Vintage Vox AC30/6 Gear Story

I appreciate objects more when they have a provenance, history or story behind their creation and use. In 2013 I began to feel the allure of British heritage musical equipment in the specific form of vintage Vox AC30 amplifiers. I started researching them and scanning eBay for an example in very good cosmetic and electronic order. I wanted to be able to use it in the home and for it to look good, so a tatty example, of which there were many, would not be acceptable.

In February 2014, I travelled by train down to Henley Street, Luddesdown in Kent collect a Vox AC30/6 amplifier from a guy called Tim Adams. He worked in the Kent police but was also a semi-professional rhythm guitar player and vocalist in a band he co-founded in 1982 called The Runaways. In the 1980s and 90s The Runaways worked alongside famous names in the world of entertainment and as the backing band to original singing stars of the fifties and sixties. They also appeared as special guests on BBC radio stations across the country and have made appearances on London Weekend Television and Sky TV.

However, desiring a ‘copper top’ JMI AC30/6 head, I eventually sold the perfectly serviceable grey panel head and bought a Vox AC30 chassis dated to 1963 from Danny Handley in May 2015. Danny is a professional musician and plays with the modern incarnation of The Animals: The Animals and Friends. A great connection since my dad’s all time favourite track is House Of The Rising Sun. Shortly afterwards, in June 2015, Danny offered me a near mint Vox AC30 cabinet 12011T with serial plaque. In retrospect, he regretted selling it, but it has had a good home since.

I retained the superb re-coned vintage Celestion blue speakers from the original amplifier I bought from Tim Adams; if I could source a set of vintage Celestion blue speakers in very good condition, the amplifier would almost be a museum piece, although it was not my express intention to create a perfect collector’s item. I did spot a set of perfect vintage blues on eBay which had been salvaged from a factory public address system. Needless to say that these fetched a high price and I couldn’t afford them at the time.

Further Reading

In April 2014 I bought a deluxe edition of the superb reference book entitled “Vox Amplifiers: The JMI Years” by Jim Elyea (History for Hire press):

A relative bargain at US$150, it offers the enthusiast a complete and accurate history of the golden age of the Vox amplifier. Told in a clear, concise style, it covers all aspects of Vox amplifiers from before their inception in 1957 through the end of the JMI-era in the late 1960s. Twelve years in the making, this 682 page book contains many behind the scenes stories, providing an insider’s perspective on the rise and fall of Jennings Musical Industries and Vox amplifiers. Inside the 9½” x 12″ hardcover format are hundreds of hi-resolution photos of over 100 vintage Vox amplifiers, hundreds of contemporary photos from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as details from dozens of vintage Vox catalogues and promotional items.

Sections include:
1. The history of Vox, in the context of guitar amplifiers and British and American music.
2. A series of chapters detailing the various components that make up Vox amplifiers including cabinets, coverings, speakers, grille cloths, valves, handles, etc.
3. The entire process of making an amplifier, including production totals.
4. Details of each of the Vox amplifier models, covering their developments and circuits. A large chapter in this section rates 45 different models of Vox amplifiers for their sound, and for their suitability for live, studio, and home use.
5. 100 pages on the artists that used Vox amplifiers, with The Shadows and The Beatles each having their own chapters. There are plenty of gear shots, including some unseen and rare photographs of The Beatles.
6. How to date your amplifier using date codes, serial numbers, serial number plates and a month-by-month chart for dating AC30 Twins.
7. A full Vox chronology and a full listing of JMI employees along with source materials.

The special deluxe limited edition version of 1000 copies are each signed and numbered by the author and also include a second schematics portfolio book containing 70 large format facsimile schematics and blueprints of Vox amplifiers, many as large as 11″ x 17″. A number of these are rare and include the AC2, AC4, AC6, AC10, AC15, AC30 (including the EL34 version, the 4-input, and the early version of the 6-inut model), AC50 (including 2-input), AC100 (cathode and fixed bias), T60 (and Transonic 60 and Lightweight Thirty), all hybrid models, all solid state models, and the echo and reverb units.

In an effort that has taken four artists hundreds of hours, each schematic has been painstakingly restored (not simply redrawn). Each drawing is printed on a vintage-style blueprint paper virtually the same as used by JMI for the originals. The schematics are beautiful enough to be mounted and framed as art pieces. There is absolutely nowhere else to obtain original-style Vox schematics of this quality. Both books come housed in a very special slip case resembling a fawn AC30 in its olive green protective rexine cover.

A good technical reference is “The Vox AC30 Guide” by Stephen Grosvenor. The book was originally intended for the use of service engineers, however it has also proved to be very popular with Vox AC30 owners and enthusiasts:

Also pictured above is the very informative book “The Vox Story” written by Dave Petersen and Dick Denney which is indeed a complete history of the legend. The book is out of print but copies can be found on eBay from time to time.

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