The man who gave rock one of its key visual and sonic props has died. Jim Marshall, known as “The Father of Loud” for inventing the Marshall amplifier, was 88 years old.
Marshall was a drummer and drum teacher who used his earnings to set up a music shop in west London in 1960. Among his customers were the likes of Ritchie Blackmore and Pete Townshend, and it was through talking to them that Marshall realised there was a gap in the market for a guitar amplifier cheaper than the American-made models popular at the time. When, at Townshend’s request, a Marshall 1959 amplifier head was teamed with a cabinet, the “Marshall stack” was born, becoming the defining feature in rock bands’ backlines for generations to come.
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I was 15 years old and I was saving up all of my money for a Mesa Boogie guitar amplifier. Any guitar player from back in the day knows the Mesa Boogie catalogs were a work of art and the stuff dreams were made of. The beautiful full color pictures and descriptive copy made you salivate. I poured over those pages, dreaming of the day when one of those beauties would be mine, and I was almost there… I had $700 saved.
And then I walked into Wayne Music. There sitting along the hallway wall was a 100-watt JMP Marshall top and matching 4×12 cabinet with 25-watt black back Celestion speakers. I lost my mind. “MOM!! MOM!! This is what I want. This is it!!! I gotta have it!!.’ My Mom tried to talk me in from the ledge ‘But Den, you’ve been saving for the Mesa-Boogie amp, you almost have enough money.’ ‘Yeah, I know Mom but this is a Marshall!’. They wanted $750 so my Mom gave me the difference and we left the store with it, me wedging it into the back seat of my Mom’s maroon Ford Fairmount.
I remember the next day I had my friend over to show him the amp, my Mom and her friend Fran were in the kitchen, about 15 feet away from where this EL-34 powered behemoth sat in our TEENY TINY living room. I asked, “Hey Mom, I can I just show this to Anthony for a second? I promise I won’t play it long.”. She of course said it was fine. That’s the kind of Mom she was. So….. I grabbed my 1965 Gibson SG Jr and plugged in. Turning the amp on, even with the guitar volume down you could hear how incredibly loud it was just idling. I turned my guitar’s volume knob up and ELECTRICITY filled the shoebox sized room. I took my pick and with my left hand muting all of the strings I simply ‘chunked’ on the strings. It was like a freight train came barreling through. It seemed as if every one of the NUMEROUS knick knacks on the piano, television and shelves (my Mom had a thing for tchotchkes) bounced in the air. My Mom’s friend Fran who was an elderly woman (or just always seemed that way) looked as if she was ELECTROCUTED!! She was lifted out of her seat, twitching. I swear I saw her beauty shop hairdo have lift off.
Thus began my love affair with Marshall amps. Thanks Jim Marshall, you were a force to be reckoned with and made all of my childhood dreams come true.