Marshall Amplifiers - A Complete Guide to the Marshall Amp

Why do so many love the Marshall Amp?

Understanding the affection many musicians have for Marshall amplifiers requires at least a basic understanding of the history of the tube or valve amplifier. (The terms are used interchangeably, depending on where you are.) Proponents of using only this classic type of amplifier say the sound is more natural. Some say it is a full sound that satisfies the ear more completely.

The Historyof the Marshall Amplifier

In any case, those who manufactured quality guitar and bass amplifiers based on the tube or valve technology, such as Marshall, Ampeg, Fender, Gibson and others, owe a debt of gratitude to a couple of early-20th century scientist/inventors. History records that Sir John Ambrose Fleming produced a device that had a cathode and anode in a vacuum surrounded by glass (1904). He assigned it the name "valve." A few years later (1920) Albert W. Hull produced a vacuum valve or tube with a current controlled by magnetic field.

Marshall Amplifier

(c) mikelao26 at flickr.com
(c) mikelao26 at flickr.com

Many other individuals fine-tuned the basic valve design, in addition to creating new pieces that extended knowledge of sound production and control. Through the decades up to about 1948, these tubes or valves were at the heart of musical and sound reproduction. However, the technology was not a major factor in guitar amps until the late 1930s or early 1940s. When the transistor was produced after World War II, the world of electronic sound had two camps. One school of thought remained true to tube amps and the unique sound they produce.

Who was Marshall?

Jim Marshall, ("The Father of Loud") whose name is still on some of the finest instrument amplifiers around, started something that is a constant subject of discussion among musicians and sound aficionados. Several other companies were making tube or valve amps from the 1950s on, but in a few years Marshall’s products were among the most highly prized units around. He introduced the first models of the line in 1962. Known originally as the JTM45, the amps had 5881 or 6L6 valves and used Celestion speakers, according to www.marshallamps.com. While records are rare from those first years, you might look for serial numbers in the 1004 range for the earliest models.

Many musicians and music fans around the world are familiar with the name and look of a Marshall cabinet or Marshall stack on the rock-and-roll stage. But few people know of the influence this creator and businessman had on early drummers of the rock persuasion. The call to create and sell his version of the guitar amps and Marshall bass amplifiers was stronger than the urge to drum or sell equipment made by another company.

In the next two years some noticeable changes were made, including twin speakers, angled rather than straight cabinets, and black knobs. The valves or tubes used in about 1964 were KT66. It was about this time that the logo changed to gold and speakers were G12 20s. The next stage brought 100-watt amps, combination amps with four, 10-inch speakers, and a cabinet with eight 12-inch speakers (for Pete Townshend).

Marshall Amps and "The Marshall Sound"

In the last several decades, Marshall guitar amps have remained at the top of the list for musicians around the globe. Through the years, the company has made a major effort not to compromise what it calls "the Marshall sound," that combination of tone, feel and room-filling volume rock-and-roll musicians seek. Even when producing solid-state heads and combination units, Marshall engineers and production staff worked to retain that traditional sound.

Anniversary Special Edition Marshall Amps

On the occasion of their 30th anniversary in 1992, the company devoted additional resources to producing a Marshall amplifier design that would be worthy of the name. With the 6100 100-watt head and the 6101 combo (1x12) the goal may well have been reached.

Look for "three separate channels, four different output levels and midi switching" on this special edition. As with all the Marshall amp products, quality is key.

The company produced a restricted line of handmade amps with brass logos and plaques noting the special edition. The three channels included “clean,” with emphasis on clarity, “crunch” with a range of powerful sounds and “lead.” These amps may be difficult to find, due to the limited production. They command from $800 to $1,200 on the used Marshall amplifier market.

