April 05, 2012

This Apparatus Must be Earthed


So Jim Marshall has died, at age 88.

I remember visiting the Marshall factory in Bletchley, Milton Keynes on a UK tour to try to get a troublesome head repaired. The repair didn't wind up working all that well in the long run, as it turned out, but the place was really something.

Everything, outside and in, was color coordinated with the signature black and white, from the building facade to the interior decor, to the outfits worn by the staff at the front of house (business-y looking ladies with black skirts and white blouses.) I showed them the amp, and it was kind of like an entry ticket: they waved us through with hardly a word to a workshop area, where this elderly guy took it apart and twisted a few things before reassembling it. Then he plugged in a guitar (an SG I think), played one ringing chord and said: "nice sounding amp, mate." It did sound nice. It always sounded nice when it made sound at all. (And when it was malfunctioning, it smelled kind of nice too. Memories.) I think it lasted at least another few shows though.

There's a bit of folklore about the ladies who assemble the amplifiers: supposedly each of these assemblies is characteristically if only very slightly different from each other, and some hyper Marshall-y players and sound guys can, it is said, tell from the sound which lady it was that did the assembly on a particular amp. And they'd say things like "ah, this is a Brenda. Or possibly a Gladys. Hm. No, Brenda, I think. Listen to the high end..." I've heard people say that sort of thing, in jest I've always thought. No idea if it's true to any degree at all. (And the old engineer guy didn't mention Brenda, that I remember.)

Whether true or not, though, you can see those ladies working in a line at long workbenches through the windows at one end of the building, and seeing them was one of those inexplicably thrilling moments that happen randomly from time to time. I'll never forget it. Brenda was in there somewhere, she had to be.

Posted by Dr. Frank at April 5, 2012 05:19 PM

It's nice to know that some things are still done the old-fashioned way. Somehow, I'm picturing one of those old Rosie the Riveter scenes from a WWII newsreel in my head!

Posted by: stig at May 2, 2012 06:04 PM
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