A mini guide to the Vox AC30, a Musical Icon loved the all over the World
The Vox AC30 guitar amp is one of those bits of gear that seems as though it has always been there. First released in 1958, the AC30 ‘s distinctive cloth fronted cabinet and gold badge are instantly recognisable. Here we present a mini-guide to the amp, and the impact it has had on the musical World.
The Original Vox AC30…
Although the Vox AC30 is undoubtedly the more well known of the two, it actually was conceived as a ‘bigger brother’ to the older, and smaller AC15. Initially, the newer amp did not have the appearance of modern models, and featured a ‘TV-Fronted’ design that was more popular at the time (that is, it had a distinct ‘window’ cut into the front panel for the grille cloth).
The early models were based around a single 1 x 12” 60W Goodmans speaker, with a twin channel, twin input amplifier design, with EL34 power amp tubes, and an EF86 pre-amp tube. However, this initial model was not available for long, before Vox updated it. The new version switched the EL34 power amp valves for EL84s, and offered it in the original 1 x 12” format, and a new 2 x 12” version. These new models increased the power, with the 2 x 12” increasing projection, making it ideal for larger venues.
The birth of the British guitar sound
In 1960 the Vox AC30 was restyled, and lost the ‘TV’ style look, in favour of the classic appearance we know today. The grille was now covered in the trademark brown diamond cloth, with three leather strap handles and the famous, gold Vox badge.
It was, perhaps, at this time that the AC30 was updated to the form that would see it become a musical icon. The EF86 tubes were switched for ECC83s, which fixed reliability issues. Crucially, however, by this point Vox was using the legendary Celestion G12 ‘Greenback’ speakers. When Vox started to offer the AC30 with an optional ‘Top Boost’ circuit to the rear. The distinctive, chiming Vox sound was born.
The amps gained a following very quickly, in part due to the fact that they were one of very few British companies catering solely to the needs of guitarists. The Shadows were among early adopters, as was Bert Weedon. But it was in 1962, when George Harrison purchased his first AC30, that the Vox sound began to reach a truly global audience. The amp became synonymous with the British ‘pop’ sound. Since then, artists from Queen’s Brian May, to Rory Gallagher, Jonny Greenwood, Matt Bellamy and just about anyone else who needs that classic, ‘jangly’ sound…
The Vox AC30 today
The modern Vox AC30 is available in three different versions. The most affordable version is the AC30VR Valve Reactor model. This hybrid amplifier employs a 12AX7 valve in the power stage, but feeds changing speaker impedance information back to the Valve Reactor Circuit. This provides the response and tonality of a valve amp, but with the lower weight, and at a lower price.
The AC30 Custom is a modern all-valve version of the classic AC30, but with some modern day ‘tweaks’ that make it more versatile and convenient for today’s player. A switch-able 8/ 16 Ohms output allows an additional speaker cabinet to be added, and a second 16 Ohm output allows a cabinet to be connected alongside the internal speakers. An effects loop, provides a convenient means of hooking up a pedal board or effects unit, and the Vox AC30 Custom is available with either Celestion ‘Greenbacks’ or Alnico Blue speakers.
For those for whom only the premium model will do, the Vox AC30 Hand-wired provides a vintage styled and hand assembled version of this classic. A hot/ cool switch on the top-boost channel, and a OP switch that halves the amps output add further to the AC30 Custom’s already broad tonal palette. The hand-wired model is available with either Celestion Greenback or Alnico blue speakers, or as an amp head, each in a distinctive vintage fawn finish.
The Vox AC30 is an amp with a sound that has defined guitar music for generations. With the model as popular now as ever, it seems it will be around for some time to come…
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