Say ‘Ello to the 5 Finest Marshall Guv’nor Clones

Before 1988 the "amp-in-a-box" pedal as we know it today did not exist. Then came the Marshall Guv'nor and everything changed. Unbelievably, it would still be roughly a couple of decades before the rest of the pedal industry began to catch up to this remarkable advancement in stomp technology. Before the release of the Guv'nor, the concept of recreating the tone and feel of a specific amplifier within the confines of a solid-state stompbox circuit was an ideal which many designers had aspired to, but none had yet achieved to anyone's satisfaction. Some pedal companies had gotten close in a broad sort of way, like how a Tube Screamer does a pretty fair job of mimicking tube overdrive without sounding like any particular amp, but none had yet been able to convincingly capture the true personality of a Marshall, Fender, or Vox in a small enclosure.

Marshall Guv'nor

The beauty of the Marshall Guv'nor, then, was that it sounded a whole lot like a specific amp. It did a striking impression of Marshall's JCM 800, which at the time of its release was the standard issue hard rock and metal amp. One could scarcely attend a rock show without seeing a JCM stack sitting atop the stage, so obviously it would have been an excellent candidate for cloning in pedal form. Despite this, and the excellent Marshall-esque rock tones it was capable of, the original Guv'nor was discontinued by 1991. Time would be kinder to it however, and it would build a considerable cult-ish following in the coming years. Gary Moore was an early adopter, as was Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, who reportedly used two Guv'nors (as well as an actual JCM800) during the Isn't Anything era. It has even become popular among bassists in later years, thanks mainly to Tim Commerford's usage of one on Rage Against the Machine's first record.

Even as the amp-in-a-box phenomenon is currently in full swing, and nearly every pedal circuit ever made has been reverse-engineered and cloned by one company or another, one still sees few overt Marshall Guv'nor clones. There are plenty of Marshall-in-a-box pedals of course, but those that claim direct lineage from the Guv are fairly rare. This seems odd given its recent resurgence in popularity, the relative simplicity of its circuit, and the fact that originals are both pricey and not of terribly high quality build-wise. Nevertheless, there are a handful of decent clones around, as well as several pedals that take considerable inspiration from the Guv'nor while also adding something of their own to the mix. These are excellent alternatives to purchasing a vintage original, as these are often overpriced and none-too-reliable in comparison to a rugged modern stompbox. Here are a few of our favorite boxes for satisfying those gubernatorial yearnings.

Marshall GV-2 Guv'nor Plus

Who better to clone the original Guv'nor than the crew at Marshall themselves? The GV-2 Guv’nor Plus has been around for a while, and it is in many ways a notable improvement over the original, at least in my opinion. The Guv Plus is actually reasonably sized, for one thing, and its build quality is much improved, with a rugged and satisfyingly heavy enclosure. The down side of this is that it no longer has room for the built-in effects loop, which was a cool, if sort of wacky, feature of the original. In trade you get a pedalboard-friendly size, a much better bypass, all the Marshall tone and response of the '80s version, and an added tone control for deep bass modeled after the JCM2000 "Deep" switch. This is great for giving a smaller amp a serious dose of Marshall stack-style low-end grunt. The GV-2 also has a good deal more output than its predecessor, which was lacking a bit in that department. A lightly used Guv'nor Plus can be had for under fifty bucks. You should totally get one.

Wilson Effects Sparkling Blue

Wilson Effects Sparkling Blue

One of the few modern Marshall-in-a-box pedals that openly acknowledges its Guv'nor heritage is the excellent Sparkling Blue from Wilson Effects. This pedal replicates the Guv's basic layout and sound palette while adding a little flavor of its own, and making considerable improvements in the way of overall quality. The main difference lies in the mini-toggle switch that lives in the center of the Sparkling Blue, which selects from a couple of different clipping options; LED clipping like the original Guv'nor, or silicon diode clipping. This is a popular modification to this circuit, and one which I believe improves it noticeably, as silicon clipping lends a little more punch and heft to the proceedings. This extra girth is especially useful when rocking at low volumes, when cranking the amp to its sweet spot isn't an option. The Wilson Sparkling Blue is a great Guv'nor alternative, and can whip up a huge range of fat Marshall tones that range from classic Page to classic, "brown sound" Van Halen.

Danelectro Daddy-O

Believe it or not, one of the first companies to clone the Marshall Guv'nor was Danelectro. Dan-o made some rather decent pedals on occasion (even some of the itty-bitty ones with the food names sounded pretty good, though they were noisy and shoddily constructed), and the Daddy-O is one of the best. Its circuit is essentially the same as the black box Guv'nor but for the addition of input and output buffers. I imagine it also uses lower grade components in certain areas, but then the O.G. Guv wasn't exactly premium in the guts department either. The Danelectro Daddy-O is great for the player that wants to test drive Guv'nor tones without laying down too much cash. You can find them all over the place for thirty bucks or less, often in very gently used condition. A lot of people like the pedal just fine in stock form, but naturally there are a few companies that will do mods, improving specific components, smoothing out the response, and adding options for silicon diode clipping.

BYOC The Chancellor

BYOC The Chancellor

The best Guv'nor clone you can get might just be the one you build yourself. Build Your Own Clone, that most excellent online purveyor of DIY pedal building kits, sells a very highly regarded Guv'nor clone kit called The Chancellor. At just under 75 bucks it is very affordable, and because the circuit is not terribly complicated it is also one of the simpler builds for anyone who can follow directions and swing a soldering iron with some basic competency. BYOC has wisely upgraded the components throughout and addressed all the classic problem areas with the old big box Marshall, including the big box itself. The Chancellor is half the size of the original, features true bypass switching, and has the potential to vastly increase one's feelings of personal satisfaction. Compared side-by-side with a vintage black-box Marshall Guv'nor, The Chancellor takes the cake.

Mojo Hand FX Magistrate

Like the Chancellor, Mojo Hand's Magistrate lets you know where it's coming from with a wink and a nudge and a slyly suggestive name. Don't be too quick to judge it as just another Guv'nor clone, though. The Magistrate has a its own thing going on as well, setting it apart from its antecedent by virtue of several crucial refinements. For one thing, it operates at 18 volts, converting standard external nine-volt power to 18 volts internally for greatly enhanced headroom and a more nuanced dynamic response. This keeps it sounding tight and awesome even when the gain is cranked, and lends to its ability to clean up with the guitar's volume knob. The Magistrate features true bypass switching as well, unlike the old-school Guv, and it also looks like a million bucks, something which cannot be said about the legendarily hideous black box Marshall Guv'nor.

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