Bugera 1990 vs. Marshall JCM900
May 12, 2011 by Paul Heller
Anyone looking for that classic stage sound, but doesn’t have the classic stage budget, would do well to check out the Bugera 1990 amplifier. The 1990, built in the Behringer factory for the Italian manufacturer Bugera, comes so close to the sound of the Marshall JCM900 as to make critics split hairs when debating the two.
When presented with TheToneKings side-by-side audio/video comparison (see below), the online reactions ran the gamut of Marshall homer-isms. The 900 is cleaner, they say. A little tighter. Has thicker bass. Better distortion. Transcendent reverb. All of this can apparently be determined by listening to a set of tiny little computer speakers, played from a YouTube video, its properties broken apart and reproduced out of binary code as if sent through the USS Enterprise’s transporter room (or like poor Jeff Goldblum in The Fly).
Some opined that the Bugera is more apt to have problems if it gets moved from place to place (one can only surmise that such depends on how one throws one’s amp around). One deep thinker suggested that the Marshall has superior tubes – akin to asserting that a Mercedes is preferable to a BMW because it has better tires.
Such complaints may well be valid if one is playing CDs through the head and speakers, but that’s not the case. That which goes into an amplifier is a musical instrument. It’s called a guitar. It’s made out of wood, metal and magnets (with some little bits of plastic, bone and Mother of Pearl here and there). When Marshall-loving elitists sniff at the Bugera 1990, they’re missing a huge point, which the makers of the Bugera most assuredly did not.
In comparing the two amps, what stands out is that the Bugera is conveying the sound of the guitar itself. You can “hear” the wood, that natural plaything that only exists because someone, somewhere, some time ago, planted a seed. The 900 may have higher-end electronics. It has more tweet. Its distortion and reverb are cleaner. Those “advantages” exist. They do.
The Bugera 1990, however, lets the player (and the audience) hear the instrument. It doesn’t cover up any shortcomings with the kind of squealing rage that only Marshall amps and pigs that have been doused with gasoline and set afire can attain. When you listen to the Marshall JCM900, you are hearing the Marshall JCM900. When you listen to the Bugera, you’re hearing your guitar. Having played through a Marshall for several years, I can tell you that some of the cheapest, crappiest axes ever built still sounded perfectly fantastic through that blaster – not sure if that’s a good thing or not – and “good guitars” all but played themselves through it.
The debate boils down to the same argument that can be frequently heard going on among football fans. Who was better, Walter Payton or Barry Sanders? People will always say Payton, because he was there first. Because he had a Super Bowl ring. Because he was Sweetness. Anything that stood in cleats after Number Thirty-Four couldn’t possibly have been better or even as good (no matter how many yards-per-carry he averaged). But the generation before will bark over their shoulders that Payton was no Jim Brown, you hear? And Brown was no Bronko Nagurski…
Any demonstration would have more impact if the demonstrator had installed the same tubes in each amp – which he may well have done but it wasn’t mentioned – or if he had played a few different guitars through the dueling heads. Lord knows there’s a world of difference between a Les Paul with 490-series alnico pickups, an SG with P90s, a Strat with Tex-Mex singles, or a classic-build Telecaster – never mind every Gretsch, Jackson, Rickenbacker, Ibanez, PRS et cetera that roams the Earth in the clutches of talented hands.
The Marshall is better because it’s a Marshall – that’s the essence of the argument – and what else would a Marshall owner say, having shelled out twice as much for an amp head that does much the same thing as the Bugera? That it’s brighter? Come on. Most people who dabble in such high-end, high-volume equipment are half-deaf by the time they get into heads and cabs anyway.
Here’s what is likely: A non-gearhead could walk into any music store and run any guitar through both amps and tell you that he or she heard very little difference between the two. Is it loud? Is it really loud? Does it come with a foot switch? Do the little lights come on? Does it have all the knobs? All right, then.
Snobs may shell out the prerequisite $900 for a JCM900, and can tell us about the niggling differences all the way home from the bank. Buyers who appreciate value will be happy to pay half of that for the nearly-identical Bugera. The Marshall owner will always be able to hold his brand name over the other guy’s head – and they’ll both rock.
That’s the thing that matters the most; end of story. Unless you want to stack ’em both up next to a Mesa Boogie… See what I mean? Amps are like schoolyard bullies and Old West gunfighters. No matter how tough they are, they’re always bound to run into someone more dangerous. There’s no shame in cranking out your sound through the Bugera 1990. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, just look that person dead in the eye and say, “What? I can’t bloody hear you!”
Marshall JCM900 vs. Bugera 1990