Vox AC15 vs. Fender Deluxe Reverb: The Differences That Matter

The Fender Deluxe Reverb and the Vox AC15 are roughly the same size, often used by roughly similar musicians to play broadly similar music. Perhaps this is simply to say that they are both extremely versatile and popular amplifiers.

The circuit and overall design behind each of these club-sized classics is quite different, however, and they have different sonic signatures as a result. On one hand, sure—either one might work just fine for your music. But if you want to know which excels at the kind of tone and feel that will help your playing soar, you need to dig a little deeper.

The Deluxe Reverb and AC15 at a Glance

Spec ’65 Deluxe Reverb A.C.15 Custom
Year Launched 1963 1958
Output Power 22 watts 15 watts
Output Tubes 2x6V6GTs 2xEL84s
Combo Configuration 1x12" 1x12"*
Channels 2 2
Reverb Yes Yes**
Tremolo Yes Yes***
Current MSRP $1,099 $882****

  • * 2x10" and 2x12" combos and head versions have occasionally been available
  • ** Reverb included on current AC15 Custom; not available on many vintage AC15s, or on the current handwired model
  • *** Tremolo included on current AC15 Custom and original vintage AC15s and other iterations, but not on current handwired model
  • **** MSRP with Celestion G12M Greenback speaker; $1,120 with Celestion Alnico; AC15 handwired MSRP is $1,820

Prior to diving into the real differences between these two combos, it’s important to note that the specs and configurations of the Vox AC15 have varied a lot more over the years than the Fender Deluxe Reverb’s specs and configurations. This begs the question, "The Deluxe Reverb vs. which AC15?"

Vintage AC15s from 1958 into the late '60s were made with an EF86 pentode preamp tube. Vox’s original handwired reissue from circa 2007—the AC15H1 TV—were made with these preamp tubes as well. This tube adds a somewhat thicker, creamier texture to the amp’s overall character when compared with the more common 12AX7 preamp tube used in the current renditions and in the popular English-made AC15TB of the 1990s.

That being said, the current models still have much in common with their different predecessors. They display several similar sonic characteristics—many of which make any rendition of an AC15 quite different from a Deluxe Reverb—so it’s still easy to differentiate these two classic combos from opposite sides of the pond.

The Deluxe Reverb: Sparkling Cleans and Meaty Twang

The Deluxe Reverb has duly earned its massive popularity over the five-plus decades since its arrival by offering everything that many guitarists need to play a wide variety of music in an easy package.

After the tweed Deluxe of the '50s and the tan-Tolex rendition of 1961-'63, the Deluxe Reverb arrived as the club-sized cornerstone of Fender’s blackface lineup in late '63 or early '64 (histories often claim a '63 origin, though it’s hard to find existing examples from that year).

In addition to the amp’s updated cosmetics, Fender introduced a circuit that provided more control over the amp’s EQ—sandwiching bass and treble controls between two gain stages from one 12AX7 tube per channel—as well as other tweaks that helped derive more headroom from this 22-watt amp.

High voltage supplies and a fixed-bias output stage with a negative feedback loop squeezed maximum power from the 6V6GT output tubes, eliciting a clear and punchy response.

Sonic Calling Cards of the Deluxe Reverb

  • A somewhat "mid-scooped" voice with fairly solid lows for its power rating, and glassy, clear highs.
  • Great pristine cleans at lower volume settings.
  • Classic meaty twang at volume settings approaching mid-way (especially with a Telecaster, Stratocaster, or a Gretsch guitar injected), a characteristic that has helped to make it one of the all-time greatest country amps for recording or club gigs.
  • Sharp, stinging lead tones with the volume cranked up to produce natural tube distortion—a great smaller-amp rendition of the Super Reverb’s archetypal Chicago blues tone.
  • Luscious tube-driven spring reverb and opto-coupler tremolo, which for many are among the finest renditions of these on-amp effects available.

