Thursday, August 19, 2010

Meet the Father of Loud

Jim Marshall (b. 1923) played a key role in developing the amplified guitar sound of several mid-60's (and later) rock guitarists.  Legend has it that Eric Clapton started much of this when, hanging around Jim Marshall's music shop in London, he requested that Marshall make him an amplifier that would fit in the trunk (boot) of a car.  Marshall did so and Clapton immediately used the combination of the Marshall amplifier with the Gibson Les Paul guitar on the 1966 John Mayall & Bluesbreakers album.  You can hear the now familiar but then never-heard-of-before sound here on the song Hideaway:

BTW, that was John McVie (who later put the "Mac" in Fleetwood Mac) on bass guitar.

Hideaway was a blues number first recorded by Freddie King. Here is the original King version for comparison; note the sound of the guitar:

Legend also has it that Pete Townshend and John Entwistle pioneered the use of higher powered "Marshall Stacks", allegedly in order to hear themselves over Keith Moon's drumming. But it was Jimi Hendrix who really put the Marshall amplifier on the map.

There's a great story about the Marshall sound here.  Who knew that the secret behind Marshall's amps was harmonic overtones?


  1. The mention of harmonic overtones reminded me of this article on vibrato linked at Marginal Revolution:

    A link in that article led me to this one:

    Which led me to the Wikipedia article on the theremin:

    And there I learned that it wasn't a theremin used in Good Vibrations, it was a Tannerin:

    One difference between the theremin and tannerin is that the theremin intentionally generates harmonics while the tannerin does not.

    I love the internet!

  2. oh... and then I read your post on the Beach Boys.

  3. Donna: Thanks for the links. From your first one I found this interesting:

    Before the 2nd World War most players used gut rather than steel strings. A gut string has its own internal quiver due to the irregularity of the natural material, whereas steel is naturally clean and ‘cold’ and in need of vibrato to warm up its sound.

    In the 1970s guitar amps started using more solid state electronic components as opposed to those with vacuum tubes like the Marshall (and Fender) amps. Musicians complained about the crisp clean sound and wanted that old vacuum tube sound. This whole story reminds me of audiophiles who noticed the loss of richness in sound in digitized recording playbacks versus old school vinyl.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!