Thursday, April 5, 2012

He Went to Eleven

We mourn the passing of Jim Marshall, (OBE, 88), founder of Marshall Amps.
Strangely enough, he was the reason I have a dog called Marshall (who dedicates his candidacy for president to Jim's memory).

Whenever you see a band, behind them are huge black amps with a white script logo that says Marshall.  They're positively iconic.  Every guitar player has played one.  Most of the famous guitar players use them.  In the movie Spinal Tap, they spawned the joke about the amps going to eleven, causing amp manufacturers to make their amps go to eleven (instead of ten - " was one louder").

Jim Marshall's most famous user was Jimi Hendrix, who Jim referred to as `putting us on the map'.  Jimi played his amps almost as much as his guitar.  Jim was a drummer who opened his own shop and decided to make amps, as Fenders were expensive to import and most local amps were under-powered.  Using the know-how of Ken Bran (I believe), Marshall put out his own amps.  The company went on to become huge, like their amps.  One of Jim's students was Mitch Mitchell, Jimi's drummer.

The stories of Jim were legend: the man was a gentleman.  There is a great story about Pete Townsend wanting a very high powered amp with eight twelve-inch speakers, which Marshall made for him.  Pete's poor roadies almost revolted.

In the early days, there were only tubes (valves in the UK).  This served everyone well and continues to this day, although Marshall has ventured into solid state products and pedals.

Even the non-famous use the amps.  You know, like me.  I use my Marshall half-stack at all larger gigs.  The reason I don't use it at every gig is that I'm getting older and the amp is putting on weight.

[Cue wayback music]

It was the early eighties and I worked for a pro-audio house.  They had gotten a deal on a load of used Marshalls which had come off a UFO tour.  My job was to check out the load to make sure all of the amps worked.  Somewhere there's a picture of my guitar standing against ten full stacks of Marshalls.  It was a religious moment.

I took home a fifty watt half stack, simply because all guitar players needed a Marshall.  While examining a road case, I noticed there was a large, sprayed-over part that said PROPERTY OF ROBIN TROWER.  So my Marshall was used by UFO and at very least the road case was Robin Trower's.  It was a virtual brush with greatness.

Since it was a Marshall, it was way too loud for my parents' basement, as well as any show I played.  Since this was the eighties, there was only the Altair Attenuator and Scholz Power Soak available to lower the volume.  These devices became famous for blowing up amps.  I tried a Power Soak, which I referred to as Tone Soak and sold it quickly.

Since I can never leave anything alone, I opened the amp and installed a master volume control, which helped a little.  I read a lot on modifications and tried a few, resulting in a great sounding, gainy fifty watt amp.

I will own this amp long after I am not able to lift it anymore.  While I have plenty of other amps that I love (all with tubes), none will outdo the Marshall at what it does.  It was good enough for Jimi, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Zappa, and it's good enough for me.

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