The name of Jim Marshall is ubiquitous in rock’s loud walls of sound, synonymous with 4×12 cabs stacked to the hilt, and hi-watt heads cranked to ten, or even eleven, in the case of Spinal Tap. In terms of brand recognition, his white-on-black signature last name is up there with the top-ranked and most memorable images of modern media. For us, for the players and gearheads, however, it’s the sound that cranks behind that logo that is unmistakable and impossible to forget.
Jim’s story in music gear began when he opened the doors of his own music shop in 1960. Business was good, but apparently, customers continued to return to Jim’s shop wanting more, wanting a different sort of amp. While he’d dabbled in building bass guitar cabinets in the years prior, with a customer base extending to some emerging names in rock—such as Pete Townsend and Ritchie Blackmore—the interest in founding a new sound could no longer be ignored.
It was around this time that Jim started experimenting with amp designs. As is commonly known, Jim’s early designs were built with an ear for making his own sound but with an eye on the Fender Bassman built across the pond. Yet, Jim didn’t design solo or simply go for a knock-off. In 1962, he teamed up with Ken Bran, the shop’s repairman, and Dudley Craven, an EMI technician. As with any invention, there was plenty of scrap, botched attempts, and bits on the cutting room floor. In this case, it was five prototypes before magic number six resulted in the sound Jim was striving after.
By 1964, Hayes England became home of the first full-on Marshall factory. As demand spiked, the plant and modest team could hardly keep up. In 1965, the local production plant took on an international edge with a global distribution agreement with Rose Morris instrument suppliers. In the decades that followed, Marshall’s fame as an amp builder was twinned by the artists who used his amps to define their own sounds. Clapton, Hendrix, Page, Slash, Cobain, just pick your decade and Jim’s name is all over it.
Along the way, Jim’s designs hit a number of their own “number ones,” that is, innovations the world had not yet seen in an electric guitar amplifier. Take, for example, the ability to have multiple stacking amp cabs, which was reportedly a plan hatched with Pete Townsend. While this seems simple enough in retrospect, it’s brilliantly basic ideas like this that enabled a literal wall of sound throughout rock and roll history.
Even after his passing on April 5, 2012, Jim’s accomplishments and contributions continued to garner accolades. For example, in 2003 he was awarded and “Order of the British Empire” medal, which commemorates leading contributions made by citizens to the arts and sciences. In the eyes of the royal empire, it paid to rock.
Whether you’re playing a stack of black today or listening to a favorite album imbibed with Marshall tone, have a great #RiffCitySunday and keep your eye out for some incredible new gear from the ongoing heritage of Marshall in 2018.