Business News Obituaries

Jim Marshall 1923-2012

By | Published on Tuesday 10 April 2012

Jim Marshall

Jim Marshall, the founder of Marshall Amplification, died last Thursday at a hospice in Milton Keynes, aged 88. He had suffered several strokes in recent years and developed cancer in 2011, according to his son.

Born in Acton, West London in 1923, Marshall spent much of his early life in hospital due to tuberculosis, and as a result was exempt from military service during World War Two. Instead, he became an electrician during the day and in the evenings worked as a singer. Using knowledge from his day job, he built amplifiers that were light enough to transport on a trailer pulled by a bicycle (petrol being too expensive during the war) but powerful enough to carry his vocals.

When the drummer in his group was conscripted, Marshall took his place, in part due to a shortage of drummers not fighting in the armed forces at the time. His skill on the drums grew throughout the war and the rest of the 1940s, and in the 50s he began teaching, with pupils including Mitch Mitchell, later of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and others who went on to success.

In 1960, Marshall opened a musical instrument shop in Hanwell, West London, where a number of customers, including a young Pete Townshend, complained that guitar amplifiers at the time weren’t big enough or loud enough. Having built small but reasonably powerful amps for himself during the war, Marshall began experimenting with this new spec, and launched Marshall Amplification in 1962.

Having filled a gap in the market with ‘the Marshall sound’, many of rock music’s biggest names quickly began using his equipment, including Townshend, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, helping the ‘Marshall Stack’ to become as iconic as the Gibson and Fender guitars the rockers played.

The brand was further cemented into the popular conscious with the release of comedy film ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, in which the character Nigel Tuffnel proudly shows off a customised Marshall amp which features a volume dial that goes up to eleven, rather than ten – “It’s one louder”, he proudly proclaims. So well known is this scene that these days even the BBC iPlayer’s volume control goes up to eleven.

Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, Marshall Amplification released a statement on Thursday, saying: “Jim rose to become one of the forefathers responsible for creating the tools that allowed rock guitar, as we know and love it today, to be born. 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”.

Some of those guitar heroes also paid tribute last week. Former Guns N Roses guitarist Slash tweeted: “The news of Jim Marshall passing is deeply saddening. [Rock n roll] will never be the same without him. But, his amps will live on FOREVER!”

Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello also took to Twitter, saying: “[My] amp [was] stolen in 88. The store had a Marshall [amp and the] latest solid state fancy one. Flipped a coin, changed my sound and my life”.

Meanwhile, Paul Weller told BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’: “[My Marshall amp] is at least 40 years old and still sounds fantastic … for me it’s just the exactly right amp, and I don’t know if anyone’s really particularly improved on it, to be honest”.

Marshall is survived by his two children Terry and Victoria, and step children Paul and Dawn.