The man, the legend...Jim Marshall. Musicians Hotline
is proud to sit down with the man himself. The history, the vision,
the amplifiers! Celebrating over four decades of guitar amplification,
Marshall Amps are synonymous with Rock-n-Roll. As you know, Marshall
players list reads like a who¹s who of legendary guitar players
who have relied on Marshall amplifiers to produce their legendary
tone. In a very special interview with Musicians Hotline, here is
what Jim Marshall had to say.
MH: Jim, tell us how you first got your start in building
JM: I opened a drum shop in Hanwell, London, in 1960 where I
sold drums and gave lessons. The drummers
I taught would all bring their guitarists in all the time and young
players like Pete Townshend and Ritchie Blackmore would always say
to me, "Why only drums? Why don't you sell guitars and amplifiers
too, Jim? The other music shops in London all treat us like idiots
because we play rock and roll, you don't so we'd much rather shop
here!" My initial reply was, "I know a lot about drums
but not much about guitars and amplifiers." But, I decided
to give it a go anyway and it turned out to be very successful indeed
right away. "So many players came to my Hanwell shop, it was
almost like a rock and roll labor exchange because a lot of groups
were formed there. Anyway, lads like Pete (Townshend), Ritchie (Blackmore)
and Big Jim Sullivan - who was and still is one of the top session
guitarists in England - started saying to me, "no one makes
an amplifier that sounds the way we'd like it to. The Fender Bassman
is something like it but not exactly." They explained to me
exactly what they were looking for and I said to my repairman, Ken
Bran, "let's have a go at making the amplifier they're looking
for. I've got the sound in my mind and I think we can do it."
Ken said, "I'm a good at repairs but I don't really know enough
to design an amplifier from scratch. I know of this 18 year old
kid who works for EMI called Dudley Craven who's brilliant, though."
So, I met with Dudley and said, "How would you like to join
the team that's going to design and build the first rock and roll
guitar amplifier?" He told me that he'd love to but that he
was an apprentice at EMI. I asked him how much he was making and
offered him the same amount I was paying Ken which was over three
times as much as EMI were paying him. He immediately said, "done"
and joined the team! Dudley handled all the technical details; Ken
helped him solder the board while I did the chassis work and everything
else. Unfortunately I've lost contact with Dudley. The last I heard
of him he was in Canada. I've tried to track him down but I've been
unsuccessful I'm afraid. Anyway, Dudley built five prototypes, which
I rejected because they weren't quite right - they didn't quite
make the sound I had in my head. Then he made number six and I as
soon as I heard it I said, "that's it! That's the Marshall
sound." It sounded exactly like the sound the boys had described
to me, you see. We put that amp into my shop that Saturday for people
to hear and it didn't even have a cabinet, it was just the chassis!
We took orders for 23 that first day.
MH: When was that Jim? And how soon after that did Marshall
Amplification start officially manufacturing amplifiers?
JM: That would've been September 1962, when we showed amp "number
six" in the shop. We started making them straight away but
it was slow to begin with because we could only build one or two
a week. We grew fairly quickly though.
MH: Who was the first major endorser to use Marshall Amplification
JM: Well, I don't know if you can call them endorsers because
I didn't give them anything - I never have and I never will! That
said, the players I've already mentioned like Pete Townshend, Ritchie
Blackmore and Big Jim Sullivan were part of the first order of 23
amps. A lot of other groups who were big at the time, like Brian
Poole and the Tremolos, also started using the JTM45 straight away
too. Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were two other very famous Marshall
users in the early days but they both came along a little later.
Eric used to practice in my shop and he was one of the first guitarists
to ask me to build a combo. He wanted one so it would be easy for
him to put the whole thing in the boot (the English term for 'trunk')
of his car. That's how the Bluesbreaker combo came about, actually.
I met Jimi Hendrix through one of my drum pupils, Mitch Mitchell.
playing at Ronnie Scott's in London, the group there was using a
Marshall and so he had to too. He liked it a lot and he told Mitch
he had to have some and that he also wanted to meet me because we
shared the same name - as you may know, Jimi's full name was James
Marshall Hendrix, you see. When Mitch brought him into the shop
the first thing Jimi said to me was "I've got to use Marshalls"
and I immediately thought, "Bloody hell, here's another American
guitarist wanting something for nothing." But straight away
Jimi said, "I want to pay for everything at the going rate.
