Jim Marshall, the inventor who changed the sound of rock music, has died at age 88, according to a statement issued by the company that bears his name.
A drummer by trade, in the early ‘60s Marshall invented what became known as the Marshall JTM 45 guitar amplifier, seen by many guitarists as an improvement over the then-state-the-art Fender Bassman. In subsequent years, Marshall, who had been selling musical equipment out of a small shop in London, increased the effectiveness of the amps, which continue to be fitted with his name in white script against a black background.
Marshall amplifiers caught on with rock guitarists to the point that they seemed ubiquitous: A so-called “wall of Marshalls” or “Marshall stacks” stood behind almost every rock guitarist of note in the ‘60s and ‘70s including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Tommy Iommi, Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend as well as next-generation guitarists Kurt Cobain, Yngwie Malmsteen, Slash, Eddie Van Halen and Angus Young, among many others. Some bands used a tower of empty Marshall amp cabinets as a prop to suggest power and success.
The “Marshall crunch,” as the company’s predominant amp sound is known among players, marries volume with a gruffness in the low tones without sacrificing piercing tones on top. Because of the importance of the electric guitar in rock in the ‘60s and beyond, that sound defined many of the genre’s most popular and influential bands.
Though Jim Marshall was dubbed the “Father of Loud,” guitarists David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler and Andy Summers, among others, used his amps to achieve a clean sound that rang in the upper register at less than maximum volume.
Jim Marshall was born in 1923 in Southall, a suburb of west London. As a child, he suffered from a bone defect and for much of his youth wore plaster casts that ran the length of his legs and torso. After World War II, he took up the drums and began tutoring young percussionists, including Mitch Mitchell, who became the drummer in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Customers of his music shop, which emphasized drum kits and percussion paraphernalia, suggested he stock guitars and amplifiers as well, which led to his interest in creating the initial product in what today is a line known worldwide.
In the early ‘90s, Marshall told his biographer Michael Doyle, “I would say that all we will endeavor to do is to try and improve on what we have done in the past, and I don’t mean purely on the money angle. You can’t take it with you, you can only live in one house and drive one car at a time. It’s the name that means something to me – because it is my name.”
A statement on the company website read, “In addition to the creation of the amps chosen by countless guitar heroes and game-changing bands, Jim was also an incredibly humble and generous man who, over the past several decades, has quietly donated many millions of pounds to worthy causes.
“While the entire Marshall Amplification family mourns Jim’s passing and will miss him tremendously, we all feel richer for having known him and are happy in the knowledge that he is now in a much better place which has just got a whole lot louder!”