With great sadness, we regret to inform you that Jim Marshall has died aged 88.
Jim founded Marshall Amplification after going into business 50 years ago in 1962. Since then, his cutting-edge amplifier designs have defined the sound of rock music and helped kickstart the 20th century cultural revolution. We all have a lot to thank him for.
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He was born in London in 1923. As a child, he was diagnosed with tubercular bones, resulting in years of hospital treatment which affected his education and capacity for military service.
His legacy is with guitars, but Jim’s early years were centered around a love for drums, thanks to his hero, Gene Krupa. He was soon teaching drum lessons, and by 1949 his students included several musicians who would become legends in their own right, including Mitch Mitchell who later joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
With 65 students per week, Jim was earning £5000 per year, equal to £108,000 ($170,000) in today’s money. Jim was rich, and decided to invest it in a new business. He opened a music shop to sell drums, but soon expanded into guitars.
Some of his clients included Pete Townshend (The Who), Jim Sullivan (Tom Jones) and Richie Blackmore (Deep Purple). They kept talking about wanting a better type of amplifier, and Jim saw an opportunity. He recruited a smart young electronics apprentice, Dudley Craven, and Marshall Amplifiers was born in 1962.
Using the Fender Bassman amplifier as a template, they worked on improving the valve guitar amp design. They nailed it on the sixth prototype, where Jim decided to separate the amplifier from the speakers, use higher-gain valves, and include a special filter after the volume control. The result was an amp that was louder, broke into overdrive sooner, and boosted the treble frequencies. The ‘Marshall sound’ was finally born, and music would never be the same again.
By the late 1960s, Marshall amps became the backdrop to a rock revolution. Artists including Jimi Hendrix and The Who rocked in front of Marshall stacks while Jim continued to develop the technology behind his amps. He introduced the first master volume Marshalls in the mid-1970s, allowing for more distortion at lower volumes, and in 1982 the company released the classic JCM800 amp. It was hugely popular, and by 1984 he was honoured with The Queen’s Award For Export in recognition of his outstanding export achievements over the previous three years.
In an obituary posted on the Marshall website, the company revealed more about his personal side:
“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 … the music and joy your amps have brought to countless millions for the past five decades; and that world-famous, omnipresent script logo that proudly bears your name will always live on.”
Jim will be remembered with the same reverence as the likes of Leo Fender and Les Paul. Each of these men helped define the sound of electronic guitars, and in turn, rock music.
With a heavy heart, Ultimate Guitar would like to pay its respects to Jim Marshall, his family and his company. We have a lot to thank you for, both personally and professionally, and we are sure our readership will agree.
Here is a selection of online tributes to the great man since the news this morning: