Archive for the History: Marshall Amplifiers Category

Research Blog Note

Posted in Amplifier Basics, History: Marshall Amplifiers, NPD: Guitar Amplifiers on June 15, 2008 by ivancheung

This research blog was kept up until 3rd May. This is because the research process started to slow down and the creative process began.

For more information on how my work was formulated please see the research dossiers and module reports. (Note, the majority of New Product Development research has been worked into the presentation).



Posted in History: Marshall Amplifiers with tags , , , , , , on May 3, 2008 by ivancheung

Since the beginning, Jim Marshall has not believed in giving away free amplifiers to musicians. If you use a Marshall it is because you recognise it as a high quality product.
You get what you pay for and Marshall = Quality.
As a result of this policy, Marshall has rarely done signature amplifiers (special edition amplifiers bearing the name of a well know player) in the past.

This all changed in 1996, and since then Marshall has produced a number of signature amplifiers.
This change may have occured due to changes in the market (with every brand associating themselves with famous musicians by releasing a signature product); Perhaps signature products are better advertisements and helps build a clearer brand identity; Or even maybe its because signature products often sell better than regular products.
All these factors certainly contribute to why Marshall have decided to do signature amplifiers. Below, I will list some of the most significant signature amplifiers.

1996 saw the Slash signature. Based on an older model of amplifier named the Jubilee (a silver amplifier produced for Marshall’s 25th anniversary) but repackaged like a classic Marshall amplifier (black) and bearing the name/logo of Slash, guitarist of Guns n Roses. Only 3000 units were produced.

2002 saw Zakk Wylde’s turn (guitarist of Ozzy Osbourne and his own band Black Label Society). The amp was based on the JCM800, but featured a few cosmetic differences (such as vintage spec. aesthetics, and a control plate with engraved bullseyes).

2006 produced the Jimi Hendrix amp. Modelled after the late 60s amp that Hendrix used, this amplifier features the classic Marshall look and sound. Also significant is that this amplifier is completely handwired (as they would have been in the 60s). Limited to 600 units.

2007 saw a existing Marshall product redesigned into a signature. The micro stack (a mini version of a Marshall stack amplifier) was given a new look and named the Zakk Wylde micro stack. Although this amplifier was originally made for the budget market, Marshall caught wind that Zakk Wylde was using it as a warm up amplifier before playing live. The price and feature of the amp stayed the same, the only thing that changed was the name and the aesthetics.

2007 produced a Kerry King amp (guitarist of Slayer). Based on the JCM800, it not only featured cosmetic differences, but the amplifier had some extra features built in to it (more control over gain, an eq and a noise gate). Unlike other signature products which are limited in quantity, the Kerry King model is in current production. This fact was a deal breaker for King who understood that signature products are aspirational products which should be made available to all rather than collectors.

2008, in conjunction to the previous years Kerry King signature amplifiers, Marshall releases the Kerry King practice amplifier. A small solid state amplifier targeted at the budget market.

2008 unveiled a Randy Rhoads amp (guitarist of Ozzy Osbourne during the 80s who tragically died). This amp was based on the classic Marshall 100 watt 1959SLP model. It featured a white exterior as opposed to black. Limited (quantity unknown)

Released two weeks ago! A Lemmy signature (bassist and frontman of Motorhead). A replica of Lemmy’s own (heavily modified) Marshall amplifier he has nick named Murder One.


Marshall Meets New Technology

Posted in History: Marshall Amplifiers with tags , , , , , , on May 1, 2008 by ivancheung

The years 1989, 1990 and 1991, all saw new products for Marshall.

In 1989 Marshall ventured into a new territory for them – effects pedals. Effects pedals are small solid state units which alters the guitar signal (usually before it enters an amplifier). Although effects pedals had been around in various forms since the 70s, 1989 marked the year Marshall would put its stamp on the market.
The pedal produced was named ‘The Guv’nor’, and its function was a overdrive/distortion effect. However the particular type of overdrive/distortion effect makes it significant. ‘The Guv’nor’ would provide an emulation of the trademark sound of a Marshall stack amp, (similar to digital modeling). The purpose of this was to provide the Marshall sound in a very affordable unit, and also making Marshall available to consumers who owned other branded amplifiers.
‘The Guv’nor’ was a huge success and opened the doors for Marshall within the effect pedals market and the solid state market. In the years to come, Marshall would produce other effects pedals. Initially they would all be related to Marshall in some way such as emulating the sound of their own amplifiers; But later they would branch out to effects which have little to do with Marshall such as tremolo effects.