The Deluxe Reverb’s respectable headroom at lower volumes and its general preamp configuration also make it a great foundation for most overdrive pedals. Many Tube Screamer-types are a match made in heaven with this amp, as these amps characteristically have a shy midrange that Tube Screamers fill in.

Fender '65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue
Deluxe Reverb Players
  • Roy Buchanan
  • Chuck Prophet
  • Trey Anastasio
  • Tom Delonge
  • St. Vincent
  • Bill Kirchen

Despite the Deluxe Reverb being good at so much, there are certainly several things that it simply isn’t cut out for. While you might be able to get a faux-Plexi tone out of it with one of the many popular "Marshall-in-a-box" overdrive pedals available, it really doesn’t achieve anything close to those lauded Plexi crunch and lead tones on its own. Also, players who live in the amp-overdrive zone sometimes find its breed of tube distortion overly stinging or a bit "ice-pick-y."

Of course, any amp this size will have its volume limits. The Deluxe Reverb might not be enough on its own to fill many big-arena stages, though many players find its 22-watts surprisingly loud. And since most big stages these days mic amps and feed them through the monitors, the Deluxe Reverb is probably more versatile now than ever before.

The AC15: Classic Chime and Juicy Overdrive

The Vox AC15 was designed by Dick Denney in 1958 for Jennings Musical Instruments (JMI). It is often described as being the first guitar amplifier created specifically with the guitar’s frequency range in mind, rather than merely being adapted from existing tube-amplification circuits.

Regardless, this is an amplifier that segues beautifully from shimmering cleans to toothsome overdrive, and original examples are among the most-prized vintage amps on the collector’s market today.

Among the distinguishing factors of the AC15 design are its cathode-biased output stage with no negative feedback, generating around 15-watts from a pair of EL84 output tubes. As discussed above, the original AC15 and the first handwired reissue (the AC15H1 TV) had an EF86 tube in the preamp; if you’re considering one of those, substitute a little more thickness, creaminess, and fatness into the sound picture painted here versus the added sparkle of the 12AX7-loaded version with a Top Boost EQ stage—also found in the equally legendary AC30.

Sonic Calling Cards of the AC15

  • A beautifully textured, rich voice overall, with lots of sparkle and shimmer from its plentiful harmonic overtones.
  • Chiming and blooming cleans at lower volume settings.
  • Surprisingly delicious Brit-toned twang at lower-mid volume settings, making it an unexpected favorite with a Tele for alt-country and indie-roots.
  • Deliciously chewy, thick, lively tube-amp overdrive when pushed hard, with a delectably sweet midrange.
  • The AC15 hasn’t typically been known for its reverb (although previous renditions of the tremolo are decent), so these effects are bonuses on the current standard model.

Although 15-watts might not sound like much, it really doesn’t yield an appreciably different volume than the Deluxe Reverb’s 22 watts. What the AC15 does give you at this level is a more natural-feeling segue from clean to overdrive when you hit the strings hard, and a slightly looser (but still appealing) low-end due to that cathode-biased output stage with no negative feedback.

Vox AC15C1 1x12"
AC15 Players
  • Vic Flick
  • John Lennon
  • Hank Marvin
  • Gemma Thompson
  • J. Mascis
  • Jeff Tweedy

Some players feel the AC15 isn’t quite as good a pedal platform as other firmer-toned amps its size, and it’s often true that certain overdrives will push these amps’ front ends just a little too hard. The mid-heavy voicing of Tube Screamer-type ODs, for example, can elicit too much midrange mud from an AC15, which already has plenty going on in that frequency band.

Also, some other overdrives and fuzz pedals don’t play nice with the amp’s Top Boost tone stage, inducing harsh highs in particular. Well-balanced overdrives and booster pedals can often help nudge an AC15 into tasty lead-guitar goodness, though. If 15-watts doesn’t seem all that powerful, the amp’s frequency content—and its high saturation of harmonic overtones in particular—can often make it sound surprisingly loud to the ear.

Ultimately, this is a legendary little tone machine that really suits players who want a lot of character in their mild-breakup or cranked-vintage-overdrive tones.

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