a good semi-acoustic and it’ll even conjure up a bit of jazz boop. That’s surely not what Marshall had in mind, but hey, there are no rules around here.
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