Below: original design of The Guv’nor

The following year Marshall would return to tradition when they released the JCM900. The JCM900 was regarded as Marshall’s new flagship amplifier and carried on some of the attributes of the brand. The most significant feature of these new amplifiers were that they were marketed as “the amps that go to 20”. The message is clear: the loud just got louder.
Although the JCM900 was favoured by younger Rock / Pop Punk guitarists, it was associated with those who embody classic metal (though in a tongue in cheek manner) – Spinal Tap. Aside from the band/actors appearing in adverts and promotional movies for JCM900s, the amps themselves were featured in the second Spinal Tap movie and Marshall even went as far as building a guitar shaped like a stack amp for them (guitar built in conjunction with Jackson Guitars).

Below: JCM900 and the Spinal Tap guitar

After producing one product that was new for the brand identity, and one that embodied the classic attributes, 1991 saw a merge between both. The Valvestate amplifier range was released by Marshall which combined solid state technology with valves. Perhaps Marshall never got enough recognition for their efforts, but the Valvestate showed the market that you could produce an amazing sounding solid state amplifier (exceptions noted). This amp was a hybrid of technology and as a result, it contained the desirable sound of valves and boasted the practical advantages of solid state (more durable, more consistant, lighter weight, cheaper costs).
Combined with Marshall’s line of effects pedals, the company had secured a place in the amateur market more than ever now. Over the next few years, the Valvestates proved to be the best selling amplifiers of the companies history.

Below: the Valvestate range

A Change in Music, A Shift In Identity

Posted in History: Marshall Amplifiers with tags , , , , , , on April 29, 2008 by ivancheung

Above: American Metal band Slayer in the 80s

The 80s (what I call the modern era of Marshall) marked a few changes to Marshall’s identity.

In Rock music, the two genres that now dominated was Punk and Metal; Classic Rock or Heavy Metal in the vain of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin was not popular anymore. Marshall were not adopted by the Punk scene for various reasons (such as them being an established brand for Classic Rock), however Marshall and Metal were a match made in heaven (or hell).
Marshall had been the loudest and most powerful brand around, but that was it. This quality of power suited Metal music well, and the association between the two meant some of the qualities of Metal rubbed off on to Marshall, such as aggression. Marshall became a brand who weren’t just physically loud, but in attitude as well. The combination of Marshall and Metal would be led during the 80s by stalwarts such as Judas Priest and Motorhead; but also some newer bands who would find fame in the decade such as Iron Maiden and Def Leppard.

Marshall’s identity expanded, but at a cost.
The bands mentioned above are British, but Metal music was influencing many across the pond in the US who would become leaders of this new wave of Metal.
American bands like Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax became big players within Metal and they all used Marshall amplifiers in the beginning, (Slayer guitarist Kerry King is a familiar face of Marshall today), while others such as Randy Rhoads (an American guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne) made his mark as well. A musical instrument company like Marshall relies heavily on associations with famous musicians. As Metal became more American, so did the identity of this British brand.

The rest of the 80s would only reinforce the new identity as Marshall was adopted by two more significant American guitarists who have since become faces of the brand.
Zakk Wylde, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne after Randy Rhoads passed away.
Slash, guitarist for Guns n Roses, a band which were heavily influenced by British Rock, but ultimately embodied the new style of American Rock of the late 80s.

In a survey carried out during April 2008, I asked 263 non guitarists found from various places (who recognised the Marshall brand) whether they thought Marshall were British or American.
68% (179 answers) thought they were American.

The Beginnings Of The Modern Era

Posted in History: Marshall Amplifiers with tags , , , on April 28, 2008 by ivancheung

Above: Marshall’s new flagship amplifier during the 80s, the JCM800.

Two important factors occurred in the 80s which ended what we could call Marshall’s Classic Era (reflected in the golden age of Marshall), and ushered in the Modern Era as we know it today.

The economic depression of the early 80s was a threat which turned out to be an opportunity. Prior to the 80s Marshall produced a whole range of amplification equipment, but as the recession began, Jim Marshall was quick enough to realise that survival meant streamlining the company. The solution was to cease production of almost all products except guitar amplifiers. Marshall knew their strength lay in guitar amplifiers, and by focusing their efforts at what they do best, they would not only survive, but prosper.

