Guitar men flock to Wembley for festival of sound - but the amp man steals the show

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A couple of Marilyn Manson lookalikes jostled against a sea of hirsute old rockers and wannabe nu-metallists for a glimpse of the vintage Marshall 100-watt amplifiers.

A couple of Marilyn Manson lookalikes jostled against a sea of hirsute old rockers and wannabe nu-metallists for a glimpse of the vintage Marshall 100-watt amplifiers.

Metres away from the speaker stacks, immortalised by stars such as Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend, sat Jim Marshall himself. A queue of enthusiasts from among the 10,000 people celebrating the guitar in all its many and glorious forms this weekend snaked around him, waiting patiently to pay homage to the man who created the last word in amplification.

Now 79, Marshall remains passionate and bursting with energy on the subject of guitars and the noise they make. Shouting above the din at the Wembley Conference and Exhibition Centre yesterday, he described an age when the guitar greats visited his shop in London in the 1960s.

"Eric Clapton used to sit and practise. And this tall, lanky American with a good sense of humour walked in one day in 1965 to meet me. He turned out to be Jimi Hendrix, who I worked with a lot over the next three years.

"He used my amps to the maximum, which I was happy about. It was never too much. I dare any of these guitar lovers to make as much noise as he did," Marshall said.

Matt Withey, a 19-year-old art student and aspiring professional rocker, could barely contain himself after shaking the amp god's hand: "Without his amps we wouldn't have the sounds we have today." And as guitar riffs and licks screeched around the enormous hall, teenagers and middle-aged boys at heart indulged their air-guitar fancies while others strummed on the latest Fender.

The London Guitar Show 2003 – the first and biggest in the capital for a decade – was showcasing anything from vintage guitars made in the 1950s to psychedelic straps and plectrums made from precious gems. Such an impressive turn-out was testimony to the fact that the guitar was back in vogue after a decade of neglect.

The birth of Britpop, with recent acts including Feeder and Coldplay, has reinstated the "cool factor" into guitar culture, said Clive Morton, who organised the event.

"Schoolkids are setting up bands again and what I call the Harley-Davidson riders – the middle-aged men who have paid off their mortgages and have money to buy a Harley – are buying guitars instead. The ugliest man can once again pick up a guitar and have women saying 'wow'," Mr Morton insisted.

While the Music Industry Association has reported a 20 per cent increase in guitar sales over the past three years, the instrument clearly never left the scene for some diehards. There among the self-confessed guitar geeks, heatedly discussing the pros and cons of Flying Vs and automatic coil-tapping, was a smattering of women.

One was 13-year-old Lara Tinay, there with her family to buy a first guitar. "I'm learning classical at the moment, but I plan to move on to electric," she said. "Very few of the girls in my class are into rock music, but I don't see why girls shouldn't play."

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