The adjective ‘iconic’ is often over-used in our industry but few would disagree the gold Vox badge on the front of a diamond grille cloth is one of the great icons of electric guitar and rock music.
Vox is arguably the genesis of British rock guitar, and for over 60 years AC15 and AC30 amplifiers have been responsible for creating some of the most inspirational music ever recorded.
Designed by a brilliant team headed up by Dick Denney and Tom Jennings, the 1957 AC15 was Vox’s first proper guitar amplifier and proved to be an instant success.
Vox’s journey took a long and bumpy detour, due to poor business decisions and the departure of Jennings and Denney in the late 1960s. It wasn’t until Vox was rescued by its current owner, the Japanese synth and tech giant Korg in 1992, that things began to get better. Manufacturing was quickly moved offshore to keep prices competitive, and has stayed there ever since.
Vox’s current position as a major global force in musical instrument manufacturing is proof Korg made the right decision, even though purists may have moaned this quintessentially British guitar amp was no longer being made in Britain.
Moan no longer though, because to celebrate Vox’s 60th anniversary (and 25 years of Korg’s custodianship), Vox has released special limited editions of the AC15 and AC30, hand-wired just like the originals and - possibly for the last time - built in the UK.
Like the originals these amps are heavy, thanks to top-grade birch ply, hefty transformers and exclusive Celestion loudspeakers. The AC15 tips the scales at 24kg.
The AC15 has the EF86 valve, which is a crucial part of its fat, punchy midrange. It uses the mixed steel and aluminium ‘L’-shaped chassis, which needs to be removed to change valves. Beyond any doubt, it is manufactured to exceptionally high standards, with painstaking accuracy that extends right down to the egg-shaped footswitch that toggles the Vibrato/Tremolo effect.
Feel and Sounds
With such attention to detail, you’d expect this amp to sound at least as good as the best AC15 you’ve ever heard, and we certainly think it does. It uses an EZ81 valve rectifier. This is crucial to the AC’s dynamic response, and needs a few minutes to warm up and stabilise before the noise levels reduce and the amp is ready to use.
The AC15’s EF86-fuelled punchy overdrive and fat midrange is very rewarding, especially with humbuckers, although it needs to be turned up to nearly three quarters to hear those overdriven sounds, at which point it’s very loud, much more than you’d think for a cathode-biased 15-watt power stage.
It’s worth remembering this amp was intended to be as clean as possible, so there’s a lot of headroom. At lower levels, we plugged in an Ibanez archtop fitted with tape-wound strings and were rewarded with a chillingly accurate sonic recreation of Vic Flick’s Bond theme.
Work with the Vox to discover what that coveted chiming rhythm tone sounds like and you’ll find it, just as you’ll find the addictively edgy intros to Paperback Writer, Day Tripper or Gimme Stitches, among countless other moments of Vox sonic déjà vu. The exclusive UK-made Celestion Alnico Silver loudspeakers fitted to both combos are superb and will sound even better once the cones have had a few more hours of playtime to loosen up properly.
This isn’t just a guitar amplifier, it is a history machine with period-correct looks, painstakingly authentic construction (as far as modern safety legislation will allow) and above all, sublime authentic tones from those hot, cathode-biased EL84 valves which properly deliver everything you’d expect from an original classic Vox.
Aimed at serious professionals, dedicated amateurs and hardcore Vox collectors, these 60th anniversary amps may come with eye-watering price tags, but you’d pay seriously big money for original 1964 models of dubious origin and reliability... if you can find them.
If you’re a player, buying one of the anniversary amps gives you the peace of mind that comes from using reliable, new equipment, while collectors will be happy in the knowledge they’ll probably never lose money on their investment. There are luxury heavy-duty slip covers to protect them, as well.
The AC15HW60 will only be available during 2017 in limited quantities and after that, well, it’s quite possible there will be no more. Ever. These then could be the last hand-wired Vox amps to be made in the UK; they’re fitting tributes to the brilliance of Tom Jennings, Dick Denney, Derek Underwood and the Dartford-era team’s spirit of innovation, that Korg has safeguarded and built on to create today’s modern classics.