Jim Marshall (July 29, 1923 – April 5, 2012)
Early in the day on Thursday, April 5, 2012, Jim Marshall passed away from complications due to cancer. Known as the man behind “THE” amp and the “father of loud,” Marshall leaves behind an unbound legacy and thousands of loyal musicians. In order to celebrate the life of one of the most important innovators in rock and roll history, we here at PAL would like to take a look back at the history of the man and the company that would forever change the sound of rock.
The Early Years
James Charles Marshall was born in Acton, West London on July 29, 1923 to a family which included boxers and music hall performers. During his youth, Marshall suffered from tuberculosis of the bones, a potentially fatal bacterial infection of the spongy bone tissue which inevitably caused his exemption from World War II due to poor health. With a great portion of the men drafted for the war effort, Marshall found a job as a singer and eventually doubled as a drummer as well. By 1949, Marshall had become a drum teacher with notable pupils such as Mick Waller and Mitch Mitchell who would go on to play for Little Richard and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, respectively. With 65 students a week, Marshall’s income had risen to today’s equivalent of $170,000 per year.
The Birth of Marshall Amplification
With his newfound wealth, Marshall opened a music shop in Hanwell, West London, selling first drums and later electric guitars. After several of his guitar playing clientele (including Pete Townsend) began expressing their want of a different kind of amp, Marshall seized the opportunity and decided to manufacture some of his own. He hired 18 year old former EMI electronic apprentice Dudley Craven and his shop repairman Ken Bran for help with the first prototype amps which eventually led to the 1962 formation of Marshall Amplification.
They modeled their prototypes after the Fender Bassman amp as they all felt its sound was the best match that they were looking for, liking its raw power and increased volume capability. The first production units were extremely similar to the Bassman in circuitry but differentiated themselves in the speaker size and placement. At the time, the average speaker could handle about 15 watts which meant that a 50 watt amp like the Bassman and the Marshall prototype had to use four speakers. Fender used four 10 inch Jansen speakers located in the same cabinet as the amplifier while Marshall decided to separate the two, placing 12 inch Celestion speakers in its own closed cabinet separate from the amplifier (many amps would later copy this design, separating the speaker cabinets from the amplifier “head”).
Another key difference was Marshall’s use of higher-gain ECC83 valves throughout the preamp as well as a capacitor/filter after the volume control. This was the key of the amps signature sound, as the build allowed it to enter distortion at a much lower volume than on the Bassman and its ability to control high treble and gain more efficiently made the amps highly sought after by rock musicians. After about six different prototypes, Marshall was finally satisfied; resulting in an amp dubbed the JTM-45 and thus, “the Marshall sound” was born. As the company continued to grow, he created the Master Volume Marshall amps and the classic JCM800 split channel amps with notable musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton becoming huge fans of the equipment.
The Legacy Left Behind
Fifty years after Jim Marshall created his first amp, hundreds of notable musicians around the world have embraced the Marshall sound, from Angus Young to Bruce Springsteen, punk rock to power pop, few amps are as revered and widely used as his. He will always be remembered for his incredible contributions and stands among one of the four fathers of rock and roll equipment with Les Paul, Seth Lover and Leo Fender. On Thursday, April 05, 2012, the last of the fathers is finally at peace, but his legacy remains cranked to eleven.