Marshall Amplification

Marshall Amplification
Marshall Amplification
Industry Amplification, Musical Instrument Manufacturing
Founded London, United Kingdom (1960)
Founder(s) Jim Marshall
Headquarters Bletchley, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
A 3 x 6 stack of Marshall ModeFour guitar cabinets on the main stage of Tuska Open Air Metal Festival in 2008. This setup belongs to Jeff Hanneman of Slayer.

Marshall Amplification is a British company, founded by drummer Jim Marshall, that designs and manufactures music amplifiers, brands personal headphones/earphones (made by Zound Industries), and, after acquiring Natal Drums, drums and bongos. Marshall amplifiers, and specifically their guitar amplifiers, are among the most recognized brands in popular music. Marshall is based in Bletchley, Milton Keynes. Marshall amps were originally based on Fender amplifiers, but had their own sound, and were soon sought out by guitarists seeking that sound and more volume. Like many guitar amplifiers, many of the current (and reissue) models continue to use vacuum tubes as amplification components. Marshall also manufactures less expensive solid-state and hybrid devices.




Site of Jim's 1st shop. Now a men's barber.

After a successful career as a drummer and teacher of drum technique, Jim Marshall first went into business in 1962 with a small shop in Hanwell, London, selling drums, cymbals and drum-related accessories; Marshall himself also gave drum lessons. According to Jim, Ritchie Blackmore, Pete Townshend and other guitarists often came into the shop and asked why Marshall was not selling or producing guitar equipment.[1] Marshall Ltd. later expanded and started selling guitars and amplifiers, the most notable of which at the time were the Fender amplifiers imported from America. These were very popular with guitarists and bass players, but were very expensive.

First amplifiers: birth of the JTM 45

Jim Marshall thought he could produce a cheaper alternative to American-made guitar amplifiers, but he had limited experience as an electrical engineer. He enlisted the help of his shop repairman Ken Bran and an EMI technician named Dudley Craven, and between them they decided they most liked the sound of the 4x10" Fender Bassman. They made several prototypes using the Fender Bassman amp as a model. The sixth prototype produced, in Jim's words, the "Marshall Sound".[2]

The first few production units almost copied the Bassman circuit, with American military surplus 5881 power valves, a relative of the 6L6. Speakers were then rarely able to handle more than 15 watts, which meant that an amplifier approaching 50 watts had to use four speakers. For their Bassman, Fender used four Jensen speakers in the same cabinet as the amplifier, but Marshall chose to separate the amplifier from the speakers, and placed four 12-inch Celestion speakers in a separate closed-back cabinet instead of the four 10-inch Jensens in an open-back combo. Other crucial differences were the use of higher-gain ECC83 valves throughout the preamp, and the introduction of a capacitor/resistor filter after the volume control. These circuit changes gave the amp more gain so that it broke into overdrive sooner on the volume control than the Bassman, and boosted the treble frequencies. This new amplifier, tentatively called the "Mark II", was eventually named the "JTM 45," after Jim and his son Terry Marshall and the max. wattage of the amplifier. Note: the actual wattage of the JTM-45 is 30 watts.[3]

Distribution deal

Marshall entered into a 15-year distribution deal with British company Rose-Morris during 1965, which had given him the capital to expand his manufacturing operations, though it would prove to be costly. In retrospect, Marshall admitted the Rose-Morris deal was "the biggest mistake I ever made. Rose-Morris hadn't a clue, really. For export, they added 55% onto my price, which pretty much priced us out of the world market for a long time."[4]

Park amplification

The new contract had disenfranchised several of Marshall's former distributors, among them his old friend Johnny Jones. Marshall's contract did not disallow him from building amplifiers outside the company, and so Marshall launched the Park brand name, inspired by the maiden name of Jones's wife.[5]

Starting in early 1965, Park produced a number of amplifiers including a 45 watt head. Most of these had Marshall layout and components, though some unusual amplifiers were made, such as a 75 watt keyboard amplifier with KT88 tubes. A 2x12" combo had the option of sending the first channel into the second, probably inspired by Marshall users doing the same trick with a jumper cable.[5]

In 1982, Park came to an end, though Marshall later revived the brand for some transistor amplifiers made in the Far East.[5]

Other Marshall brand names

Other brand names Marshall Amplification had used for various business reasons included Big M (for the then-West German market), Kitchen/Marshall (for the Kitchen Music retail chain in North London), Narb (Ken Bran's surname spelled backwards) and CMI (Cleartone Musical Instruments). Amplifiers sold under these brand names are quite rare, and fetch high-dollar values on today's collectors market.[6]

