Archive for valve

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


Marshall Who?

Posted in NPD: Guitar Amplifiers with tags , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2008 by ivancheung

Below are lists of words, names, and quotes which were obtained through Marshall’s website, catalogues, and consumer perceptions. I feel that they can tell us who Marshall are…

Top 10 Keywords

  • Loud 
    This applies to the literal meaning of the word and the attitude it has created. Jim Marshall is the father of loud!
  • Rock n Roll  
    Although Rock n Roll refers to the a musical genre from the 50s, here it simply means the lifestyle of Rock; Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll. Marshall can be seen on stage with some of the heaviest and wildest bands.
  • Power
    This term goes together with Loud 
  • 60s and 70s
    The height of guitar music, a style Marshall made possible.
  • 80s
    The new breed of Rock. Heavier yet reminiscent of the styles of the previous decades.
  • Valve
    The valve kings.
  • British
    Marshall were at ground zero during the beat boom and British Invasion. Although their products are sold worldwide, their HQ and main factory remains in the UK. The Marshall sound will forever be British.
  • Classic
    The Marshall look is familiar to most. The script logo, the black stack amps. Marshall created a look in the beginning which has rarely changed.
  • Legendary
    Marshall will go down in history as the amplifier behind other legendary guitarists such as Hendrix.
  • Handcrafted
    Marshall is very proud that the majority of their models are handcrafted by a team of experts. 

Top 10 Players Who Played Marshall
(this is a list of 10 of the most important players I think are relevant to the image/identity of Marshall. The list may change depending on others opinions)

  • Pete Townshend (The Who)
  • Jimi Hendrix (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
  • Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Cream)
  • Jimmy Page ( The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin)
  • Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow) 
  • Angus Young (AC/DC)
  • Joe Perry (Aerosmith)
  • Kerry King (Slayer)
  • Slash (Guns n Roses, Velvet Revolver)
  • Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society

Famous Quotes

  • Kerry King
    “If I stand in front of my rig, if my nuts ain’t shaking then I ain’t satisfied… and the only stuff that can do that is my Marshalls.” 
  • Zakk Wylde
    “What does a Marshall sound like – strength, warmth, commitment, beauty and destruction… all wrapped up in a giant f**king wrecking ball.” 
  • Billy F. Gibbons
    “The fine Marshall line remains heavy as lead… solid as steel. The best.” 
  • Lemmy
    “Old Marshall’s never die – just blow your f**king head off!” 
  • Slash
    “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; I won’t consider trying anything else – something that consistent you just don’t f**k with.”



History Of The Amp: Digital

Posted in Amplifier Basics with tags , , , , , on April 7, 2008 by ivancheung

The history of digital is more complex than valve and solid state.

Digital refers to the software rather than hardware, and as a result most digital amps are actually solid state amps with digital software.
Digital technology has been used in other musical instruments for a long time, such as keyboards and synthesizers. In the realm of guitars, digital was used in the effects pedal market around the late 80s; here is where it gets confusing as digital is not really an amplifier at all but an effect. When digital was used in effects pedals, it was to create sonic effects such as a delayed sound, reverb, clipping of the signal, etc.
It was only until the mid 90s where digital technology became part of the amplifier market. Here digital signal processing (DSP) was the method used. DSP is the study of audio signals, and how they can be emulated by digital processors. As a result, digital ceased creating sonic effects, but began emulating sound (this has since been known as digital modeling).

One of the first digital modeling equipment was the Roland VG8, introduced around 1995. The VG8 was a unit (approx. 30cm x 12cm x 15 cm) which would capture the output of an electric guitar, analyze the signal’s wavelength, which is processed and reassembled into a new signal. The user had a number of options as to how the VG8 would process the guitar signal, all of which were emulations of particular pieces of guitar equipment, such as different amp sounds. The VG8 retailed for around £2000 and was definitely aimed at the professional market. It should be noted that the VG8 was not an amplifier, it is a processor which created a new signal which would then need to be amplified.

