Ladies and gentlemen, please lower your amplifiers to half-volume. The world lost a monster of rock and roll today. Jim Marshall, the founder of Marshall Amplification, passed away after years of battling cancer and strokes. He was 88. And a legend.
Since the 1960s, Marshall's gear has been used by the most famous musicians from every generation: Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Slayer, and beyond. Head down to any rock n' roll club anywhere in the world tonight, and at least one musician will be using a Marshall amp. If that's an exaggeration, it's slight. You simply cannot overstate the importance of this gear on this history of rock music.
Jim Marshall was born in 1923, and had a rough time growing up. Tuberculosis at 13 forced him to drop out of school; in lieu of a formal education, he spent his formative years working odd jobs. He still, though, found time to self-educate in the two areas that would go on to define his life: music, and engineering.
Marshall was a gifted singer and joined a local orchestra; when the drummer went to fight in World War II—Marshall was ineligible for combat after a failed medical exam—the future amp-master took over on the skins. During his free time, he used his engineering knowledge to build homemade PA cabinets for use with big bands, and would make custom gear for musicians around town.
He eventually became a competent enough drummer to make a living off of it, in turn saving enough money to eventually start a business selling music gear in London by the early 1960s. He opened a shop selling drums to local musicians, later expanding to include guitar gear as well. It didn't take long for Marshall to realize that he could make more money if he just built the gear himself. So he did.
In 1962, Marshall produced his first 30-watt JTM 45 valve amplifier. At the time, the lion's share of amps were American-made, and while the Fender amps from that era have a wonderful twang to them, Marshall thought he could improve on a classic. He used the circuit in the Fender Bassman as a model and prototyped new designs until he created what he called "the Marshall sound." By the end of the 60s, Marshall amps were omnipresent, and not surprisingly, their rise in popularity throughout the 70s paralleled the rise of metal. In 1982, twenty years after he founded the company, Marshall released the JCM 800 head. The now classic tube amp is famous for a deep, warm, snarling distortion sound that's now synonymous with the Marshall name.
Even as some of the most famous—and famously debauched—musicians in the world used his gear, Marshall didn't live an exorbitant or flashy lifestyle. He took great pride in the craftsmanship behind his gear, famously refusing to move production overseas to save money. The company is still based in a small factory north of London. Even as the company skyrocketed in popularity, it's only recently that Marshall has started liscencing the company name and logo for merchandise like headphones and yes, a mini-fridge.