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The History of Marshall Amps

After playing music on the road for over two decades, Jim Marshall opened a music shop called Jim Marshall and Son in London. The store quickly became popular among up-and-coming musicians and was soon one of the area’s premiere sellers of guitar amplifiers. After hearing several guitarists say they couldn’t get the sound they wanted out of their amps, Marshall decided to build his own. He worked with his son Terry, who co-owned the shop, and a service engineer named Ken Bran. Interestingly, none of the men who worked on the first Marshall amplifier were guitarists, but when the first Marshall amp became available in fall 1962, it was a massive success. It was called Number One (though later renamed JTM45) and unlike amps created by other manufacturers, it was rated by RMS rather than peak power. It quickly gained popularity among musicians and in 1964, the first Marshall factory was opened to meet the growing demand. Around the same time, Pete Townshend (the guitarist for The Who) asked Jim Marshall for more power and the 8 x 12" speaker cabinet was born. This then led to the famous double 4 x 12” stack that can still be seen on stages and in studios all over the world today. In 1966, Jimi Hendrix played through a Marshall backline amp for the first time because a venue had refused to move it and replace it with the one he had brought with him. He became an instant fan and this brought Marshall amps to new heights of international notoriety. Demand increased so much that Marshall moved to a larger manufacturing site at Bletchley, where the company is still based today. Over the years, different Marshall amps have helped guitarists achieve their sound. The Marshall Bluesbreaker amp helped define the sound of 1960s blues-rock and was famously used by guitarist Eric Clapton. Today, it’s one of the most sought-after vintage amps. The Plexi, named for its plexiglass front panel, is still one of the brand’s most popular amplifiers. In the 1970s and 1980s, the JMP became popular. It offered a master volume but Marshall had also changed how the signal flowed within the amps to keep that characteristic crunch that so many guitarists loved about the brand. Guitarists Slash, Zakk Wylde, and Randy Rhoads all played using JMPs. In the early 1980s, Marshall released the JCM800, which produced more overdrive directly into distortion and fit the '80s hair-metal sound well. In 1987, Marshall released a special amp in honor of the company’s 25th year in business called the Silver Jubilee. This became a favorite of many guitarists, including Slash, who often uses it live onstage. Marshall amps that debuted in the 1990s included the DSL and JVM lines, both of which continued to make use of vacuum tubes and offered multiple channels and features, although they weren't as critically acclaimed as many of the older models. Today, Marshall amps remain legendary in the music world and have played a significant role in shaping the sound of rock music since the 1960s; vintage versions are often sought after and used by collectors and professional musicians alike.

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