The numbers all go to 11 – Jim Marshall RIP

Jim Marshall, died aged 88, on April 5th. Marshall’s name was appended to amplifiers renowned for their power – and were favoured by everyone from Pete Townsend, Jimi Hendrix to Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap.

James Charles Marshall was born in west London on July 29th 1923. Jim took tap dancing lessons and he sang in local dance halls. Invalided out of the Army during the war, he worked in engineering and joined a seven-piece band playing drums.

Marshall saved enough money by giving drum lessons to start his own business selling drums. In July 1960 he began stocking guitars and amps. Among the musicians who visited was Ken Bran, of the band Peppy and the New York Twisters. He joined Marshall as an engineer, and suggested that instead of buying and reselling amplifiers made by others they design and market their own. They set about producing an amplifier that could match the unvarnished spirit of rebellion permeating 1960s rock music.

Around 1962 the Marshall amp was ready to go on sale. By 1964 the first Marshall factory, with 16 employees, was producing 20 amps a week.

Among those who adopted the amps was Jimi Hendrix. In 1984 Marshall was awarded the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement andwas invited to Hollywood to add his hand prints to the “Rock and Roll Walk of Fame”.

In the rock documentary ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, guitarist Nigel Tufnel shows filmmaker Marty DiBergi around his collection of guitars. Coming to his Marshall amps, he pauses to point out a special feature – customised control dials, including the volume knobs.

Tufnel: “The numbers all go to 11. Look, right across the board, 11, 11, 11, 11 and …”

DiBergi: “Oh, I see. And most amps go up to 10?”

Tufnel: “Exactly.”

DiBergi: “Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?”

Tufnel: “Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not 10. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at 10. Where can you go from there?”

DiBergi: “I don’t know.”

Tufnel: “Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?”

DiBergi: “Put it up to 11.”

Tufnel: “Eleven. Exactly. One louder.”

DiBergi: “Why don’t you just make 10 louder and make 10 the top number and make that a little louder?”

Tufnel: “These go to 11.”

Marshall capitalised on the association by producing a special promo featuring Tufnel rhapsodising about a new Marshall amp that “goes up to 20”. “There’s another nine,” says Tufnel. “All the volume you could need. And maybe more.”

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