Obituary

Jim Marshall Dies; Rock Heaven Cranks Amps to 11


Eric Clapton during soundcheck in Denmark in 1967.

Photograph by Jan Persson/Redferns/Getty Images

Eric Clapton during soundcheck in Denmark in 1967.

Guitar players are precious about their sound. And as the music industry has become increasingly digitized around them—from million-dollar recording equipment to such questionable innovations as Auto-Tune—hardcore guitarists, however, still adhere to curiously old-fashioned, analog systems. No computer, it seems, is capable of replicating the raw punch of a guitar and its amplifier.

This is in large part due to the ingenuity of Jim Marshall, a former drummer from London who, in the early 1960s, created the boxy, Marshall JTM 45 amplifier, which has risen high on the stage behind head-banging rock bands in “stacks” ever since—and deeply altered the sound of popular music. He died yesterday at age 88 after suffering from cancer and multiple strokes.

“The news of Jim Marshall passing is deeply saddening,” tweeted Slash, the guitarist from Guns N’ Roses. “R & R will never be the same w/out him. But, his amps will live on FOREVER!”

When not plugged in, an electric guitar is a lifeless organism. It’s the additional stuff—the “kits” comprised of pedals, effects, and most importantly, amplifiers—that work together to create unique sounds such as distortion. (To this day, bands place microphones in front of amplifiers on the stage so larger audiences can hear.) The Marshall—a booming box with a distinct, full-bodied sound—helped usher in decades of hard rock, with such feverish devotees as Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Angus Young of AC/DC, and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

In a 2003 interview with Premier Guitar magazine, Marshall attributed the success of his company to his employees, distributors, and dealers. But “most of the people in the worldwide Marshall family are musicians,” he said. “And I’ve always said that musicians should rule the world! After all, music is the most common language. … We probably wouldn’t have wars either—just battles of the bands.”

Marshall’s products earned him the nickname, “The Father of Loud.” Over the years, the U.K.-based Marshall Amplification sold thousands of amps and, as a result, Marshall was consistently listed in The Sunday Times’ 1,000 richest people in Britain.

His influence is sure to reverberate around arenas for years to come. As Nikki Sixx of the band Mötley Crüe said on Twitter, Marshall is “responsible for some of the greatest audio moments in music’s history—and 50% responsible of all our hearing loss.”

Mayo is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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