Demeaning drummer jokes are a dime-a-dozen – especially in guitar playing circles. That said, there is one skin-beater that no self-respecting six-stringer would ever dare poke fun at. Why? Because, without this drummer, rock as we know and love it today, might never have existed. His name? Jim Marshall. The late, great founder of Marshall Amplification…
The Marshall Story
The story of Jim Marshall and the company he founded, Marshall Amplification, is a fascinating, true–life, rags–to–riches tale. Born in Kensington, England, on July 29th, 1923, Jim's childhood was anything but easy. "I never really got an education because I was in hospital all the time with tubercular bones," Jim revealed. As a result of this unfortunate affliction, he spent most of his school years quite literally cocooned in a plaster cast.
Without the benefit of a formal education, Jim began working at age 13. He also learned to tap dance and, before long, music had become the focus of his life. "A band leader heard me sing and asked me to try out," Jim recalled. He passed his audition with flying colors and, by 14, he was performing 6 nights a week as the lead vocalist for a 16–piece, big band. In 1942 the band's drummer was enlisted and Jim stepped in. His natural talents behind the kit were quickly obvious and, before long, he was a much in demand performer & teacher. In fact, Jim's weekly roster of 65 pupils included several who went on to find fame and fortune, including Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix) and Micky Waller (Little Richard, the Jeff Beck Group).
In 1960 Jim opened a drum shop. "All the drummers used to bring their groups in with them, which is how I got to meet guitarists like Pete (Townshend) and Ritchie (Blackmore)." Jim stated. "They kept pestering me to stock guitars and amps so I decided to give it a go." He quickly became aware of the fact his guitar playing customers were all searching for a sound they just couldn't find. "Listening to what they were saying gave me a very good idea of what they wanted," Jim continued. "So, I decided to put together a small team to build a valve amplifier with the specific sound the lads were after."
After several attempts, the first Marshall head was built in September 1962. It was an instant hit. Jim tried it with a 2x12" cabinet but didn't like the sound. "Plus we kept blowing up speakers like there was no tomorrow!" He laughed. "So, I decided to put four 12" speakers in the smallest enclosure we could build, so it'd be easy to transport." And thus the Marshall 4x12" cabinet was born – a product that's still deemed the "industry standard." And, thus, in the guitar amplifier world, Marshall quickly became a household name ...
In 1965, another important Marshall milestone was reached. "Pete Townshend asked if I could build him a 100 Watt head and an 8x12" cabinet," Jim stated. "I agreed but warned him that his roadies wouldn't like handling such a big cabinet and suggested stacking an angled 4x12" on top of a straight one instead. Pete was having none of it though, so we built him what he wanted and off he went." Jim's prediction proved correct and Townshend returned to have the 8x12" cab "cut in half." The result of this logical solution was the creation of what is now one of the rock world's most instantly recognizable icons – the 100–Watt Marshall stack!
From that point on, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Marshall quickly became the world's preeminent rock amplifier maker – a status the company still proudly holds today, winning countless honors along the way, including the Queen's Award for Export in 1984 and 1992. How did Jim ensure that his latest products remain every bit as cutting edge as they were when they first appeared some 50 years ago? "By listening to guitarists and finding out what they really want," was his instant reply. "In my opinion, the most important thing in what we do is the person who's actually going to play through the amp once we've made it. If you don't bother to listen to the end–user, you'll miss the mark on certain things because no–one knows everything."
Thanks to Jim's simple yet brilliant "listen to what guitarists want" MO, Marshall has gone from strength to strength over the past fifty years â€" creating iconic all–valve rock amps such as the 1959 "Plexi", the 1962 "Bluesbreaker, the JCM800 2203, the JCM900 4100, the DSL100 and the company's most current "flagship", the JVM410H. It has also made considerable gains with entry level players thanks to affordable, great sounding products over the past few decades, including Valvestate, AVT and, their current offering, the versatile MG range. And let's not forget the best selling AS50D Acoustic combo – clearly "Marshall" and "acoustic" are two words that do live together in perfect harmony – despite what some may think!
Throughout his career, Jim devoted countless hours and a huge amount of money to charities for handicapped and underprivileged children. "It all goes back to spending so much of my young life in that wretched plaster cast," he once explained. "I decided at the age of 14 that if I ever became rich enough, I would look after young people who need help and encouragement. I've done well from nothing so I'm just putting something back in." Not surprisingly, Jim was made an honoree Doctor of Music in 2002 and awarded the OBE in 2004.
Sadly, after a brief but brave battle with cancer, Jim passed away on April 5th, 2012. Like Leo Fender and his good friend, Les Paul, Jim Marshall's sonic legacy will live on forever...
With the passing of its beloved leader, Marshall has resolved to continue with the same exact principles and MO that Jim installed and was so successful with. So, to this day, Marshall continues to listen to what guitarists want and then strives to exceed their expectations.
Jim Marshall opened a small music shop in Hanwell, London in 1962, selling and teaching drums. The drummers’ guitarist friends often came into the shop telling Marshall about the sound and design they would like to see in a guitar amplifier, but couldn’t find. Marshall soon decided to expand his business and began making guitar amplifiers to compete with American-made amps that were very popular at the time. Known for their signature “crunch” sound and the increased volume they provided, the Marshall amps gained popularity. Today, Marshall is one of the most recognized names in guitar amplifiers and speaker cabinets.
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