Vox-curious? Find the Right Vox Amp for You

If there is a “Big Three” in the amplifier world, Vox claims one of those spots. Everyone from The Beatles and Rolling Stones, to Pearl Jam and Radiohead, uses or have used Vox amplifiers to project their guitar sounds and deliver legendary tone to the masses. Jennings Musical Industries, or JMI, created the AC15 in 1958 and the rest is history. Since then, Vox has been through numerous ownership changes, most recently being acquired by Korg in the early ‘90s. Despite the company changing hands, Vox products remain true to its heritage, and now includes an extended range of amplifiers for players looking for a more modern sound. You may have looked at all the different amplifiers and wondered what the difference is. You may have also ask yourself “Will this be loud enough?”. Let’s go through the Vox lineup and see what’s out there. For the purpose of this article, I’ve chosen to highlight the current Custom and Handwired lineups offered by Vox.

AC4

The AC4, as you might have guessed, pumps out four watts of EL84 tube power. Currently, Vox makes several versions—the AC4C1 and AC4TV feature a 10-inch speaker, while the limited edition AC4C1-12 has a 12-inch speaker. The C1 versions have a master volume, while the TV has a three-way output switch, and each has an external speaker output jack. The 10-inch version is more punchy and direct, while the 12-inch speaker gives more depth and bass response to the overall sound. They are similar in size and price, so it really comes down to what you are looking for. A lot of players will opt for the 12-inch version because that is the standard bearer guitar speaker size. However, if you are using the 10-inch version for recording or even gigs, there’s no way you’re not miking it, so two more inches of speaker may not be a big enough difference to persuade you to pay extra. And if you’re going to run it through another speaker cabinet, you may want to opt for the smaller 10-inch. One other noteworthy difference is the 10 and 12-inch C1 versions include two 12AX7 preamp tubes compared to the AC4TV’s one, creating a different gain structure. Overall, any version of the AC4 is a great entry point for players curious about the Vox sound. It’s an inexpensive and fun way to find out if you want to investigate further.

AC10

The AC10C1 is the latest AC entry from Vox. Featuring a 10-inch Celestion VX10 speaker, a pair each of 12AX7 and EL84 tubes, Top Boost circuit, digital reverb, and a weight coming in under 30 pounds, the AC10 is a tiny chimey monster. I personally own this model in a limited edition tan color scheme and I absolutely love it. It has the Vox sound in spades, is easy to carry around, and looks freaking cool. I’m also pleasantly surprised with the digital reverb. Truth be told, when I use reverb it usually comes from a pedal, but there’s nothing wrong with the Vox ‘verb. It goes from subtle to splashy, and I actually find it more useable than the real spring reverb included on the larger AC15/30. The simplicity of this amp is wonderful. It has one input, and Gain, Bass, Treble, Reverb, and Master Volume controls allow you to dial in your tone without hassle. This amp is a bit on the bright side, which makes it a good match for guitars with darker humbuckers, but I’ve never found it to be overwhelmingly shrill. I’ve had no problem using it unmiked at a three-piece (guitar, bass, drums) band practice, and it’s my amp of choice lately for shows because of its small size. It’s still loud as all get out, and this is the perfect Vox for someone seeking authentic, giggable AC tone without spending tons of cash.

AC15

The AC15 is the one that started it all, and the AC15C1 has been an extremely popular amp since it was introduced to the market several years ago. The standard version features one 12-inch Celestion Greenback speaker, Normal and Top Boost channels, tremolo and spring reverb, a global cut control and a master volume. Other models are available with options such as a Celestion Alnico Blue speaker, or two Greenbacks in the AC15C2. If you want the classic Vox sound with all the extras, but don’t want the weight of the AC30, this is for you. It should be noted, however, that the AC15 is no featherweight, coming in around 50 pounds. It has a great clean sound, and enough headroom to use your favorite dirt pedals, although you’ll want to experiment to find out what works best, as Vox amps can be a tad finnicky with fuzz, overdrive and distortion (check out some other Tone Report articles for pointers on that). Having the Normal and Top Boost channels available gives you a lot of versatility. The Normal side can be nice and mellow with a light touch, so if you play a bit of jazz, you can get there. Turning it up gives you raw overdrive reminiscent of the early 60s mod movement. The Top Boost side is a bit hotter, and using the Treble and Bass controls in conjunction with the cut function allows you to get your jangle on or roar like a British lion.

AC30

The AC30 features the same control set as the 15, with a few additions. The Normal and Top Boost channels both have High and Low inputs, and the reverb has its own tone control. It also has an effects loop so you can use your favorite effects uninhibited while churning out nasty riffs with that wicked Vox crunch. Available in a 2x12 combo with either Greenback or Alnico Blue speakers, this is the Vox amplifier you want for all of your rock and roll stadium gigs. It is extremely loud, and extremely satisfying if you’re able to turn it up to the point of sweet saturation. If you must use an AC30, consider using an attenuator if you’re looking to get natural tube distortion, because this one will peel the paint off the walls. The AC30 (and AC15) is also available in head form, allowing you to pair it with your favorite speaker cab. Having a 2x12 setup does yield a wider, richer sound, and it’s a blast to play through. The only drawback is the weight—this is one hefty amplifier, coming in around 70 pounds. You’d be wise to have some sort of amplifier cart to move it on, unless you consider getting hernias a recreational activity.

Handwired

Last, but certainly not least, is the Handwired series. Featuring all of the aforementioned amplifiers with the exception of the AC10 (maybe that’s next? Hint, hint, Vox), the Handwired lineup represents the finest quality amplifiers made by Vox today. The AC4 comes in a 1x12 combo with a Greenback speaker, while the AC15 comes in a combo with your choice of a Greenback or Alnico Blue. The AC30 comes in combo form with Greenbacks or Blues, and is also available in a head with a matching 2x12 speaker cab. While none of these amps have reverb or tremolo, they do feature footswitchable Cool and Hot modes, giving you access to extra gain when you need more punch, or if you just prefer playing without pedals. The Master volume is also defeatable—you can remove it from the circuit completely if you’re a purist and prefer to simply crank the volume. The 15 and 30 have a half power switch, allowing you to tame the output when needed. Each amp is handwired point-to-point on a turret board and the cabinets are made from solid wood, ensuring soulful resonance. Oh, and they all come in a gorgeous fawn vinyl covering. If you want authentic, top-of-the-line Vox tone, look no further.

Even if the Vox tone isn’t your main amplifier sound, you need to have one in your collection. Whether it’s the pint sized AC4, the overachieving AC10, or the classic AC15 and AC30, there’s a lot to love with each of them, and they give you a sound you can’t get anywhere else.

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