Launched in 2003 and retailing at US$199/£149, the Vox VBM-1 Brian May Special amplifier remains a popular choice for guitarists seeking to replicate Brian May’s signature tones at low volumes and on a limited budget despite being discontinued in 2005. It was designed to fulfil a specific purpose: to replicate the distinctive sounds of the legendary Deacy amp and remained the only satisfactory way of achieving this until 2011 when the KAT Brian May Deacy amp replica became available.
The Vox VBM-1 has a robust construction and trademark looks guitarists will associate with its bigger brothers such as the AC15 and AC30 and is an attractive unit with white tolex, white plastic corner protectors and gold fasteners. It is mains-powered only; there is no provision for a battery that busking musicians might appreciate although it has some convenient features such as a velcro loop to retain the coiled power lead and an output for headphones or direct recording to a computer or mixing unit. You can download the owner’s manual in PDF format here:
There are no official, specific demonstration videos on the internet but there are numerous amateur recordings including some which compare the sound to the Deacy style amplifiers. However, Brian himself played through three of these Vox VBM-1 amplifiers at the launch of the Red Special book in London in November 2014. The 40 minute presentation was recorded and is available on the official Queen YouTube channel. The six minute uninterrupted passage beginning with some simulated whale sounds lasts from time index 20m 28s to 26m 26s:
Nigel Knight of KAT has made available two useful and affordable upgrades to the Vox VBM-1 amplifier which prospective buyers and owners should consider. The first is a custom made 1m long bypass cable which allows the use of an external treble booster in preference to the internal circuitry and sells for £18 plus shipping. The second is a drop-in upgrade to the factory-fitted 6.5 inch speaker which costs £35 plus shipping. The KAT DSP 6.5″ TC speaker was developed primarily as a replacement for the out-of-production Celestion G6 unit. It has an on-board filter network that tailors the frequency response to yield the full bodied mid range tones of the actual Deacy but without the high frequency ‘fizz’ prevalent in many 6.5″ twin-cone drivers.
Tip from the owner’s manual: to sound exactly like Brian’s homemade treble booster/Deacy set-up, use the following settings:
- GAIN control on full (10)
- GAIN switch in the HIGH (pushed in) position
- TONE control in the centre (0)
- VOLUME control at the ‘Maystar’ symbol (50%)
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 13.3 x 11.8 x 6.9 inches (338 x 300 x 175 mm)
- Weight: 12 lbs (5.6 kg)
- Output Power: 10 Watts RMS
- Speaker: 1 x 6.5″ custom-voiced, full-range speaker
- Inputs: 1/4″ jack socket
- Outputs: Booster output, external speaker and recording/headphone line out.
- Controls: gain, tone and volume, gain (high/low) push switch, power switch with LED
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