Sound studio

60 Years of Marshall: How “Marshall Sound” Was Made and Still Thrives

Words by Peter Hodgson and photography by Marshall Amplification

A look at famous Marshall product development with international product demonstrator Steve Smith

Most of us know the story by now: drummer and music store owner jim marshall a few customers have stood up and complained about the inadequacy of current amplifiers to cope with the massive volume they wanted to output. These guys – Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Pete Townshend of The Who and session pro Big Jim Sullivan – knew what they wanted, it just didn’t exist yet.

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Jim Marshall was a smart guy: he hired designers and got to work. These early designs were inspired by the Fender amplifiers available across the Atlantic, amps that were really hard to come by in 1962 London. But the parts available differed between the US and UK, so many substitutions and improvements were made, such as 5881 power tubes and higher gain ECC83 preamp tubes over 6L6 and 12AX7 used in amps like the Fender Bassman.

By prototype six, Jim and his team had discovered what we now call “the Marshall sound‘, something that simply couldn’t be achieved with any other amp at the time. Dubbed the JTM45, it was the amp that Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and others would use to fuel a revolution.

Steve Smith, Marshall’s international product demonstrator, is a lifelong Marshall geek, with a frankly mind-boggling knowledge of amps, pedals, power amps, speakers, tubes/valves, rack units, combos and everything in between with that iconic script logo. on the front of it. He knows the Marshall sound better than anyone and has been involved in the birth of many products.

steve smith marshall amps

“When we think of a new product, some of them come to us, like digital products, CODE series,” Smith says. “It’s like, ‘we have to do this now’ because the market is changing. But when it comes to tube amps, new lines like the Studio series for example, it’s a no-brainer because we’ve noticed that the people had smaller setups.

“It’s like, well, what do we do? We give them a little wholesale Marshall, which is exactly like a big UK made, all valved one. But because we have a legacy behind us, we want to stick to what makes a Marshall, and we also need to cater for younger players who might have different needs.

So a peek behind the curtain of the Marshall product development process looks like this: “The marketing team will look at what’s going on, what the trends are. They will do a lot of research on what people are most interested in.

“Then the sales team does their own research. They’re going to talk to guys in stores, talk to distributors and ask ‘what do people want from Marshall?’ It could be a re-release because everyone is asking for a particular product, or it could be a new version of an existing product that is selling very well but needs improvement in some way. of another.

“What we’re going to do is combine those two strands of information and then we’ll go to the drawing board and start looking at the products, start designing, start specifying, and then when it gets to a point of units usually myself and my team will come in and start testing.

Then come many round trips with the R’n’D team. Try that speaker, change that frequency, etc. The whole process isn’t all that far removed from what Jim Marshall and his crew did in 1962, except now we’re not talking about a few amps for a few rockstars to come, we’re talking about the most recognizable to the world.

It’s really fun to dive back into the Marshalls of the past to see where the brand has been and where it could go. For example, the JCM2000 DSL50 and DSL100 amps have been used by many players over the years, including Nuno Bettencourt, Jeff Beck, Steve Morse, and Iron Maiden. The line had been down for a while, but demand didn’t really drop, so the DSL series was brought back with some improvements.

“He had some changes and some tweaks,” Smith says. “We wanted to have amps that weren’t UK-made priced, so it’s still great quality, still tube-powered, but at a price that’s more accessible to more people. It’s pretty much the same amp, but we just make it in our Vietnamese factory.

There really is a Marshall for everyone, from the digital CODE series developed with Softube (and which this writer uses daily as a parlor noodle amp) and the analog MG series, to the Vintage Reissue series (with Jubilee, JTM45 and 50W Plexi models) and the Handwired series (100W and 18W 1974X Plexi combos).

Another notable “back but different” range of amps is the Studio Series, a range of UK-made 20W heads and combos designed to give players the full Marshall sound experience, but in a more small and more eardrum-friendly that hits the power-amp sweet-spot at much lower volumes than a 100W battery. It all started with a low-powered reissue of the Jubilee amplifier, a JCM800-based amp with a few tricks up its sleeve, like a selectable diode clipping section, reflecting the way guitarists started boosting amps with overdrive pedals.

“When we made this amp we had a lot of people going ‘hmm, a mini version of a Jubilee, you know, wouldn’t that be cool if…’ and then the ideas came: what are the Marshalls classics?? Basically it was the JCM800 and the Plexi, but smaller, more compact. You can get that roar, but you can still stand next to the amp and not lose your hearing. Because anyone who’s played on a non-master Plexi 50 or 100, to make it sound like it does, it’s very, very loud. And most sites these days, you just can’t do that.

“The studio line is one of those products that is going to be around for a while,” Smith says. “Now a lot of people are happy that we have the Jubilee, 800 and Plexi, but there will be other models to come.

Marshall amplifiers are distributed locally by Electrical plant.