Vox Chronicles - The story of Vox
Vox has a heritage that no other music company can boast. Throughout the 1960s it was one of the greatest innovators of music technology and the name Vox was associated with many top and new artists of the decade such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Shadows. Forty years later, after six changes of ownership, it is still surviving in what has become one of the worlds most competitive markets. Now there is a whole new generation of Vox users, many because of their aspirations and respect for the many artists who rely on Vox for their sound. So here is a brief overview of the history of Vox and how it became one of the best-know amplifier brand.
CHAPTER ONE - The Begining and the AC30
February 28th 1917 - Thomas Walter Jennings was born in Hackney, London.
1941 - Tom Jennings receives a medical discharge from the Royal Engineers during World War II and takes a job with a munitions plant, Vickers in Kent. Here he meets Dick Denney, another amateur musician who played guitar and also had keen interest in radio and electronics.
1944 - An accomplished accordion player, Tom Jennings opens up a part-time business trading in second hand instruments, mainly accordions.
1945 - At the end of the war Jennings and Denney went their separate ways and Jennings made his business a full-time occupation.
1946 - Tom Jennings acquired his first commercial premises and an office at 119 Dartford Road, Dartford, Kent. The business started to import accordions for sale along side other musical items. Late 1940's - Jennings produces an electronic single voice keyboard\organ type instrument called the Univox. This eventually went on to sell well and provided funds for Jennings to expand.
1951 - Tom Jennings forms The Jennings Organ Company.
1956 - With the Rock-n-Roll revolution underway, Jennings started to modify the amplifier section from his electronic organs for the electric guitar. But with limited success, the project was shelved. Meanwhile, convalescing after a serious illness, Dick Denney had continued to experiment with guitars and amplification and had made a 15-watt unit with a 12-inch speaker. This had an effective sound for guitar and later a tremolo unit was added.
After building a couple of these amplifiers, a colleague took one into Tom Jennings shop and days later Tom Jennings was offering Dick Denney a job.
1957 - After Dick Denney took up the position of chief engineer, Jennings Musical Instruments (JMI) was incorporated with Tom Jennings and his wife as directors.
Jan 1958 - JMI produce a 15-watt guitar amplifier under the brand name VOX. It was called the AC15 as is was an amplifier and speaker combined with 15 watts output.
1958 - Tom Jennings leased shop premises at 100 Charing Cross Road, London with a view to sell Fender guitars and eventually Vox amplifiers. With the Rock-n-Roll scene becoming stronger, Cliff Richards backing band, The Shadows, acquire AC15s and people started to notice the clean guitar sound. Soon, other new artists were using the Vox AC15, Bert Weedon, The checkmates with singer Emile Ford, The Migil Five and the Joe Loss Band.
Late 1958 - Vox produce the AC4 and the AC10. The AC4 was a 4-watt practice amplifier with an 8-inch speaker. The AC10 was a 10-watt cut down AC15 with a 10-inch speaker.
With the arrival of the 60-Watt Fender Twin amplifier from the USA and bigger venues being used for performances, there was now a need for a louder Vox amplifier. Reluctant to use two AC15s in tandem, it was suggested to "twin" an AC15. Finding that the EL84 valve used in the AC15 gave superior result to the more powerful EL34 valve, it was decided to use four EL84 valves instead of just two EL34s which was more usual for amplifiers with around a 50 Watt output. The mains transformer and rectifier valve were upgraded in the power supply and a bigger 30 watt output transformer used. A single Goodmans Audiom 80 speaker was fitted. The results were not ideal for the guitar and reluctantly the size of the amplifier was increased to accommodate two 15 watt Goodmans speakers. The earlier problems were now gone and the AC30 was born. Officially the AC30/4 because it had four inputs, two for the normal channel and two for the Vib/Trem channel or Vibravox channel, as it was known.
Late 1959 - The Shadows take delivery of three AC30s. Not totally satisfied with the results of either the Goodmans Audiom or Celestion G12 speakers, a new speaker was developed by Celestion using an alnico magnet and painted blue, it became known as the Vox "Blue" speaker and became instrumental in the Vox sound and its success.
July 1960 - The Shadows reach number one with their first instrumental, Apache. With the sound of the AC30 clearly noticeable, Vox's name was soon to become known as the best of British amplifiers.
