Okay, before I jump into why I truly believe the early Marshall Valvestate VS100 is indeed a terribly overlooked "sleeper amp", I need to tell you how I discovered these amps. A couple weeks back two Marshall amps arrived in my shop for repair, one was a DSL 40 full tube amp and the other was a early 90's VS100. In a nutshell, the (much more expensive) DSL really disappointed me, while the VS was way cooler than expected. Rather than get too wordy, I'll use bullet-points, and I will NOT get into techno-babble (your welcome).
The Valvestate had a MUCH better looking circuit board, more robust, better lay-out, and easier to work on.
The Valvestate had way more authoritative and solid bottom-end.
The Valvestate was much more versatile, delivering better Fender type cleans, as well as better scooped metal tones.
The VS had separate verb controls for clean and dirty channels, yes! Why don't all amps have this? Brilliant.
The VS was actually made in ENGLAND, the way a Marshall should be!!!
The VS sported a UK made Celestion speaker.
The VS had WAY more clean headroom.
The VS also could deliver way better totally saturated tones at bedroom volume.
The VS "Power Dimension" switch really re-voices the amp, again making it excellent for lower volume levels.
I set up an A/B switch to switch between the tow amps, and found the VS better at every tone over the DSL. Wow. So next I A/B'd it to my favorite dual-channel combo, a Fender Super-Sonic 22 ... and here, while there was more of a pronounced difference between the two amps ... and the Super-Sonic is VERY sweet ... I still found I liked the cleans, crunch, and saturated tones of the VS just as well as the stupidly cool and well respected Super-Sonic. Again, wow.
So, what DIDN'T I like about the VS-100? Really only three things:
I wish the short spring reverb tank was a long-spring Fender type.
I wish it had a headphone out for totally silent practice, an easy addition for a Solid State power section.
The factory Celestion "blackback" 12" speaker (UK made!) was not bad, but it was a bit thin and lacked a little Marshall midrange growl.
Let's address these three points.
If I really wanted to, I could install a longer reverb tank for about twenty bucks from someplace like Allparts. But I'll probably use a verb pedal.
If I really wanted it, I could add a headphone jack for a few bucks in parts, but I'd probably never use it anyway.
I can install a WGS Invader 12" Speaker to give the amp the characteristic greenback mid growl I'd like to have a bit more of. Yes, the Invader is rated at 50-watts, but the Valvestate's 100 mosfet solid state watts are equal to about 50 old-fashioned tube driven watts RMS.
The speaker is so easy to upgrade that yes, I'd probably suggest to folks that they do the swap. And yes, the Invader would be my #1 suggestion. Another fantastic speaker upgrade would be the British Lead, which would add in a little more urgent midrange, plus even MORE solid bottom end.