All I want is service wherever I'm playing in the world." So,
we had his roadie spend two weeks at the factory with Dudley learning
how to change valves - or tubes as you call them - do the bias and
so on. The chap picked things up really quickly and must've done
a great job because we never got called out to do service by Jimi
MH: Marshall has recently celebrated its 40-year anniversary.
What do you feel has attributed to the success of Marshall Amplifiers
over the past four decades?
JM: Hard work, the quality of the product and good people. I've
never minded putting in 16 to 18 hours a day and I still get to
my office at 6 o'clock every morning because I can get so much done
in those first two hours before the office opens and the factory
starts up. In fact, I believe that hard work keeps you young - I'm
so busy I don't have time to think, "Oh, I'm getting old!!"
I've also got marvelous people working for me - not only in England
but all over the world. I'm very proud of my distributors and dealers
in every country because they all do a fantastic job and, like me,
are very passionate about what they do. Funnily enough, most of
the people in the worldwide Marshall family are musicians and I've
always said that musicians should rule the world! After all, music
is the most common language in the world. We probably wouldn't have
wars either - just battles of the bands (laughs)!
MH: Marshall is now
reissuing several models from the past. What was it about those
amps you feel have made them desirable today?
JM: The sound, of course (laughs)! The amps you are talking
about - the JTM45, the 100-Watt Plexi, the 50-Watt Plexi, the Bluesbreaker
and the JCM800 2203 - are all relatively simple amplifiers to use,
especially by modern day standards, and all have a unique, signature
sound that many modern players still want. My designers have done
a fantastic job of making the reissues sound and feel like the originals
do. Also, I feel that there are a lot of older guitarists out there
who used to play in the 70s and 80s, stopped and are now starting
again. I meet them all the time at shows actually and they always
tell me how glad they are that we still make the amplifiers that
they played when they were younger. So, I think that quite a few
of our reissue sales are going to this sort of player!
MH: Tell us a bit about the Marshall Facility. How many people
are employed at Marshall and how many amps are being shipped per
JM: Here in Bletchley (England, home of Marshall's HQ) we employ
about 225 people. This said there's a lot more people involved than
225! There are all my distributors around the world, all of my dealer
network and also the many people overseas who build the MG series
(Marshall's entry level range of solid-state amplifiers). As for
how many amplifiers we make, right now we're putting about 6,500
units a week into the world market, including cabinets.
MH: Tell us a bit about your keyemployees or designers that
have attributed to the R&D at Marshall Amplification?
JM: Well, going back there was Dudley Craven at the start; then
a chappy named Ken Fleg during the '70s; then Steve Grindrod (now
with Vox) and right now I've got what is, without a doubt, the finest
team of engineers in the world. This team
is lead by my technical director, Bruce Keir, and what Bruce has
done with Ian Robinson and Laurent Veignal over the past several
years has just been fantastic. They are definitely the best and
most consistent R&D department I've ever had. In fact, they
amaze me at times!
MH: Marshall has premiered several products in the solid-state
line and Valvestate line of amplifiers that sound astonishingly
like tube amplifiers.
JM: Yes, Bruce Keir and the boys have done a fantastic job with
AVT, MG and the new MODE FOUR, which is selling so fast right now
we can't build them fast enough (laughs). When I listen to them
very closely I can detect a few slight differences between these
designs and an all-valve product but they are very, very close.
In fact, I would imagine that a lot of people wouldn't be able to
hear the differences because they are so tiny.
MH: In closing Jim, what do you feel is the most important
aspect that you have learned spanning your career and what "words
of wisdom" would you share?
JM: Work hard, make a great product and surround yourself with
good people because you can't do everything yourself. Having said
that, you must always be in it yourself as well...you have to be
involved. It's no good sitting back in an office and thinking that
other people are going to run your life for you - you have to steer
your own destiny. Another thing I believe you should always do is
keep your eyes, ears and mind open to everybody and everything.
No one knows everything and you can always learn something new.