Birth of the Bluesbreaker, the Plexi, and the Marshall stack

In search of lower production costs, Marshall started sourcing parts from the UK. This led to the use of Dagnall- and Drake-made transformers, and a switch to the KT66 valve instead of the 6L6 tube commonly used in the United States. The changes gave Marshall amplifiers a more aggressive voice which quickly found favour with players such as Eric Clapton, who would sit in Jim's shop practising. Clapton asked Jim Marshall to produce a combo amp with tremolo which would fit in the boot of his car, and one of the most famous Marshall amps was born, the "Bluesbreaker" amp.[1] This is the amplifier, in tandem with his 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard (the "Beano"), that gave Clapton that famous tone on the John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers' Beano album.

Other early customers included Pete Townshend and John Entwistle of The Who, whose search for extra volume led Marshall to design the classic 100-watt valve amplifier.[7] Ken Bran and Dudley Craven, Marshall's developers, doubled the number of output valves, added a larger power transformer and an extra output transformer. Four of these amplifiers were built and delivered to Pete Townshend, and the Marshall Super Lead Model 1959, the original Plexi, was born. At the request of Pete Townshend, Marshall produced an 8x12" cabinet on top of which the 1959 was placed, giving rise to the Marshall stack, an iconic image for rock and roll.[8][9]

Another valve change

At this time, the KT66 valve was becoming more expensive, as the MOV Company faced greater competition from Mullard. Hence, another valve change was made, with Marshall starting to use European-made Mullard EL34 power stage valves.[10] These have a different overdrive character than the KT66s, which gave Marshalls a more aggressive voice still. In 1966, a young Jimi Hendrix was in Jim's shop, trying the amplifiers and guitars. Jim Marshall expected Hendrix to be "another American wanting something for nothing" but to his surprise, Hendrix offered to buy the amplifiers outright at retail price, if Jim would provide him with support for them around the world.[1] Jim Marshall agreed, and several of Hendrix's road crew were trained in the repair and maintenance of the Marshall amps through the years.

The amplifiers from this era are easily identifiable by their acrylic glass (a.k.a. Plexiglas) front panel, which earned them the nickname "Plexi"s. These now have significant collectors' value. In 1969 Marshall released a 50 watt version of the 100 watt Superlead known as the 1987 Model. These were also called 50 watt 'Plexi's. The amplifiers from the 1970s onwards can be distinguished most easily by their brushed metal front panel. After 1973, in order to streamline production, labour-intensive handwiring was discontinued and Marshall valve amplifiers were switched to printed-circuit-board (PCBs). Much of the debate about the difference in tone between the plexi- and aluminium-panel Marshall amps comes from the fact that in 1974 Marshall's US distributor had them change all of the amps sold in the US and Japan over to the much more rugged 6550 instead of the EL34 output tube. This produced a much different sound than the EL34—a sound perceived as less smooth and more metallic when overdriven. This change was brought about due to reliability problems with the EL34's, and the 6550 generally allowed the amps to make it through warranty without problems. The circuit changes required to switch the amps were very minor, and it was easy to change from the 6550 to the EL34 or vice versa by changing a few resistor values, moving the tap for the feedback loop and rebiasing the amp.[citation needed]

Mid-1970s and 1980s

In the mid-1970s, Marshall introduced the "master volume" ("MV") series, which was initially called the "JMP." This was in response to the demand for yet more distortion, and many techs had been modifying the amps for years by connecting the two input stages in series rather than parallel as in the original Marshalls. A master volume was introduced to make the volume levels more manageable. Per Rick Reinckens, who was a short-term Unicord employee electronic technician who tested the first units when they arrived from England, Tony Frank, Unicord's chief design engineer, came up with the dual-volume-control idea. This gave the new breed of Marshalls a different voice, more cutting and edgy, which later found favour with players such as Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde and Slash. Soon after the Rose-Morris deal had ended in late 1980, Marshall repackaged two MV models, the 2203 and the 2204 (at 100 and 50 watts, respectively), in a new box with a new panel, and called it the "JCM800" series (named after his initials and the license plate of his car).[11] Marshall made several amplifiers under the "JCM800" name. Because the valve industry had begun to fade and Marshall became worried that the standard power valve, the venerable EL34, would soon become unavailable, a number of JCM 800s were factory equipped with the 6550 beam pentode power valve, a valve with a different tonal character, which not all users loved. Marshall would not return to full-time use of the EL34 in all of its valve amps until the rise of vacuum tube factories in the mid and late 90s when former Soviet countries made most valve types plentiful again. A landmark year for Jim Marshall was 1987. It marked 25 years in the amplifier business and 50 years in music. This was celebrated with the release of the Silver Jubilee series of amps.

