'Something Bigger And Louder': The Legacy Of Jim Marshall And His Amp

  • Lemmy Kilmister immortalized the Marshall amp in the Motorhead song, "Dr. Rock": "Chin up, shoulders back / You've got a body like a Marshall stack."
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    Lemmy Kilmister immortalized the Marshall amp in the Motorhead song, "Dr. Rock": "Chin up, shoulders back / You've got a body like a Marshall stack."
    Photo: Dave Etheridge-Barnes/Getty Images Entertainment
  • "People say there are two man-made things you can see from outer space — one is the Great Wall of China, the other is Yngwie Malmsteen's Marshall stacks," Malmsteen told NPR's Audie Cornish.
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    "People say there are two man-made things you can see from outer space — one is the Great Wall of China, the other is Yngwie Malmsteen's Marshall stacks," Malmsteen told NPR's Audie Cornish.
    Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns
  • Former Runaways guitarist and hard rock goddess Lita Ford sent us this picture with her Marshall-stacked home entertainment center. She writes via email: "[Jim Marshall] can rest easy and go to his grave knowing the profound effect he's had on the face of the WORLD of music that will remain with us forever!!!!! His tombstone should be a Marshall stack. His voice will live on through those speak...
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    Former Runaways guitarist and hard rock goddess Lita Ford sent us this picture with her Marshall-stacked home entertainment center. She writes via email: "[Jim Marshall] can rest easy and go to his grave knowing the profound effect he's had on the face of the WORLD of music that will remain with us forever!!!!! His tombstone should be a Marshall stack. His voice will live on through those speakers!!!!"
    Photo courtesy of Lita Ford
  • Jim Marshall's amps became a key part of the rock 'n' roll sound, from Jimi Hendrix girding his guitar into one at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival to Pete Townshend making Marshall amps a trademark part of his assault.
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    Jim Marshall's amps became a key part of the rock 'n' roll sound, from Jimi Hendrix girding his guitar into one at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival to Pete Townshend making Marshall amps a trademark part of his assault.
    Photo: Robert Knight Archive/Redferns
  • When Jimi Hendrix first walked into Jim Marshall's store, Marshall reportedly recalled thinking, "Bloody hell, here's another American guitarist wanting something for nothing."
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    When Jimi Hendrix first walked into Jim Marshall's store, Marshall reportedly recalled thinking, "Bloody hell, here's another American guitarist wanting something for nothing."
    Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images
  • Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis practically encases himself in Marshall stacks.
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    Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis practically encases himself in Marshall stacks.
    Photo: Shantel Mitchell for NPR
  • Only Marshall amps can handle the "modulistic terror" of Kerry King's divebombing guitar solos for Slayer.
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    Only Marshall amps can handle the "modulistic terror" of Kerry King's divebombing guitar solos for Slayer.
    Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment
  • "These go to eleven."
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    "These go to eleven."
    Photo: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
  • Slash has his own signature Marshall amp, the JCM 2555sl. Of the amp, Slash has said, "It's been flawless the entire time; I wouldn't even consider trying something else. Something that consistent you just don't f--- with."
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    Slash has his own signature Marshall amp, the JCM 2555sl. Of the amp, Slash has said, "It's been flawless the entire time; I wouldn't even consider trying something else. Something that consistent you just don't f--- with."
    Photo: Ed Jones/AFP
  • Sleigh Bells vocalist Alexis Krauss purrs in front of amp stacks for in-the-red electro-pop songs at the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival. The band's Marshall worship comes from guitarist Derek Miller's past in Florida metal band Poison the Well.
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    Sleigh Bells vocalist Alexis Krauss purrs in front of amp stacks for in-the-red electro-pop songs at the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival. The band's Marshall worship comes from guitarist Derek Miller's past in Florida metal band Poison the Well.
    Photo: Alex Crick for KEXP
  • Guitarist Matt Pike of Bay Area metal band High on Fire (pictured here in a performance with Sleep at 2010's All Tomorrows Parties Music Festival) uses Marshall amps to crush skulls.
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    Guitarist Matt Pike of Bay Area metal band High on Fire (pictured here in a performance with Sleep at 2010's All Tomorrows Parties Music Festival) uses Marshall amps to crush skulls.
    Photo: Lars Gotrich/NPR
  • The long-running American psych-rock band Bardo Pond depends on Marshall amps to make a thick, noisy swirl of controlled chaos.
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    The long-running American psych-rock band Bardo Pond depends on Marshall amps to make a thick, noisy swirl of controlled chaos.
    Photo: Lars Gotrich/NPR
  • Somehow everything is right in the world knowing that such a powerful hip-hop force like Public Enemy uses Marshall amps.
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    Somehow everything is right in the world knowing that such a powerful hip-hop force like Public Enemy uses Marshall amps.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Deerhunter isn't the first band you think of when it comes to Marshall, but take the band's sometimes antogonisticly loud live show into consideration, and it all makes sense.
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    Deerhunter isn't the first band you think of when it comes to Marshall, but take the band's sometimes antogonisticly loud live show into consideration, and it all makes sense.
    Photo: Shantel Mitchell for NPR
  • Weezer's Rivers Cuomo typically favors a Marshall 4x12 cabinet, just loud enough to make the chorus to "Say It Ain't So" extra fist-pump-worthy.
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    Weezer's Rivers Cuomo typically favors a Marshall 4x12 cabinet, just loud enough to make the chorus to "Say It Ain't So" extra fist-pump-worthy.
    Photo: Gary Livingston/Newsmakers
  • Only Marshall stacks can match the massive riffs of Mastodon.
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    Only Marshall stacks can match the massive riffs of Mastodon.
    Photo: Cindy Frey

