Vox Distortion Booster

The Vox Distortion Booster was a battery powered fuzz unit intended to be plugged into a guitar amplifier. It was made by Jennings Musical Industries (JMI) in the 1960s who marketed it thus:

For a really different popular tone effect with a super edge, plug the popular Vox Distortion Booster into your amplifier and listen to a sound that everyone digs. This exciting new VOX product creates harmonics that are non-existent in the fundamental signal, resulting in a totally new tonal effect. It’s “boss!”

Brian May certainly fell for JMI’s inventive marketing copy and fitted the electronics out of one to his newly built Red Special guitar, believing it to offer an easy solution to achieving a distinctive tone that 1984, Smile and later, Queen fans would readily identify.

The electronic circuit was simple featuring eight resistors, six capacitors and two transistors. Early red JMI units featured two ASY51 germanium transistors while later variants used BC108 germanium transistors. Brian mounted the on/off parallel slide switch by screwing one lug into the aluminium switch frame and resting the corner of the opposite lug in a small groove cut into the upper side of the control cavity. The battery mounting clip was located in the base of cavity. These features can be seen in internal photographs of the guitar taken by Greg Fryer during its first restoration which he carried out in 1998.

Brian soon removed the unit and covered up the hole left in the pickguard with a 1/2″ diameter red circular self-adhesive label which intrigued observant Queen fans for years. Greg Fryer filled the switch hole with black resin and the recognisable ‘MayStar’ custom mother-of-pearl inlay during the 1998 restoration.

All the photographs on this page are credited to Luke Holwerda who borrowed the red unit pictured from a vintage guitar and equipment enthusiast in Phoenix, Arizona. He removed the electronics and mounted them into his home made Red Special guitar for the shoot and as you can see, my educated guesswork on the size and position of the switch proved to be accurate.

Further Reading

Vox V8161 Deluxe Distortion Booster Schematic and Components List

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