What does the future hold for the biggest name in the industry?
It might be premature to call it a ‘fork in the road’ moment for Marshall Amps. It feels almost sacrilegious to think it; this is after all one of, if not THE, biggest brand a musician can call on. It’s famous logo pervades into the mainstream in a way that perhaps only Gibson and Fender can compete with. Yamaha too, you could argue, although the others don’t have a tidy sideline in quad bikes to boost their coffers, so any genuine comparisons here are moot. Yet the feeling remains that Bletchley’s finest are falling behind in the hearts and minds of musicians everywhere.
It has seen its smaller competitors grow aggressively in a fierce land-grab at every end of the scale. Orange, H&K and Laney have, to some extent, rebooted themselves with clear goals about who they’re targeting. There’s also the small matter of Blackstar, which has rocketed into the major leagues in the past half-decade or so. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that this bold new brand was formed after key members of Marshall’s own R&D team defected over.
And then there’s digital, the futuristic elephant in the room. Not only do brands nowadays need to cater to purists by offering a decent selection of valve-driven amps, there is also huge demand now for the simplicity and versatility which digital modelling brings. Think of the Blackstar ID range, or even higher-end gear like the Kemper Profiling amps, or Fractal’s Axe-FX. People either want every sound under the sun, or they want the authentic tones which only a glowing vacuum tube can bring.
Fridges, whiskey, headphones – these are all fine but musicians wants amps. When was the last time a Marshall amp was released which blew everyone away? Think about the JTM45, the JCM800, Bluesbreaker – all genuine classics which have made their mark on music history. There’s a place for a humdinger of an amp, a proper face-melter, bearing that classic logo.
That’s not to say it can’t regain its position though. You see, what Marshall has is something none of the aforementioned brands have (at least not to the same magnitude) and it has it in spades. History. Heritage. Know-how. Whatever you want to call it. Marshall has been around for donkey’s years, and has been used at some point by pretty much every big name. Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Satriani, Slash. You can’t buy that kind of credibility.
Its recent ‘commercial partnership’ with Swedish software house Softube hints at a promising future. Softube is well regarded and well established in the world of digital modelling, so it figures that this is somewhere on Marshall’s roadmap for the future. If they get this end of the market right, then gazump everyone up at the top end with something properly special, then this classic British brand will regain its position at the top of the pile. Because one thing is for certain, as sure as eggs are eggs – nobody does glorious, dirty British tone better than the big M.
What do you think?
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.