The company produced amplifiers and cabinets in somewhat limited numbers at first but increased production to 40 amps and dozens of cabinets each week. Even that increase in activity couldn’t keep up with customer demand. Players with the most recognizable names in rock and roll made use of the amps from this U.K. company. In addition to Townshend, the vintage Marshall was used by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and many more. The factory expanded within six years of the company’s founding, leading to the famous Marshall stack and “massive PA systems” for big-name groups. The Marshall quality was even offered in various colors beginning in the early 1970s.

In the mid-1970s, transistor amplifier heads were becoming more popular and Marshall introduced the Master Volume series. This twist in guitar amplification was based on separate inputs with a master volume to provide control. Players such as Zakk Wylde and Slash were proponents of this series of amps. Then came the JCM 800 series and the “split channel” amplifier (1982). The company was a recipient of the Queens Award for Export Achievement (1984). Jim Marshall was inducted into the Hollywood Guitar Centre Walk of Rock a year later. The company grew to have hundreds of employees to continue producing high-quality amplifiers such as the 9000 series and the JCM 900 valve series.

Marshall MG30DFX Guitar Amplifier

Marshall Valvestate was considered a revolutionary technology, exclusive to Marshall, that would provide the response and feel of a tube amp, “without using power valves,” according to Marshall marketing of the time. Models ranged from the VS15 and VS15R (15 watts and one 8-inch speaker) to the VS30R and the VS65R. These were essentially replaced in 2000 with the MG (Marshall guitar) series, a solid-state line that many feel still gives the classic Marshall sound.

Marshall Amp Costs Today

Today you can purchase a version of the Marshall quality in such items as the purple half-stack, a limited-edition item in the $500 to $600 range. The company produces the Marshall acoustic amplifier for specific uses, such as the AS100D Acoustic Combo Amp ($699). The powerful JCM 800 series prices range from about $2,100 for the half-stack to $3,400 for the full-stack.

As is the case with a few legends among manufactured products, Marshall amplifiers get their best advertising from those who insist on using nothing else. The list of professionals who have used, and continue to use Jim Marshall's amps, include Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, Jack Bruce, Stephen Carpenter of the Deftones (who uses Marshall JCM 800 heads and 1960B cabinets) and Elliot Easton of The Cars. Jimi Hendrix was a true fan of Marshall amps and, coincidentally, his full name was James Marshall Hendrix. The man with a great name and greater talent, Yngwie Malmsteen, and add to the list Jimmy Page, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Keith Richards and Richie Sambora and you have only a partial list of the Marshall amplifier devotees. Slash, with Guns 'n Roses, has a Marshall signature unit.

Suffice to say that when it comes to Marshall amplifiers, the list goes on and on and on and…..

Marshall Amplification - Factory Tour

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Comments 5 comments

connelly73 profile image

connelly73 6 years ago from Motherwell, Scotland

Great hub. Very interesting history and facts about Marshall. I use the Peavey VYPYR15 for recording in my home it is a modeling amp and has a marshall modeled sound on it that sounds great.


Tom McCool 6 years ago

As with all your articles very informative, and well written


scotdmn88 profile image

scotdmn88 6 years ago from Scotland

Yngwie Malmsteen absolutely does not endorse the JCM800. Where did you read that he does? Yngwie uses his own 50 watt MKII non master-volume Marshalls from the early 70's. Sometimes Yngwie uses the DSL50 when he's abroad and doesn't have his own amps with him, but never the JCM800.


Jellyfishaudio profile image

Jellyfishaudio 5 years ago

I have a Marshall Valvestate 8080 with the valve preamp on one channel and love it but I must admit that I would really love to have one of the all valve amps like the JCM800.

I'm actually in business selling valves and other parts for valve amps, so I'm using this as a good excuse to manufacture my own Marshall style turret boards and have already got a head chassis so before too much longer I may have a nice little clone of my dream amp!

By the way, if anyone wants to know a bit more about changing valves in guitar amps, I've written a hub which I hope you will find useful.


louromano profile image

louromano 4 years ago

Woe. fantastic hub.

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