Why I love the Vox AC30!
From Tom Petty to Brian May, Dave Grohl to The Beatles, the gold trimmed, diamond grilled icon has been a mainstay of rock ‘n’ roll since the swinging ‘60s. In this article we’re going to look at why I love them so much, and why you should go and try one out!
That Classic Vox Sound
For years I was looking for a certain sound. I was on the hunt for something quintessentially British, as opposed to the American sound of Fender’s amp range; something full of mid range bark and a top end that could cut glass.
My first thought was Marshall, after all it’s a British amp brand played by almost every rock god imaginable, but after trying a bunch of amps, everything from JCM800, DSL40 and even the Haze, I just couldn’t get the sound I wanted.
I found Marshall amps I tried lacked something in the mid range, and the top end was “fizzy” sounding and not quite defined enough. It had gain for days, but I was quickly finding out that excessive gain wasn’t what I was looking for (and was actually detrimental to my overall tone).
This is where the Vox came in. The first time I tried a Vox, I fell in love with it’s sound. They are big, bold, chime-y sounding amps with shimmering cleans and thick warm natural overdrive. This jangly 60’s combo can do it all!
The AC30 is an all-valve 30 watt combo featuring two main channels: “Normal” and “Top Boost”. The “Normal” channel is the most idiot-proof channel I’ve ever had the pleasure of using – it features a single volume control. When on this channel, it provides a very pure, undiluted tone; great for that bright and distinct clean sound.
The “Top Boost” channel however, is where I spend all of my time playing. This channel features “Volume”, “Treble” and “Bass” controls and therefore offers vastly superior options for tone shaping. This is as close as Vox really come to “high gain”. Think Queen style classic rock.
The next section is for the Spring Reverb. This massive, washy reverb is synonymous with the Vox sound. The Reverb features a “Tone” control which acts just like the tone control on your guitar. It solely affects the reverb, darkening it and helping you dial in exactly where you want it to sit in the mix. The general rule of thumb is the darker sounding something is, the “further away” it appears in the mix. By utilizing this control you can place the reverb out of the way of your guitar’s tone, giving it more room to breathe.
You can’t talk about the AC30 without talking about the Tremolo. This section of the amp has two controls – “Speed” & “Depth”, and they should be pretty self explanatory! Tremolo is great for adding a little movement to your sound. If I am running two amps in stereo, a cool little trick you can do is to leave the tremolo on one amp and leave the other amp dry. If you haven’t tried this then give it ago!
Lastly let’s talk about the “Master” section. As well as having a master volume, allowing you to control the overall volume of the amp, it also has a “Tone Cut” control. This operates in the power stage rather than the preamp stage of the amp, affording you even more tone-shaping options. One thing to remember about this control is that it works backwards from how you would expect: all the way off is the brightest sound, and all the way on is the darkest, the exact opposite from a guitar tone control!
The AC30 Custom Series makes use of 3 x 12AX7 preamp valves, as well as a quartet of EL84 valves in the power stage that drive 30 watts of power through two 12” Celestion speakers. For additional speaker options, you can choose between either the AC30C2 with G12M Greenback speakers or the AC30C2X that utilises Alnico Blue speakers. Speakers are purely a personal choice and it’s worth trying both to see which you prefer. For those of you haven’t quite reached my level of “guitar nerd”, this is all the good stuff and I highly recommend it. I opted for the AC30C2, but they’re both good options!
I hope this brief overview of this classic amp gives you a better understanding of why I love it, and why I think more people should be playing it. I understand that a 30 watts of valve power may be a little too much for some people; to be honest, the only reason our band has a keyboard player is to help me carry mine – sorry Connan*.
If this amp is to loud for you then I’d advise you to look at the 15 watt AC15 or 10 watt AC10 models. The AC15 is perfect for small gigs, and the AC10 is ideal for achieving those monstrous rock sounds at home!
*Connan is the long haired beardy chap in Dundee’s keyboard department. Say hi the next time you’re in! He’s mostly harmless.