Digital modeling was not an instant success due to its rarity amongst the average guitar player. Those who could afford it felt that digital was astonishing, but its sound quality was not the same as the amps it was emulating. As the years went by, digital modeling would improve in all aspects.

Around 1999 digital modeling began to renew interests with the introduction of Line 6’s POD. the POD was a unit the size of two hands, and not only was it a DSP unit, it was designed to take the place of the preamp.
<Quick lesson: An amplifier consists of two circuit stages, the preamp and the poweramp. The preamp essentially takes a low level signal (the type produced by a  electric guitar) and amplifies it to a level that can be handled by the poweramp. It is also the preamp stage where the majority of tonal shaping of the signal takes place. The poweramp stage takes the signal from the preamp, and literally powers it so that it can accepted by speakers thus producing a sound.> 
The POD could be used in conjunction with a poweramp/speakers, or the player could bypass that stage by using headphones (to play alone), or plug straight into a mixing desk.
The POD provided more emulations that any other digital gear, and it also allowed more flexibility as to how the signals were produced (the user could match certain amps with certain speakers). The best characteristic about the POD was the quality of sound, if you asked the POD to emulate a vintage Marshall stack amp, it actually sounded like it!
The new incarnation of digital modeling posessed fantastic sound quality, portability and versatility. Best of all, it retailed for around £150 – affordable.

The fact is, digital modeling provided everyone a chance to play with the same equipment that professional used, and it also provided many practical advantages. However the POD was not perfect, and many felt it the sound it produced was cold and sterile in live situations, a problem which is being solved as we speak.

Today, digital modeling can be bought in individual forms like the POD (or the latest incarnation, the Pocket POD which is essentially the same except it will fit in your pocket), and it can also be bought in amplifier forms (where the digital processor is built into where the preamp would usually sit).
It is a piece of equipment used by the beginning guitarist, and the professional musician. All the major amplifier brands have realised it’s advantages and have released their own versions. Some have even developed hybrid amplifiers which combine digital with either solid state or valve or both.
Another notable form of digital modeling is in the form of software only. There are products where the user installs the software onto their computer, and the computer becomes the central medium. 

Below: Revalver, a digital modelling software.

As someone who owned the original POD, I agreed with the sonic criticisms it received. However recently I bought a new version of the POD and all I can say is it has improved vastly – the good just got better!
It is my belief that digital would fulfil most players practical needs, but the popularity of valve is that it fulfils an emotional desire.


History Of The Amp: Solidstate

Posted in Amplifier Basics with tags , , on April 7, 2008 by ivancheung

Solid state refers to semiconductors (such as a transistor), its name merely means that there are no moving parts within the component.
Solid state components have revolutionised the world as we know it… however its introduction into the guitar amplifier during the 60s did not have the same impact.

A solid state amp offered many practical advantages over a valve amp. Some of which are…
1) Lower Cost
2) Lighter Weight
3) Higher Quality Consistency
4) Less Maintenance
5) Higher Durability

Although a solid state offered many practical advantages, it fell short in the category that mattered – sound. A solid state amp was capable of providing a clean guitar sound… but it struggled to produce the distorted sound a valve amp did so well.
Early solid state amps produced a harsh and cold sound (compared to valve’s smooth and warm). It had a limited dynamic range where the signal would be clipped if overdriven (producing an unmusical spitting sound). As a result, many guitarists did not abandon their valve amps for the practical advantages solid state offered.

However to be fair, solid state was not a complete disaster. It produced clean sounds very well, and some solid state amplifiers, such as the Roland JC-120, are regarded to be one of the best at providing a clean sound. 
As for the distortion, perhaps the sound of the solid state was merely introduced at the wrong time as during the late 80s / early 90s, certain guitarists used distortion which was sonically similar to the type solid state produced. (Although there are other reasons to explain why this occurred).
Interestingly though, solid state has always been regarded as inferior because it could not accomplish what valve could at the time. At no point was it marketed as an amp which could provide a different guitar sound. In the eyes of the guitarist, valve has always been the sound of the guitar.