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Jim Marshall helped make rock 'n' roll loud. The British electrical engineer, musician and owner of Marshall Amplification produced one of the most iconic pieces of equipment in popular music. Marshall died today in England after battling cancer and suffering multiple strokes in recent years. He was 88.

In the 1960s, when guitar players like Pete Townsend and Jimi Hendrix sought to make a louder and more distorted noise than the jazz and country players whose place in pop culture they would soon usurp, they turned to the amplifiers bearing Marshall's name. Marshall began making the amplifiers from a small shop in West London in the early part of the decade.

Marshall amps became a key part of the rock 'n' roll sound. Hendrix grinded his guitar into one before setting it on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Lemmy Kilmister, the bassist and singer for the heavy metal band Motorhead, plays in front of a giant wall of them and name-drops the amps in the song "Dr. Rock." Pete Townsend, known for destroying his instruments, made them a trademark part of his assault.

In a 1993 interview on Fresh Air, Townsend said that he went into Marshall's shop because he was unsatisfied with the two American-made amps he had been using. " 'The trouble is that I can hear the audience,' " Townsend said he told Marshall. " 'I can hear what they're saying. I don't want to hear them, OK?' And I said, 'So I need something bigger and louder.' And his eyes lit up."

For Townsend, Marshall amplifiers were a signal of more than just volume.

"I realized at that moment that what was actually happening was that I was demanding a more powerful machine gun, and Jim Marshall was going to build it for me and then we were going to go out and blow people away all around the world. And the generation we were going to blow away was the generation immediately preceding us, the ones who had the gall to tell us that we were wimps because we had long hair, wimps because we didn't have wars to fight in, wimps because we couldn't prove ourselves in military service, because we didn't have it," Townsend said. "Everybody wanted it to be bigger, louder. I wanted it to be as big as the atomic bomb had been."

Marshall amps became known not just for their ability to blow away all other sound, but also for their visual impact. Guitarists looking for an imposing, minimalist prop were able to paint a picture of the very noise their gear created by stacking the large black boxes one on top of another. The number of Marshall amps a guitarist has behind him, and the accordant noise he can create, has become something of a shorthand for his power.

Speaking with All Things Considered, guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen offered his own tribute. "People say there are two man-made things you can see from outer space," Malmsteen said. "One is the Great Wall of China. The other is Yngwie Malmsteen's Marshall stacks."

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