Thursday, April 5, 2012
Jim Marshall - A Brief Remembrance
Mind you, I had heard many Marshall amps before I actually experienced playing through one. The first I saw and heard belonged to Robin Trower, on tour with a hit record, Bridge of Sighs, opening for Frank Zappa and The Mothers at Dayton's Hara Arena back on November 20, 1974. Trower's tone was huge, sounding like a wild jungle cat, drenched in Univibe and fuzz. Then a year later, KISS annihilated The Palace Theater in Dayton with a whole wall of blaring Marshalls. I heard Tommy Bolin fail miserably through his Marshall stacks in February of '76 as he succumbed to his chemical demons.
It was about this time that I decided that a Marshall amp was the way to go. Not being an incredibly savvy buyer at the time, I opted for the first Marshall I came across. A friend had come upon a used Marshall, but he needed something he could play at home, so he traded me straight across for my MusicMan HD 130 212 combo. It turns out that what I had unwittingly acquired may have been a bit much, the loudest guitar amplifier ever built, the 200 watt Marshall Major.
I found a used Marshall 412, and I plugged it all in - good Lord. I had never heard anything like it. It was louder on two than had been the earlier Ram Jam Marshall, even at its full volume. And, no matter how I tried, I could not get it to distort, not a bit. No matter how loud I turned it up, it retained the same sound. Now, mind you, the sound it delivered was glorious. Its tone was not terribly unlike that of a Fender Twin Reverb, except that it had a much thicker midrange, and the low end was almost beyond description. This was many, many years before guitarists starting tuning their instruments down to get fatter tones, but this a vastly superior low end to what I have ever heard from dropped tunings. It was unbelievable. It was also too loud.
The list of great rock guitarists who have used Marshall amps at one time or another is basically the list of great rock guitarists, period. There are very few who did not at some point plug into a Marshall. Many of the greatest tonemeisters, such as Eddie Van Halen, Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Ace Frehely, bands such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, and many, many others owe much of their signature tones to their Marshall amps. I heard Gary Moore play incredible hard rock, and wonderfully emotive blues through his career and his constant relationship with Marshall - there was even a signature Moore model in development at the time of his death, and no sooner are we past a year since his death that we are now saddened by the passing of the amp's father, builder Jim Marshall.
I first met Jim Marshall in the mid '80s at various Guitar Center functions. He was a true gentleman - he had never met a stranger, had never heard a dumb question, and seemingly never tired of talking about his company, his amps, and their legacy. His passing marks the end of an era, he was one of the last living of the original manufacturers of the instruments that forged the sound of rock and roll. You can be assured that Leo, Les, and the boys appointed a new member to the big board of directors up above today. God bless, and thank you, Jim - you will be missed, loved, and remembered.