As valve continued to dominate, many amp manufacturers did not give up on solid state. Due to its practical advantages, it became the choice technology for any type of budget amplifier.

One of the breakthroughs for solid state was Marshall’s Valvestate range. The Valvestate (introduced 1991, I believe) was designed to overcome the problems of solid state by emulating valve sounds.
In order to accomplish this they used a hybrid technology of both valve and solid state. It was a tremendous success. Here was an amplifier which combined the best of both worlds. The next step was to see if solid state could accomplish the task on its own.

As technology continues to improve, so does the quality of solid state.
Today, I would say that most solid state amps do a very good job at emulating valve. It is not perfect, but is constantly improving (I would even say that most guitarists may not be able to distinguish between a valve amp and a good solid state one if blind folded).
However solid state is still suffering from it’s history and continues to be regarded as inferior. Perhaps it will never be seen as better, because just as its quality has improved, the amp market has founded a new type of technology – digital…

The Guv’nor: Jim Marshall

Posted in History: Marshall Amplifiers with tags , , , , on April 7, 2008 by ivancheung

Jim Marshall was born on July 29, 1923 in North Kesington, London.
At a very early age Jim was enamoured by music, whether it was tap dancing, singing or drumming for a 16 piece orchestra in his teens.
As World War 2 broke, Jim (at the age of 17) did his part by working as an engineer at ‘Cramic Engineering. After the war Jim would continue his occupation at ‘Heston Aircraft’ till 1949.
1949 marked a change for Jim as he began teaching drums in West London. Throughout the next decade, Jim would solidify his reputation as one of the best drummers; attracting many students who would become part of the British music scene in the 60s. It was around this time that Jim designed to establish a business selling musical equipment (primarily drums), and in 1960 Jim’s business opens on 7th July, 1960 at 76 Uxbridge Road.
Jim’s drum shop attracted not just drummers, but the drummer’s whole band. Jim was a down to earth nice guy who treated the new breed of Rock musician with respect; the same musicians who were patronised by the other West end music stores of London (who primarily catered to Jazz and Dance). The writing was on the wall: if Jim would stock other instruments, the musicians would be much more willing to buy from him than anyone else… This was Jim’s first step into the amplifier market.

In 1961, many guitarists explained to Jim one of their problems. There wasn’t an amplifier for their type of music. History was about to be made….

This post has been a very short glimpse into the man’s legacy, (intended as an introduction).
For those interested in Jim Marshall and the company he created, I recommend you buy:
Maloof, R. (2004) “Jim Marshall: The Father Of Loud”, San Francisco: Backbeat Books.

History Of The Amp: Valves

Posted in Amplifier Basics with tags , , on April 7, 2008 by ivancheung

vacuum tube

(image from:

The vacuum tube (or valve or tube) experienced immense popularity during the first half of the 20th century as it was the choice technology in devices such as the radio, television and telephone.
The second half of the century would see a new use for it…

When the first solid body electric guitar was invented (generally considered to be by Leo Fender’s ‘Esquire’: 1949; although other contenders are Paul Bigsby’s Merle Travis guitar: 1948; Les Paul’s ‘Log Guitar’: Early 40s; and Rickenbacker’s ‘Frying Pan’ guitar: 1931), the amplifier was probably a standard stereo system using valves.
As guitarists wanted to play louder, they discovered a common problem of the valve which audiophiles detested – when overloaded, a valve would distort the audio signal… Eureka!
This distortion of the signal became a favourite effect for guitarists (often known as overdrive or distortion), and soon amplifier builders were designing amps which manipulated the level of distortion.
During the 60s, as more manufacturer favoured semiconductors over valves due to their practical advantages, guitar amplifiers resisted the change until later (and when the changed occurred it was more of a niche).
Today, the valve amplifier is still manufactured by almost all of the major brands and its audio characteristics are still considered the very best.