Competition from American amplifier companies

Marshall began to see more competition from American amplifier companies such as Mesa Boogie and Soldano. Marshall then updated the JCM800 range with additional models and new features such as "channel switching," which meant that players could switch between clean and distorted tones with the push of a foot-operated switch. This feature debuted in the 2205 series and these amps contained more pre-amp gain than ever thanks to a new innovation; diode clipping. This meant a solid-state diode added additional distortion to the signal path, akin to adding a distortion pedal. While hotly criticised today among valve purists, these amps were more popular than ever, finding mass acceptance within the hard rock community and still in use today by many. Marshall around this time began further experiments with solid-state amplifiers, which were increasingly improving in quality due to technological innovations but were still considered beginner level equipment. Regardless, solid-state product lines with the Marshall name on them were and still are a wild (if critically discounted) success for the company, allowing entry level guitarists to play the same brand of amp as their heroes.

The 1990s

Magnapop guitarist Ruthie Morris playing with a stack of Marshall amps in 1994

In the 1990s, Marshall updated its product line again with the JCM900 series. Reviewed by Guitarist magazine in the UK and given the line, "Shredders, here is an amp you won't need to have modified," this move by Marshall was again an outgrowth of musicians' desires, featuring more distortion than ever and retaining popular aspects of the late JCM800 models. However, despite such marketing claims they were not as hi-gain as advertised and lacked a full gain stage. Marshall rectified this with the SL-X series (as used by Tom Johnson of Darkhorse or the group Kiss). This model was one channel and was given an additional pre-amp ECC83/12AX7 instead of diode-based distortion. Still, if not for shredders, the JCM900 was well received by younger players associated with pop, rock, punk and grunge which was widespread by the early 90's.

Although the EL34 had at this time begun to return to prominence, a number of these were shipped with 5881 valves, a now uncommon valve similar in tone and build to a 6L6. Around this time, Marshall released a few "special edition" amps in this range, including a "Slash Signature" model, a first for the company. 1992 marked 30 years in the amplifier business. To commemorate this milestone, Marshall released the 30th Anniversary series of amplifiers, the 6100LE, which was followed by the 6100 and then the 6100LM.

Current models

Marshall currently produces a number of amplifiers which are a mix of modern designs and vintage reissues. Most models attempt to include the "classic" Marshall "roar."

Modern series

Marshall currently produces a wide range of amps with the distinctive looks and sound of the Marshall valve amp. The longest running "current" model is the JCM2000 range, which is split into the two channel and three channel series, known as the Dual and Triple Super Leads respectively. These amps are a continuation of the JCM800 and 900 series, although the controversial diode clipping circuit used in the later 800 and 900 amps has been removed in favour of additional valve gain stages. Although lumped together as JCM2000 models the DSL and the TSL have different circuits and are more distantly related than the model range suggests. The DSL is a solid extension of the JCM800 series with several sound enhancements and is perfect as an all-round workhorse for many genres of music. The TSL came with similar functions but was targeted at more modern grunge or nu-metal genres.

The newest flagship modern amplifier is the JVM, which comes in a wide variety of models and ranges and is designed as an ultra modern amp for the newer breed of guitar players. The JVM series can be seen as an evolution of the JCM 2000 series (although the 2000 series is still produced), as it has a wide variety of options and channels available, while still providing a modern flavour on the classic Marshall tone.[12]

Around the same time as the release of the full featured JVM, Marshall also released a new amp called the Vintage Modern, which is designed to be a much simpler amp, boasting a single channel and designed to be controlled more by the player's style and guitar than by channel switching or multiple settings, reminiscent of the vintage "Plexi" and JCM800 range, but with modern conveniences such as foot-switchable distortion levels and reverb.

