Guitar amp pioneer Jim Marshall dies aged 88

The British man who pioneered guitar amps, and in turn inspired a rock revolution that changed the world, has passed away.

Jim Marshall, the man who pioneered loud guitar amps, has died at the ripe age of 88.

Guitar amps aren't our usual field of tech, but this mild-mannered man from London helped change the world when he re-invented them in the 1960s. Put it this way: his amps were loud enough to kickstart a genre called rock, and music was never the same again.

He started as a drummer, and even taught Mitch Mitchell, who later joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience. With 65 students every week, Jim was earning £5,000 per year -- that's equivalent to a stunning £138,000 salary today. While the rest of us would settle down and pronounce ourselves business geniuses at that point, Jim decided to invest in a music shop to sell drums and other new-fangled instruments like the electric guitar.

Celebrity clients at his music shop included guitarist Pete Townshend from The Who. Jim noted their complaints about tinny American amplifier imports, which never justified their high price tags. The savvy entrepreneur saw an opportunity, and formed Marshall Amplifiers in 1962. At the time, he could never have imagined what it would go on to achieve.

Jim took his old hobby of building PA systems and worked with his apprentice Dudley Craven to improve on the meek American amp designs. After several false starts, the pair hit upon a remarkably powerful design with unprecedented distortion, volume, and a characteristic tone that had never been heard before. The 'Marshall sound' was officially born.

Jimi Hendrix Marshall amp

To use a modern term, Marshall amps 'went viral' and were soon gracing stages around the world. They made guitars sound raw, gnarly and bold, and enabled rock musicians to stun audiences with a true wall of sound for the first time. Whenever you hear a classic guitar riff by Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Cream or Oasis, you're not listening to any old guitar amp. You're listening to a Marshall.

Would the rock revolution be the same without Jim Marshall? Probably not, and when you consider the cultural impact of rock music on the 20th century, Marshall is a classic case of British technology changing the world. We should all be very proud.

A statement on the Marshall website says he quietly donated millions to charity over the years, and by all accounts, he was a genuinely lovely man. We recommend listening to some Hendrix and turning the volume to 11 in Jim's honour. A minute of silence just wouldn't be right, would it?

Another forefather of rock, Les Paul, died in 2009 and was honoured with a splendid strummable Google doodle last year.

Are you a guitarist or rock fan? Pay your respects to the big man on our Facebook wall, or down in the moshpit that is the comments.

Image credits: Marshall, Plain or Pan

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About the author

    Tom Davenport spent several years flirting with music production before admitting he preferred writing about technology online. He once performed in a Superbowl commercial, but you'll never find it online. Tom is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.

     

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