The History of Marshall
This is an age of information, and there are many people writing ‘authoritative guides’ on many subjects. Michael Doyle is no exception, and his book ‘The History Of Marshall’ is an extremely popular tome. There are quite a few books on the history of Fender guitars and amplifiers, but Mr. Doyle has written the only reference guide dealing with Marshall amplifiers. The ‘original’ (subtitled ‘The Sound of Rock’) was a very small offering (67 pages measuring 7″ X 10″), and was published in a time when the market for these types of reference works was uncertain. However, when the original was long out-of-print, the demand for copies (as well as the sounds of the cash register tallying up the sales of recent Fender books) prompted Mr. Doyle to ‘rewrite’ his telling of the Marshall tale. Now far larger than the first offering (254 pages measuring 8″ X 11″), it features many color photographs of some very nice vintage Marshall amplifiers. Also included are samples of early catalogs, Marshall schematics, as well as a very thorough Celestion overview.
To review this book is difficult. Obviously, Mr. Doyle writes as an ardent admirer of Marshall amplifiers. Also obvious is the ‘fact’ that Mr. Doyle hasn’t much technical training in electronic servicing. Dealing with the love affair with Marshall amplifiers; his case is strong, without many counter arguments available. Unfortunately Michael claims his favorite Marshall in the JCM800 range is the 100-watt channel switching head(!), and he further displays a doting attitude by playing spin-doctor to the JCM900 and the ‘2000‘ line (not to be confused with the JCM2000). Putting my own bias aside, those two lines have servicing nightmares, and are not considered ‘good’ sounding Marshall amplifiers. Perhaps it is the Neanderthal in all of us, but most guitar players prefer to ‘keep it simple, stupid’. There is a line, on page 48, which states “When I consider the prodigious number of products built by Marshall over the years, I am surprised at how few misconceived amplifiers they have built”. Conception is one thing, execution is another, Mr. Doyle. The 2000 series amplifiers did not ‘catch on’ apparently because of a high retail cost and their ‘sophistication’ was lost on mere mortals.
There are other quirks I wish Michael had addressed. Perhaps in a third ‘edition’?
- I would liked to have seen an evolutionary display of circuit boards, filter capacitor arrangements, etc. There is a brief glimpse of a few chassis layouts, but this is just a tease. The real Marshall fanatic would like to be able to differentiate between American and Canadian imported amplifier, as well. Lastly, when did Daly filter capacitors give way to LCR capacitors? Why do some Marshall amplifiers have five filters, while others have six filters?
- Speaking of Canadian, why do the Canadian Marshall amplifiers have 906 internal fuses, when the Bassman they copied had just one primary fuse? Who did Jim piss-off at CSA? Enquiring minds want to know.
- What happened to the JTM60? These were ‘decent’ amplifiers, but utilized 5881 output tubes, and Eminence speakers. Very ‘un-Marshall’, but quite reasonably priced amplifiers. They also tend to sound much more ‘American’ (i.e. ‘Fender‘). Still, there is no reason to omit these amplifiers entirely from a book purporting to be a history ‘Lesson’. Unless of course the JTM60 missed England, and the publication of this updated book. The book was published in 1993; I do believe the JTM60 was out then as well.
- I really wish there had been a chapter discussing the ‘mod’ merchants, and why someone would feel a need to modify a perfectly good amplifier. Of course, some modifications do not leave battle scars, and are intended to promote reliability. Those ‘modifications’ I have no trouble with, and I do them myself. It’s the extra gain stage/FX Loop butchers that irritate me to no end. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few photographs like those shown below.
As you can see, a perfectly good ‘Plexi’ Marshall is now worthless. There are many things to cringe at the sight of here, leading me to one unavoidable question; ‘Why not just buy another amplifier?’ I understand that all of this may not really be noteworthy points, nor is this dark side necessary to learn about the history of Jim Marshall’s amplifiers. But it is an interesting avenue to explore; as good as the products were, you cannot deny the history of technicians who honestly(?) believed they could make them even better. As a Fender parallel; everyone thinks they have a noiseless single-coil pickup that still sounds like a single-coil, or a better guitar tremolo system, despite how good the original products are as initially intended.
In the end, though, the book The History Of Marshall is still well worth owning. The pictures alone invite envy, and the schematics sure come in handy. It is well written (although a little obsequious at times), and contains a lot of information to absorb. There are still many questions left unanswered, although reading ‘between the lines’ may help. Reading 254 pages ‘normally’ is enough of a challenge, so I don’t think I’ll be reading between the lines myself at any time soon.