News

Jim Marshall Talks To The Guardian's Alfred Hickling In His Final Interview

 

Last Thursday, the world of rock n' roll mourned the passing of one histories true musical innovators. Like Steve Jobs, he was a inventor of tools for musicians and artists alike to realise their potential and find a unique voice - these kind of creators leave a legacy as vast and inspiring as any rock star or designer.

Shortly before his death last week, Jim Marshall, creator of the famous amplifier, gave his last interview to Alfred Hickling. He talked about his debt to Hendrix and Spinal Tap - and his final invention, the one-watt amp

This article is taken from the guardian.co.uk website

At the Marshall amplifier factory in Milton Keynes, there's a small museum piled high with musty, well-used equipment. There are original models of the 100-watt amps favoured by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. There's a white leather model made for Paul Weller with a mod target emblazoned across its front. There is a replica of Lemmy's amp, which the Motörhead bassist customised with Soviet army insignia and christened Murder One. But it is the tributes that various stars have scrawled on to their gear that are most striking. An amp belonging to Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist Zakk Wylde is inscribed: "Dad Rules." A 50-watt model donated by Jeff Beck states: "Thanks, Dad, for everything."

Last Thursday saw the passing, at the age of 88, of the man the rock guitar community simply knew as "Dad". The timing was particularly poignant, as the company was due to celebrate, in September this year, the 50th anniversary of the first amplifier Jim Marshall built - a design reckoned to be so perfect, and so loud, that it has remained fundamentally unaltered ever since.

Until recently, Jim Marshall had always been first into the office, arriving at 6.30am so that he could open the mail. "If there was ever a complaint," he would say, "I wanted to be first to know about it." But a series of strokes had weakened him and, when I visited his factory earlier this year, he was too frail to talk to in person. But, still determined to celebrate his half-century in the business, he agreed to a correspondence by email. It was to be his last interview.

Just a short step away from Marshall's office is the original prototype amp, created in 1962. It looks like a poorly welded combination of old, cobbled-together military components - and that's precisely what it is. The amplifier that shaped the sound of modern rock came about as much by accident as by design - as Marshall and his engineering colleagues Dudley Craven and Ken Bran were basically attempting to replicate an American-made Fender amplifier with what limited components they could find in postwar Britain.

"We started out in my shed," he told me, "making an amplifier from Monday to Friday that we could sell in my shop on Saturday. This gave us the money to go out the following week and get more parts. I would have been delighted if we could have built and sold just 50 amps. I didn't dream that the endeavour would last 50 years."

What is even more surprising is that the original design has barely been altered. The key to the sound of a Marshall amp is the continued use of practically obsolete electronic components known as vacuum tubes, or valves. Remember the days when you would turn on the TV and wait a couple of minutes for the set to warm up? Well, Marshall amps still do that - yet guitarists would not have it any other way. As Jeff Beck put it in an interview with Guitar Player magazine: "If you want to get a little bit rude and loud, you've got to have a Marshall. The Marshall sound is the balls. It's the big daddy - it has that growl that no other amp has."

Marshall played in swing bands, but was a drummer, and drum-teacher, rather than a guitarist. Initially, he set up a music shop in Hanwell, west London, to sell drumkits to his students. But it soon became the unofficial labour exchange for the emerging rock scene. "I was certainly the first to cater for rock'n'rollers in the London area," said Marshall. "I had so many top drummers as pupils that they started bringing their guitarists into the shop with them - chaps like Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend. Anyway, all the guitar players would say to me, 'Jim, if you sold guitars and amplifiers, we'd much prefer to buy them from you because all the music shops in the West End treat us like absolute idiots because we play rock'n'roll. Because we don't play jazz, they just don't take us seriously.' So I did - and they kept their promise!"

0405_Marshall _Amp _630x 420

Although the first amplifier was a three-way collaboration between Marshall, Craven and Bran, it was Marshall alone who devised the concept of the imposing tower of speakers now recognised throughout the world as the Marshall stack. Such a wall of Marshalls became the ultimate statement of rock-star machismo: the Swedish heavy-metal guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen once boasted that there were two structures visible from space: "the great wall of China and my Marshall amplifiers". However, even in the mid-1970s, arguably the days of peak rock indulgence when Kiss were touring with up to 18 stacks, it was a closely guarded secret as to how many of them were actually switched on.

Marshall explained that the idea for the stack came about as a result of a volume war being raged within the Who. "Pete Townshend wanted a cabinet containing eight 12in speakers. I told him it would be impossible to lift - and I was right. So we tried cutting the cabinet in half and putting one on top of the other."

