Marshall 50th Anniversary - An Amp For Every Decade
This news item was uploaded on: 18 January 2012
This year marks the Marshall 50th Anniversary. That's right, Marshall Amplification is celebrating its fiftieth year of rocking the world. It's amazing to think that for half a century now, Jim Marshall OBE and crew have been shaping the sound of rock on stage and in the studio with artists as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Johnson, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Frank Zappa, Richie Kotzen, Trivium and countless others.
So on this, the Marshall 50th Anniversary, let's settle into the easy chair, put on some Jimi and take a look back at one Marshall amp from each decade that defined the Marshall sound.
The first amp to put Marshall on the map was the 45 watt Marshall JTM45, introduced in 1962. Baring many similarities to the Fender Bassman circuit, the guitar version of the Marhsall JTM45 (there were also bass and PA variants) diverged via a few factors including its use of (mostly) KT66 output valves. The resulting tone is more compressed and bottom-heavy than the sounds associated with later Marshalls or the Fender that inspired it, making it a killer amp for fat, singing single note lines. The Blues Breaker combo version became legendary thanks to its association with Eric Clapton when he played with John Mayall, and it's also powered the tones of Gary Moore and AC/DC's Malcolm Young.
The Marshall JMP series of the 1970s - the 2203 100 watt and 2204 50 watt models - was Marshall's first amp line to offer a Master Volume control, allowing players to crank the preamp for extra distortion while reigning back on the power amp for reduced volume. This created a different distortion character to that which players were previously achieving with pushed power valves or fuzz pedals, and every overdrive pedal that we know and love today owes a little something to the Marshall JMP. Famous users include Rush's Alex Lifeson, Ozzy Osbourne's Jake E Lee, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, and Extreme's Nuno Bettencourt.
Thanks to the influence of the Marshall JMP and even cranked-up non-master-volume Plexis, guitar players were already using Marshalls for protoypical low-gain metal, but the Marshall JCM800 was their first amplifier that seemed to just spew brutal, punchy, bottom-heavy metal tones at will. The muscular-sounding Marshall JCM800 is a staple of early 80s metal, and it enjoyed a resurgence in the late 90s thanks to renewed focus on JCM800 devotees like Zakk Wylde and Slayer's Kerry King. There's something magical about using an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer overdrive to push the front end of a JCM800 - each brings out the best qualities of the other, and this is a great rig for screaming blues rock and late 80s LA hard rock tones. The JCM800 was also a popular basis for modifications back in the day, and this is probably why pristine examples are so hard to find. The most prized variation is the original 2203, the 100 watt overlord of the line.
Marshall's big 1990s amp, the Marshall JCM2000, has a special place in my heart: it's the source of my personal tone and an incredibly reliable rock machine on stage. Think of it as a JCM800 with more preamp gain, or a JCM900 with more of that JCM800 body and grunt. The JCM2000 line is available in two flavours: the two-channel Dual Super Lead (DSL) and rougher-sounding three-channel Triple Super Lead (TSL). Players who have beheld the glory of this series over the years include Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith, Jeff Beck, Steve Morse and Nuno Bettencourt. Oh and US instrumental virtuoso Rob Balducci once used mine on a gig too.
In the 2000s Marshall released the Marshall JVM series. Perhaps Marshall's most complex and versatile amp to date, this monster has a whopping twelve channels (three modes of each of four available channels) and MIDI control. It's capable of pristine, sparkling cleans, muscular crunch tones, screaming lead and incredibly distorted scooped-mid death tones. It was this amp that Joe Satriani fell in love with when he realised he needed a Marshall sound for Chickenfoot, and the amp was also the basis for Dave Mustaine's guitar tone on Megadeth's Endgame album.
Looking back at these amps on the Marshall 50th Anniversary, it's interesting to see how their evolving designs paralleled the movement of popular music. From the blues boom of the 60s to the hot-rodded culture of the early 80s to the mega-gain attack of today, there's always been a Marshall that fit the bill perfectly. Yet the old designs are all so good in their own right that they're all still used today.