Obituary: Jim Marshall OBE, engineer dubbed Lord of the Loud who created the hardware that revolutionised rock

Jim Marshall OBE: Engineer dubbed Lord of the Loud who created the hardware that revolutionised rock music
Jim Marshall OBE: Engineer dubbed Lord of the Loud who created the hardware that revolutionised rock music
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Born: 29 July, 1923, in London. Died: 5 April, 2012, in Buckinghamshire, aged 88

Jim Marshall created the high voltage kit that is now vital equipment for many of the biggest stars in rock music. Names such as Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain as well as bands like Guns N’ Roses are among the musicians who have used Marshall amps to upgrade the volume, excitement and sheer musical drama of an onstage rock performance.

Marshall built up the company from small beginnings in the 1960s and supplemented the income from his music shop in Acton, west London by giving drumming lessons and standing in as a session drummer with various local bands.

His specialist musical knowledge became well known throughout the industry and among his regular customers were Jim Sullivan, Eric Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore and Pete Townshend of The Who.

Marshall realised there was a desperate need in the rock business for more advanced and cheaper guitar amplification systems. The only models available in the UK at the time came from America and were expensive.

In 1959 Marshall and Townsend created a new sound – the so-called Marshall Crunch – and a totally new way of reproducing sound was born. The system is now used worldwide and the overpowering volume of the Marshall sound is an integral component in recorded and live sessions. Many consider it has made rock music what it is today.

James Charles “Jim” Marshall, was diagnosed when he was an infant with tubercular bones, and spent many years in hospital. He consequently had little formal education and was exempt from military service during the Second World War.

He worked as a singer but took up drumming as there were few musicians around. During the days Marshall worked as an electrical engineer and built a portable amplification system so that, when he was singing in pubs and dance halls, he could be heard over his own drums.

It was in 1960 that Marshall started to build bass and PA cabinets in his garage in Hanwell, west London. He was determined to use two 12” speakers that would also amplify the bass guitar; they invariably complained they were never heard above the other musicians. The bass cabinets proved popular and bands – many former students of Marshall’s – became regular visitors to his shop.

He started stocking Fender and Gibson guitars from America and it was his desire to make their sound harsher and reflect the heavier sound of the many new bands that led Marshall to up the power of the amps.

In fact during the tests he often blew the speakers but by 1963 the company had to expand into new premises to meet demand and within two years the Marshall amplifier was being sold worldwide.

Also that year Townsend asked Marshall for a 100 watt speaker head. Thus was born the names by which Marshall was known throughout rock music: The Father of Loud or The Lord of Loud.

During the Seventies his business mushroomed and Marshall remained the pioneer not only of guitar amplification but also of bass, PA cabinet and mixer designs. He supplied mammoth systems for such bands as Deep Purple and Elton John.

Marshall throughout his career was exacting in the standards that he set himself. Before he marketed his amplifiers he made six prototype models. The eventual design was a unique piece of engineering, so way ahead of its time in technology that it became a brand leader.

Marshall was never looking for musical precision or purity in his amplifiers. He wanted to capture a sound that conveyed raw, raucous, ear-splitting power. Sound musicians credit him with developing the “amp stack” that allowed garage bands to make a powerful noise in small dance halls and gymnasiums. One thing was for sure: rock and roll would never have sounded so good without him.

He remained a fan of heavy metal rock, Cuban cigars and single malt Scotch well into his 70s – and kept a drum kit in his office. In 1984 his company earned the Queen’s Award for Export and in 2003 he was awarded an OBE. Marshall supported many UK charities most notably the Variety Club and the London Federation of Boys’ Clubs. As he himself said a few years ago, “You can’t take it with you, you can only live in one house and drive one car at a time. It’s the name that means something to me – because it is my name.”

He is survived by his two children.

Alasdair Steven