On the other hand, Marshall was given a significant advantage when their 15 year deal with Rose-Morris ended. This now meant Marshall could price and distribute their products at their own desire.
However Rose-Morris still had some back stock of Marshall products which they owned. To combat this Marshall would first lower their export price by 25% so that they were now affordable to most consumers. Secondly they would place their marketing power behind the JCM800 (an amp designed in the mid 70s), in an effort to persuade consumers to buy from Marshall rather than Rose-Morris. The JCM800 became one of the most popular amplifiers due to it high quality and low cost. Marshall were now where they used to be: on side of the working musician.

Although Marshall’s pricing may have been lowered drastically, this turned out to be tremendous success for the company. A lower price attracted more consumers which meant more sales; Marshall’s profit over the next three years sky rocketed by 360%. This success resulted in Marshall being awarded the Queen’s Award for Export in 1984.


The Golden Age Of Marshall

Posted in History: Marshall Amplifiers with tags , , , on April 27, 2008 by ivancheung

Above: Jimmy Page with his Gibson double neck guitar, probably playing Stairway To Heaven, a song recorded with Marshalls

The 70s were definitely the golden age for Marshall. Not only were Marshall amps sold worldwide, they were seen on stage with the best musicians. These musicians often reflected the heaviest music styles, and many of them happen to be British as well.

Aside from the usual suspects such as Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix; The 70s saw (to name a few) Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, Marc Bolan, Gary Moore, Angus Young, Paul Kossof, Billy Gibbons, Ace Freshley, Joe Perry and Eddie Van Halen (this list could go on forever) all adopt Marshalls. Only the loudest amplifier could serve the loudest players.

The mid 70s also saw the development of a master volume amplifier (later to be called the JCM800). This allowed guitarists to achieve the distinct overdriven sound of Marshall without the full volume of a 100 watt amplifier. This amplifier would become a significant part of Marshall in the next decade.

Aside from Rock n Roll, the 70s also marked a time when Marshall diversified by producing amplification equipment for instruments such as bass, keyboard and organ; along with sound equipment such as PA systems, mixers, and sound desks. This diversification meant that Marshall equipment weren’t just seen on stage with Rock/Metal bands, but also others who desired the utmost quality – musicians such as Elton John.

The 70s truly was a good time for Marshall (with the exception of their ongoing deal with Rose-Morris).

For those interested in Jim Marshall and the company he created, I highly recommend you buy:
Maloof, R. (2004) “Jim Marshall: The Father Of Loud”, San Francisco: Backbeat Books.

Marshall International: The Rose-Morris Disaster

Posted in History: Marshall Amplifiers with tags , , , , on April 26, 2008 by ivancheung

Since the start of the company, Marshall has been on the side of the working musician. Providing the young player with the best product at a low cost. However, this would change when Marshall entered a disastrous deal with distributor Rose-Morris.

By the mid 60s Marshall had achieved fame with many of the most famous bands using them. Marshall had dominated the domestic market and there was a demand from the international market as audiences from other countries were exposed to the brand through the British band’s touring.

Rose-Morris, a renowned international distributor would be the one to help Marshall grow. In 1966, Jim Marshall signed a 15 year deal with Rose-Morris, which although did help Marshall grow, would also turn out to be the worst mistake in the companies history.
Rose-Morris were making an enormous profit from the mark up of Marshall products (up to 55% for products distributed internationally, when the industry standard was around 12%).

The mark up by Rose-Morris meant that Marshall products were very expensive by the time they reached the retailer. From here on, Marshall would only be affordable by the rich. We could argue that this gave Marshall a desirable image since the young players who could not afford the brand saw their heroes (the professionals) using it, ingraining a higher sense of quality and transforming the brand into an aspirational one
Unfortunately this whole incident meant Marshall weren’t making enough profit. For the next 15 years Jim Marshall decided that in order for Marshall to survive he would have to expand into different markets; such as starting his own wholesale business distributing other musical equipment, and even two department stores called MBC based in London.

(When the Rose-Morris deal ended, Jim Marshall sold the leases to his department stores as he didn’t need them anymore. He alleges that he made more money from the leases than all the profit from his amplifiers during the deal).

The Rose-Morris deal meant Marshall became an international brand, but at a high cost.
For those interested in Jim Marshall and the company he created, I highly recommend you buy:
Maloof, R. (2004) “Jim Marshall: The Father Of Loud”, San Francisco: Backbeat Books.