Jimi Hendrix paid the stack a back-handed compliment, claiming that it looked like "a bunch of refrigerators strung together". Marshall was initially suspicious when his former drum pupil Mitch Mitchell introduced him to the then unknown guitarist he had begun playing with. "I thought, 'Hello, here's another American who wants something for nothing.' But Jimi offered to pay for his gear if I would provide service and support for him anywhere in the world. And Jimi was, of course, brilliant for the brand - not only because of his groundbreaking playing, but also because of his tremendous showmanship. As a result, I've often referred to him as Marshall's greatest ambassador."

Yet, if Hendrix was the brand's greatest ambassador, the second greatest may have been a guitarist who didn't really exist. Even rock fans who care little about how all the sounds are produced are familiar with the scene from the spoof 1984 rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap in which guitarist Nigel Tufnel, played by Christopher Guest, shows off an amp specially modified so that the volume controls go up to 11. "That's one louder, innit?" he says.

"The 'one louder' catchphrase proved very popular," said Marshall. "Christopher Guest was just fantastic when we did the launch for the JCM900 series in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. We drove there together and, as soon as he stepped out of the limo, he instantly became Nigel Tufnel - and he didn't go out of character for a second. But then I've been very fortunate with the people who supported me over the years."

These have included Paul Kossoff of 1970s legends Free (big hit: All Right Now); Kerry King of thrash metallists Slayer; and the former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash, who testifies to the special bond that developed when Marshall helped him out of a spot of bother. "He took great care of me personally, ever since we first met in the early 1990s. At that time, he did the unprecedented - he had a brand new amp designed for me when my Marshall amps were destroyed in a Guns N' Roses concert riot in St Louis in 1991. We were friends ever since."

Today, Marshall is a global brand producing up to 200 amps a day. The white handwritten logo has begun to spread to other products, though: it's now possible to buy Marshall headphones, Marshall DAB radios, even a Marshall fridge. But having spent 50 years serving the often contrary needs of guitarists, Marshall's last act as an amp manufacturer was to create a range of amplifiers that are - whisper it - not very loud at all.

The centrepiece of Marshall's 50th-anniversary range is a series of mini amps that replicate five of its most famous models - one from each decade - and are rated at only a single watt each. That's good news for the neighbours of budding rock guitarists, but it's also a reflection of the fact that musicians are now asking for amps that still have the classic Marshall sound (raw and distorted, yet warm and rich) but come without the eardrum-piercing oomph, since modern systems mean you no longer need a stack of amps to blow the back row away. A lion's roar at pussycat levels, if you like. But does this mean the days of the mighty Marshall stack are numbered?

"The little amps are only a part of our anniversary celebration," said Marshall. "The reason we decided to do them is simple: it's what a lot of guitarists want today. Every amp I made came from me chatting to guitarists and trying to produce the sound they heard in their heads. There will be some bigger amps too, though. After all, I have been nicknamed The Father of Loud!"

As I passed his empty office on my way out of the factory, I remembered my first Marshall amp. Shortly after I bought it, I received a personalised letter, signed Jim Marshall, thanking me for my purchase and welcoming me to the Marshall family. I don't have the amp any more. But I'll always keep the letter.

 

 

 

Comments

Related News

Audio Fidelity Release Eric Clapton's "Rainbow Concert" on Vinyl

Audio Fidelity Release Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert on Vinyl

(PRESS RELEASE): Adding to the series of Eric Clapton reissues, Marshall Blonstein's Audio Fidelity will be releasing Eric Clapton's Rainbow...

Read Article
Eric Clapton's 'Pilgrim' Album To Be Release on Limited Numbered Edition Hybrid SACD

Eric Clapton's 'Pilgrim' Album To Be Release on Limited Numbered Edition Hybrid SACD

Eric Clapton's 'Pilgrim' Album To Be Release on Limited Numbered Edition Hybrid SACD“An Inspiring Masterpiece From The Guitar God -...

Read Article
Work to Start on Jimi Hendrix Park in Early 2015

Work to Start on Jimi Hendrix Park in Early 2015

Jimi Hendrix memory will be eternally honoured by means of a park in his hometown of Seattle following 3 years,...

Read Article
Early Jimi Hendrix Recordings Finally Set to be Released

Early Jimi Hendrix Recordings Finally Set to be Released

A possible 88 early Jimi Hendrix recordings are set to be remastered and released following a long winded legal dispute...

Read Article
Eric Clapton Heads Up J.J Cale Tribute Album

Eric Clapton Heads Up J.J Cale Tribute Album

A tribute album in memory of J.J. Cale has been announced and set for release on 29th July. Headed up...

