Since 1962, Marshall has been producing some of the world's most popular (and powerful) amps. While there are plenty of reasons for their success, there are a few things you should know about this company and the history of their products before you consider buying any.
The Early Years of Marshall
Marshall amps got their start in 1962 when founder Jim Marshall opened up a music store (Jim Marshall and Son) in Hanwell, London after more than two decades performing on the road. He'd gotten involved with music early in life (he'd suffered tubercular bones, and his father suggested tap dancing as therapy), and his experience with equipment quickly began to draw emerging talents in.
It didn't take long for Jim Marshall to notice the demand for newer, better amplifiers - and he responded. The staff at his store began working on their own product (which would eventually be known as the JTM45), and they received more than 20 orders on the first day it was put up for sale.
Things continued for a few years until Pete Townshend (lead guitarist for rock band The Who) demanded a louder sound. To meet this demand, Jim Marshall created the 100-watt amplifier and, briefly, the 8x12" speaker cabinet. This proved too large for effective transport, however, so it was quickly replaced by the iconic "Marshall Stack" of two 4x12" cabinets.
The company exploded at this point as the Marshall brand became connected to influential musicians like Jimi Hendrix. With a reputation for quality increasing demand, the Marshall store moved to a larger location in Bletchley (in 1967) and continued to expand the product line.
A Growing Company
The next major product in the Marshall line was the JCM800 in 1981. Aside from having an aggressively modern sound, this amp also managed to lower production costs down far enough for younger, smaller bands to afford them. With products used by everyone from up-and-coming bands to some of the most well-known musicians in the world, Marshall was everywhere - and only continuing to grow.
However, major releases cooled off for some time. Music technology doesn't advance as fast as many other industries, and most bands were quite happy with the equipment they already had. In 1987, the Silver Jubilee series was released as a stylish 25-year anniversary product, but the next truly major release didn't come until 1997. Indeed, many of their older products are still made and sold today.
For their 35-year anniversary, Marshall launched the DSL range - a series of amplifiers featuring more options and the ability to quickly switch channels. These enhanced the ability of bands to adjust to different playing environments and change their sound between songs, a major plus for the industry.
In 2007, Marshall launched what would become their flagship series, the JVM. Widely considered the powerhouse of a company already known for loud amps, the JVM is a series frequently used by professional bands who want to fill any possible venue with noise.
With the arrival of modern technology, Marshall began to grow and change like never before.
The first big change came in 2010 as Marshall launched their first line of headphones. The line quickly expanded to include earbuds, but nothing quite matches the quality of their primary over-the-ear headsets. Most of their recent products include Bluetooth technology, allowing the headphones to deliver high-quality sounds without the fuss of cords.
In the same year, Marshall absorbed Natal Drums - a big change for the company. To this point, Marshall had only focused on ways of delivering sounds to listeners. With the acquisition of Natal Drums, the company was in a position to start producing instruments as well, and the decades of popularity provided some serious reach within the market.
This choice had some history behind it. Natal Percussion Company launched in 1965, and Jim Marshall sold Natal instruments in his original store. The brand was popularized by world-famous bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, and it was a powerful industry force in its own right. With its UK heritage, emphasis on quality, and wide popularity, the two were a natural fit.
Today, Natal functions as a partially-independent subsidiary and continues to produce its own products.
The very next year (2011) saw the acquisition of Eden Amplification, an American company focusing on bass amps. Marshall was the go-to company for electric guitar amps but didn't have as much presence with bass instruments. The acquisition of Eden quickly changed that, with their products particularly popular among session musicians and technical recording artists.
Things truly went digital in 2016 when Marshall Amps launched the CODE, a programmable digital amp with wireless connectivity and professional quality. Thanks to the robust electronics, this amp can produce a wider variety of sounds in a single package - and the programming helps it keep up with the most complex shows.
In 2017, Marshall launched their next venture - Marshall Records, a new recording label designed to support young musicians. Not content to merely produce equipment, Marshall continues to move forward with the goal of supporting music at every step. Most of these new ventures are only getting started, but it's unlikely the company is going to slow down anytime soon.
The Marshall Amps
Marshall currently sells ten lines of Marshall amps. If you're thinking about buying some for your band, pay attention - each of these products is quite distinct from the others.
The Origin Series
Marshall's Origin series is suitable for all buyers. The new Powerstem technology allows for a reduction in sound without losing quality, making it an excellent match for small environments (even bedrooms) and the use of various FX pedals. Meanwhile, the Pull Boost function provides the option of extra grit and distortion.
The DSL Series
The DSL series offers a flexible and diverse range of options - including master volume controls for each line that makes it easy to focus on specific instruments and support solo segments. For creativity, the sound can range from clean to heavy distortion.
The JVM Series
The JVM line includes some of Marshall's most powerful amps - these are for the stage, not the bedroom! Notable features include two channels with three modes each, a fully mixable FX loop, and a pair of master volume controls.
The CODE Series
Marshall's CODE line is its flagship digital amplifier, and most notably, it's capable of recreating many of Marshall's most popular tones from the past. It's not a digital imitation - it's a faithful recreation of some of their most iconic sounds. This is especially helpful for bands that like to play in a variety of styles.
The MG Gold Series
This line focuses on value as practice amps, complete with an emulated headphone output for silent practice. This makes them equally suitable for everything from a garage band to prepping on-stage, and they're compact enough to be easy to move around.
The Acoustic Line
The Acoustic line is dedicated to acoustic instruments and provides a vintage sound with high clarity and low resonance. For added help, the dual channels make it easy to change the sound of an instrument without changing your voice in the process.
The Handwired Line
It's hard to get more classic than the original Marshall amps - and the Handwired line is built using the same materials, methods, and components as the originals from the 60's and 70's. If you can't find an old amp, this is the closest you're likely to get to the sounds preferred by some of the most famous bands of all time. These function at their best when played at their loudest, so don't get them for quieter venues.
Much like the Handwired line, the Vintage Reissues focuses on recreating some of the most popular sounds of their classic amps. These are especially appropriate for playing songs from the 60's to the 80's - songs newer than that will probably sound better with a more modern amp.
Mini Jubilee Series
The Silver Jubilee series was one of Marshall's iconic lines - but only a limited number were made. The Mini Jubilee line has the same overall construction but functions at a lower power. The silver vinyl and chrome paneling combine to provide a look that's distinctive even among Marshall's easily-recognized products.
Micro Amps Series
Marshall is most famous for its loud sounds - and to be fair, that's what customers asked for. However, the Micro Amps line is designed to provide rich and energetic tones at a quieter and more affordable volume. They're particularly suitable for bedrooms, small venues, or practice on the go.
If you're not sure which model to get, we recommend visiting a local store and testing the models you're most interested in. Specifications and reviews on the internet will only get you so far - you won't know which amps make your music sound the best until you try them out.