Although the first amplifier was a three-way collaboration between Marshall, Craven and Bran, it was Marshall alone who devised the concept of the imposing tower of speakers now recognized throughout the world as the Marshall stack. Such a wall of Marshalls became the ultimate statement of rock-star machismo: the Swedish heavy-metal guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen once boasted that there were two structures visible from space: “the great wall of China and my Marshall amplifiers.” However, even in the mid-1970s, arguably the days of peak rock indulgence when Kiss was touring with up to 18 stacks, it was a closely guarded secret as to how many of them were actually switched on.
Marshall explained that the idea for the stack came about as a result of a volume war being raged within the Who. “Pete Townshend wanted a cabinet containing eight 12-inch speakers. I told him it would be impossible to lift — and I was right. So we tried cutting the cabinet in half and putting one on top of the other.”
Jimi Hendrix paid the stack a backhanded compliment, claiming that it looked like “a bunch of refrigerators strung together.” Marshall was initially suspicious when his former drum pupil Mitch Mitchell introduced him to the then unknown guitarist he had begun playing with. “I thought, ‘Hello, here’s another American who wants something for nothing.’ But Jimi offered to pay for his gear if I would provide service and support for him anywhere in the world. And Jimi was, of course, brilliant for the brand — not only because of his groundbreaking playing, but also because of his tremendous showmanship. As a result, I’ve often referred to him as Marshall’s greatest ambassador.”
Yet, if Hendrix was the brand’s greatest ambassador, the second greatest may have been a guitarist who didn’t really exist. Even rock fans who care little about how all the sounds are produced are familiar with the scene from the spoof 1984 rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap in which guitarist Nigel Tufnel, played by Christopher Guest, shows off an amp specially modified so that the volume controls go up to 11. “That’s one louder, innit?” he says.
“The ‘one louder’ catchphrase proved very popular,” said Marshall. “Christopher Guest was just fantastic when we did the launch for the JCM900 series in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. We drove there together and, as soon as he stepped out of the limo, he instantly became Nigel Tufnel — and he didn’t go out of character for a second. But then I’ve been very fortunate with the people who supported me over the years.”
These have included Paul Kossoff of 1970s legends Free (big hit: All Right Now); Kerry King of thrash metallists Slayer; and the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, who testifies to the special bond that developed when Marshall helped him out of a spot of bother. “He took great care of me personally, ever since we first met in the early 1990s. At that time, he did the unprecedented — he had a brand new amp designed for me when my Marshall amps were destroyed in a Guns N’ Roses concert riot in St Louis in 1991. We were friends ever since.”