Vintage series

Marshall periodically will discontinue a model of amplifier, and reissue it later. Currently, a significant portion of Marshall's valve amp lineup are reissues. In 2001 Marshall reissued many of its amplifiers of yesteryears. The most popular and well known of these is the Model 1959-SLP, which is designed to be a reissue of the late 60s era "Plexi" amplifier, but which are in reality reissues of the post-1973 Super Lead models in that they use printed circuit boards internally for ease of production. The original design utilised hand-wired circuits on turret boards, which is now available for a premium in the "hand-wired" series. The actual difference in sound between the circuit paths is debatable, with some[who?] insisting PCB design is inferior and others (including Randall Smith of Mesa/Boogie) saying that the difference is negligible. Other reissues are similarly PCB designed, even where the originals were hand-wired, except where explicitly noted (i.e. the "hand-wired" range currently offered). Other models in the Vintage series include the 1987x (the 50W version of the 100w 1959SLP, used by some, including Yngwie Malmsteen for its lower headroom and "early" distortion curve), the 100 watt valve driven JCM800 2203 (used extensively by Zakk Wylde and both Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King of Slayer), the JCM900 4100, the JTM45 2245, and the 1962 combo, also known as the "Bluesbreaker" for its famous use by Eric Clapton with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.

Marshall has also recently introduced a handful of hand-wired reissues, using old-fashioned manufacturing techniques whereby the circuit is hand mounted on "turret boards." These have small metal stakes to which the components and leads are soldered, as compared to PCB, wherein the components are print-mounted by computer to the board, leads placed through the board, and soldered in place. The amps are "true" reissues of the 100 Watt 1959 "Plexi" a 20-Watt 2061x, and a 1974x 18-Watt model, which is a combo amp. The cabinet marketed as the match to the head version, as well as the combo, use special Celestion re-issued 55 Hz version of the popular "greenback" speaker, which Celestion has made available under its "Heritage" series.

Solid-state amplifiers

While renowned for their valve guitar amps, Marshall produces and sells a large amount of solid-state and bass equipment. Marshall's "Valvestate" amplifiers contained a hybrid of valve and solid-state technology. Currently named the "AVT series" (although these are now out of production, being replaced with the "AVT tribute" for a short time), there are a number of different models, all of which are cheaper than their all-valve counterparts. It is Marshall's current line of "hybrid" amplifier, featuring a 12AX7 preamp tube employed in the preamp (to "warm up" the signal) as well as solid-state components, with a solid-state power amp. These are considered and marketed as intermediate-level equipment to bridge the gap between the higher valve range and lower range MG series.

In January 2009 Marshall released their latest variant of the MG line of practice amplifiers. Replacing the MG3 line, the MG4 has been designed to offer the guitarist a whole host of features whilst keeping the control of the amplifier simple.

Marshall also sell a small series of miniature amplifiers, called the "MS" series. This range consists of only two amps, the MS-2 and the MS-4 (the MS-2 though has several varying colour schemes, based on classic Marshall amps). Neither exceed 25 cm in height, and both can be powered by 9 volt battery or through a DC mains adapter (unusually, the wall wart uses a negative-centre connector).

Bass series

Marshall currently manufactures a professional, all-valve bass rig called the VBA400. It houses eight 6550 power valves plus three ECC83 and one ECC82 preamp valves. The input accommodates both Active and Passive bass pickups; there is also an XLR DI output for recording complete with Earth (grounding) lift and Pre/Post EQ switches.

Recently, Marshall has honoured Lemmy Kilmister with their first-ever signature bass amp head, based on his 100 watt super bass unit "Murder One"[13]

Model number confusion

Much confusion has arisen over the years due to Marshall's arbitrary method of naming each amp model, especially during its first few decades, when under Rose-Morris. For example, the models given the 1987 designation (in the late 1960s to 1970s), or the 1987x designation (in the 1990s and beyond) had nothing to do with the year 1987 nor was there any apparent relationship in the numbering to its direct counterpart the 1959 model, which was not made in 1959 either. This led to a "clean up" of the model numbering beginning with the JCM 2000 series, although reissues retain the original model numbers.

The Marshall Legacy

The classic Marshall Stack is one of the defining images behind loud rock music. A full stack consists of one head containing the actual amplifier, on top of two stacked 4x12s, which are loudspeaker cabinets each containing four 12 inch loudspeakers arranged in a square layout. The top cabinet has the top two loudspeakers angled slightly upwards, giving the Marshall stack a distinctive appearance. When a single cabinet is used, the complete unit is called a half stack.