Read Article
Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” Voted Greatest Strat Song

Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” Voted Greatest Strat Song

Jimi Hendrix recently won one more accolade to add to his already unprecedented musical career – the title of writing...

Read Article
Music Hall of Fame Announce Innovative New Hologram Feature

Music Hall of Fame Announce Innovative New Hologram Feature

Music Hall of Fame Announce Innovative New Hologram Feature  - The Music Hall of Fame, located in Camden, North London, has...

Read Article
Jimi Hendrix Final Interview to be Broadcast

Jimi Hendrix Final Interview to be Broadcast

Jimi Hendrix Final Interview to be Broadcast - The last ever-recorded Jimi Hendrix interview will be broadcast today in full...

Read Article
Jimi Hendrix Experience Purple Box Set Reissue Details

Jimi Hendrix Experience Purple Box Set Reissue Details

Jimi Hendrix Experience Purple Box Set Reissue Details - The newly-expanded edition of The Jimi Hendrix Experience Purple box-set will...

Read Article
‘All Is By My Side’ Set to Debut at Toronto International Film Festival

‘All Is By My Side’ Set to Debut at Toronto International Film Festival

'All Is By My Side' Set to Debut at Toronto International Film Festival - The Jimi Hendrix film 'All Is...

Read Article
'The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Cologne' to be Released

'The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Cologne' to be Released

'The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live In Cologne' to be Released - A new Jimi Hendrix live recording is to...

Read Article
Eric Clapton Cancels Two European Concert Dates

Eric Clapton Cancels Two European Concert Dates

Eric Clapton Cancels Two European Concert Dates - Eric Clapton has been forced to cancel two concert dates...

Read Article
Jimi Hendrix Pop-Up Store to Open in London's Soho

Jimi Hendrix Pop-Up Store to Open in London's Soho

Jimi Hendrix Pop-Up Store to Open in London's Soho - A Jimi Hendrix pop-up store is set to...

Read Article
Jimi Hendrix Set For Highest-Charting Album in 44 Years

Jimi Hendrix Set For Highest-Charting Album in 44 Years

Jimi Hendrix Set For Highest-Charting Album in 44 Years - Seattle guitar legend Jimi Hendrix upcoming archival...

Read Article
Simon Mcbride Enters Eric Clapton's 'Play Crossroads Festival' Event

Simon Mcbride Enters Eric Clapton's 'Play Crossroads Festival' Event

Belfast singer/songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Simon McBride is bidding to play the world-famous Madison Square Gardens in New York...

Read Article
Jimi Hendrix Strat Sells at Auction for £237,000

Jimi Hendrix Strat Sells at Auction for £237,000

Jimi Hendrix Fender Strat Sells at Auction for £237,000 - Jimi Hendrix cherished Fender Stratocaster has sold for...

Read Article
Eric Clapton Announces US Tour Dates for 2013

Eric Clapton Announces US Tour Dates for 2013

Eric Clapton Announces US Tour Dates for 2013 - The legendary Eric Clapton is already looking ahead to...

Read Article
Jimi Hendrix Woodstock Performance to Receive Cinematic Release

Jimi Hendrix Woodstock Performance to Receive Cinematic Release

Jimi Hendrix Woodstock Performance to Receive Cinematic Release - Jimi Hendrix historic set from the 1969 Woodstock festival...

Read Article
Whose Guitar? A History Of Famous Guitars

Whose Guitar? A History Of Famous Guitars

A: Steve Vai - EVO Ibanez Jem JEM7VWH Evo is the name Steve Vai gave to his primary...

Read Article
Jimi Hendrix Exhibit Planned for the Rock Icons 70th Birthday Celebration

Jimi Hendrix Exhibit Planned for the Rock Icons 70th Birthday Celebration

Jimi Hendrix Exhibit Planned for the Rock Icons 70th Birthday Celebration - A new exhibition set to open...

Read Article
Gary Moore Live: Jimi Hendrix Tribute Package Coming Soon

Gary Moore Live: Jimi Hendrix Tribute Package Coming Soon

Eagle Rock Entertainment is proud to announce the September 25 release of the Gary Moore CD, DVD and...

Read Article
Guitarists Break World Record With Hendrix Tribute

Guitarists Break World Record With Hendrix Tribute

The annual Thanks Jimi Festival in Poland has set a world record for the largest guitar ensemble. Some 7273...

Read Article
Download Festival Set To Honour Jim Marshall At This Years Festival

Download Festival Set To Honour Jim Marshall At This Years Festival

Download Festival organiser Andy Copping has announced that the festival will be paying tribute to Marshall Amps founder Jim...

Read Article