James Charles Marshall

Today is a very sad day for those of us in the music equipment industry and especially those of us who manufacture guitar amplifiers. Today James Charles Marshall, whom you may know as the founder of Marshall Amplifiers passed away. James (Jim) Marshall is most commonly referred to as the ‘Father of Loud’ as it was his amps that took prominence during the formative years of rock and roll in the early 1960’s when guitarists were looking for more powerful amplifiers to use on stages of ever increasing size.

It goes without saying that the sound of rock music would not be the same if it weren’t for Jim Marshall and his outstanding work over the past 50 years.

Godspeed Mr. Marshall. You have always been a hero of mine.

Brad Jackson


Marshall was born in Acton, West London, in 1923, into a family which included boxers and music hall artists. As a child he was diagnosed with tubercular bones, and spent many years in the hospital. His formal education suffered as a consequence. During WWII he was exempt from military service due to his poor health. He became a singer, and then, due to the shortage of available civilian musicians, doubled as a drummer. In his day job as electrical engineer he built a portable amplification system so his light, crooning vocals could be heard over his drums. “I was making 10 shillings (£0.50/$0.75) a night and because it was wartime, we didn’t have any petrol for cars, so I would ride my bicycle with a trailer behind it to carry my drum kit and the PA cabinets which I had made! I then left the orchestra to be with a 7 piece band and in 1942 the drummer leader was called into the forces and I took over on drums.”

In order to become more proficient on the drums and to better emulate his idol, Gene Krupa, from 1946-48 Marshall took weekly lessons from Max Abrams. In the 1950s, Marshall became part of the English music scene and started teaching other drummers, including Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience),Micky Waller (Little Richard) and Mick Underwood (Ritchie Blackmore). Marshall commented, “I used to teach about 65 pupils a week and what with playing as well, I was earning in the early 1950s somewhere in the region of £5,000 a year (eqv. 2012 to £108,000/$170,000), which was how I first saved money to go into business.”

Marshall Amplification

From 1960, Marshall owned a moderately successful music store in Hanwell, west London, selling drums and then branching out into guitars. His many guitar playing customers (including Ritchie Blackmore, Big Jim Sullivan and Pete Townshend) spoke of the need for a particular kind of amplifier, with Townshend wanting something “bigger and louder”, and Marshall saw the opportunity. He recruited an 18-year-old electronics apprentice, Dudley Craven, who was previously working for EMI and, with his help, began producing prototype amplifiers, resulting in the foundation of Marshall Amplification, in 1962. It took Marshall six attempts to create an amp he was happy with, creating what later became known as “the Marshall sound” that revolutionized music. As the company grew, Marshall expanded his products, and unveiled the Master Volume Marshall amps and the classic JCM800 split channel amps. Soon after he started production, musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page were using his equipment. The “Marshall stack”, a wall of black, vinyl-clad cabinets, one atop the other, was seen as the physical embodiment of rock’s power, majesty and excess. A Marshall features in the famous amp scene in the mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap, with guitarist Nigel Tuffnel claiming his Marshall’s volume knob went “one louder” to a unique setting of 11 on the dial. In response, Marshall set about producing models that could be cranked up to 20. 

Awards and honours

In 1984 Marshall was awarded the “Queens Award for Export”, an honour bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in recognition of Marshall Amplification’s outstanding export achievement over a three-year period. In 1985, Marshall was invited to Hollywood to add his hand prints to the “Rock and Roll Walk of Fame”. In 2003, Marshall received an OBE honour from Buckingham Palace for “services to the music industry and to charity”, and he has donated millions of pounds to worthy causes including the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, London, where he was treated for tuberculosis as a child.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have known the late Jim Marshall. He was such a fantastic individual. Not only did he create the loudest, most effective, brilliant-sounding rock ‘n’ roll amplifier ever designed, but he was a caring, hardworking family man who remained true to his integrity to the very end. His work ethic was unequaled and his passion unrivaled.”

 —Former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash.

Death and legacy

Jim Marshall died on 5 April 2012 at a hospice in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Musicians including former Guns N’ Roses guitaristSlash, Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine, and Mötley Crüe bass player Nikki Sixx paid tribute. Marshall has been named, along with Leo Fender, Les Paul and Seth Lover, as one of the four forefathers of rock music equipment.


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