In the early-mid 1960s, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle of The Who were directly responsible for the creation and widespread use of stacked Marshall cabinets. Pete later remarked that John started using Marshall Stacks in order to hear himself over Keith Moon's drums and Townshend himself also had to use them just to be heard over John. In fact, the very first 100 watt Marshall Amps were created specifically for Entwistle and Townshend when they were looking to replace some equipment that had been stolen from them. They approached Jim Marshall asking if it would be possible for him to make their new rigs more powerful than those they had lost, to which they were told that the cabinets would have to double in size. They agreed and six rigs of this prototype were manufactured, of which two each were given to Townshend and Entwistle and one each to Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott of The Small Faces. These new "double" cabinets (each containing 8 speakers) proved too heavy and awkward to be transported practically, so The Who returned to Marshall asking if they could be cut in half and stacked, and although the double cabinets were left intact, the existing single cabinet models (each containing 4 speakers) were modified for stacking, which has become the norm for years to follow.[14]

Entwistle and Townshend both continued expanding and experimenting with their rigs, until (at a time when most bands still used 50 to 100W amps with single cabinets) they were both using twin Stacks, with each Stack powered by new experimental prototype 200W amps, each connected to the guitar via a Y-splitter. This, in turn, also had a strong influence on the band's contemporaries at the time, with Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin following suit. However, due to the cost of transport, The Who could not afford to take their full rigs with them for their earliest overseas tours, thus Cream and Hendrix were the first to be seen to use this setup on a wide scale, particularly in America. Ironically, although The Who pioneered and directly contributed to the development of the "classic" Marshall sound and setup with their equipment being built/tweaked to their personal specifications, they would only use Marshalls for a couple of years before moving on to using Sound City equipment. Cream, and particularly Hendrix, would be widely (and incorrectly) credited with the invention of Marshall Stacks.

The search for volume was taken on its next logical step with the advent of "daisy chaining" two or more amplifiers together. As most amplifier channels have two inputs, the guitar signal being present on both sockets, the cunning musician hooked the spare input of one channel to an input on another amp. By 1969 Hendrix was daisy chaining four Stacks, incorporating both Marshall and Sound City amplifiers, as recommended to him by Townshend.[15]

This competition for greater volume and greater extremes was taken even further in the early 1970s by the band Blue Öyster Cult, which used an entire wall of full-stack Marshall Amplifiers as their backdrop. Artists such as Slayer and Yngwie Malmsteen also use walls of Marshalls; both Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman of Slayer can be seen playing in front of a total of 24 cabinets. Malmsteen toured with 30 heads and 28 cabinets, and in 2011 said he would use 60 full stacks on his next tour.[16] Many of those cabs used by rock bands, however, are dummies, and many artists who do not even use Marshall amplifiers have the dummy stacks on stage.


Marshall is an important sponsor of sport in the locality: as of mid 2009, it sponsors Marshall Milton Keynes Athletic Club as well as Marshall Milton Keynes Lions basketball Club.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Jim Marshall Interview
  2. ^ Salter, Trent (April/May 2003). "Jim Marshall Interview". Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Doyle, Michael (1993). "The JTM Series 1962-1966". The history of Marshall: the illustrated story of "the sound of rock". Hal Leonard. pp. 17–22. ISBN 9780793525096. 
  4. ^ History of Marshall from Guitar World Magazine, September 2002, page 84
  5. ^ a b c Pittman, Aspen (2003). The Tube Amp Book. Hal Leonard. pp. 76–77. ISBN 9780879307677. 
  6. ^ History of Marshall from Guitar World Magazine, September 2002, page 86
  7. ^ Pittmann, Aspen (2003). The Tube Amp Book. Hal Leonard. pp. 72–73. ISBN 9780879307677. 
  8. ^ Millard, A.J. (2004). The electric guitar: a history of an American icon. JHU Press. pp. 155. ISBN 9780801878626. 
  9. ^ Doyle, Michael (1993). The history of Marshall: the illustrated story of "the sound of rock". Hal Leonard. pp. 37. ISBN 1993. 
  10. ^ Marshall Amps Info & Schematics
  11. ^ Maloof, Rich (2004). Jim Marshall, father of loud: the story of the man behind the worlds most famous guitar amplifiers. Hal Leonard. pp. 211–14. ISBN 9780879308032. 
  12. ^ Overview
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ The Who's Marshall History
  15. ^ An interview with Pete Townshend from Guitarist magazine, August 1994
  16. ^ Fox, Darrin. "Yngwie Malmsteed: Total Control". Guitar Player: pp. 64–72, 136. 
  17. ^ Marshall backing Lions all the way - Milton Keynes Today

External links

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