Late 1960 - The AC30 was revised. By using the more reliable ECC83 (12AX7) valve in the pre-amp stage a third channel was added. This was the Brilliant channel and had its own pair of inputs increasing the total number of inputs to six. This new model was renamed the AC30/6. There was a slight difference in sound noticed by some players who felt that the AC30/6 did not have the same clarity, so in 1961 a extra piece of circuitry that could be added to an AC30 was offered by Vox as an option to new and existing AC30s. This unit was the Brilliance unit and was in the Vox catalogue as the Top Boost unit. It added an extra panel on the back with a bass and treble control for the Brilliance channel
CHAPTER TWO - The 60's and 70's
1961- The first Vox guitar were now on sale. The Stroller and the Clubman. These were low cost budget models made for Vox by a furniture maker, and were comparable to other similar models available at the time.
1962 - Not content with making low cost guitars that looked like American imports, Tom Jennings decided that a more original design of higher quality was needed. After teaming up with Italian guitar maker, EKO to provide the necks, one of Vox most famous guitars appeared in late 1962. With a trapezoid shaped body it was named the Vox Phantom. Also in 1962, AC30s started to be made covered in black vinyl as well as the usual blonde vinyl and the Beatles start a long a prosperous association with Vox taking delivery of some new AC30s.
1963 - The Phantom was now very successful and used by many top artist of the era including the Dave Clark Five and the Hollies.
Late 1963 - Vox produce the Phantom Mk III guitar. Completely different in shape to the early Phantom guitar, this rounder, lute shaped instrument went on to become Voxs most famous guitar shape. Soon it was simply known as the Teardrop guitar. The very first hand built example was used and made famous by Rolling Stones founder member Brian Jones. Semi-acoustic guitars were also very fashionable and the Vox Victor was made in the style of a Hofner and the Vox Verithin that was more like a Gibson 335. The black coloured AC30s were now very popular and soon the blonde coloured ones were phased out and a new Vox amplifier arrives, the AC50.
1964 - The success of the Vox guitars meant that the range would expand. And soon there were not only 6-string lead and 4-string bass version of the Phantom and Teardrop but 12-string versions. Also by 1964 Vox were making a short scale 12-string guitar know as the Mando guitar because of its mandolin style attributes.
A major part of the Jennings Musical Industries business at the time was still electronic organs. Earlier in 1962 the Continental I organ was launched but because of the strong Vox name it was marketed as the Vox Continental I organ. The technology from this organ led to one of Voxs really true innovations of the time. The Vox Guitar Organ was a guitar that contained the oscillator circuits from the Vox continental organ. By holding down the strings, the organ tone would sound and could be combined with the sound of the guitar.
Dick Denny continued to be creative and soon the Vox catalogue contained the Vox Echo machine, Vox Radio Microphone and the first Vox transistor amplifier, the T60. Also, the Top Boost add-on for AC30s was now integrated into the design and construction of the AC30, and it became known as the AC30 Top Boost.
The sound of the Vox Continental found more success with The Animals reaching number one with The House of the Rising Sun. Also at the same time is could be heard on Manfred Manns Do Wah Diddy Diddy and the Zombies Shes Not There.
Other Vox models of note to appear in 1964 were the Foundation bass speaker cabinet and the AC100 head that was designed to be used with the new Beatle speaker cabinet.
In need of further financial investment and also with a fear that the golden age of pop maybe short lived, Tom Jennings looked for perspective buyers for his business. During 1964 the Royston Group acquired a substantial shareholding.
With the success of the Beatles in the U.S. and subsequent demand for Vox products by U.S. importers, a deal was made with the Thomas Organ Company to import Vox into the USA. More premises were now needed and manufacturing works in West Street, Erith were made available with the help of the Royston Group.
1965 - The Thomas Organ Company began to supplement the imported Vox valve amplifiers from the UK with their own U.S. made transistor models design by their laboratories at La Sepulvenda. The Super Beatle amplifier appears with a host of features including built-in tuning tones and a Hammond licensed reverb effect.
The Thomas Organ Company pay a large licensing fee to the Royston Group and Jennings loses control of Vox in the U.S. All U.S. amplifier models soon become transistors based.
1966 - The Thomas Organ company expanded the range and the 4 and 7 series amplifiers were added to the catalogue.
1967 - With Dick Denneys help a range of UK solid-state amplifier were soon on sale in the UK. The Conqueror (30 watts), Defiant (50 watts) and Supreme (100 watts) were three lead guitar models that had unique, at the time, features like distortion, tremolo and a Vox reverb. Also, three bass model were added, The Dynamic (30 watts), Foundation (50 watts) and Super Foundation (100 watts).
1967 - Due the cost of the Alnico magnets, the Vox Blue speaker was phased out and replaced by cheaper ceramic magnet speakers. With a complete catalogue of transistor amplifiers, the great valve Vs transistor debate started amongst guitarist and with most favouring valves, Vox started to loose some reputation for sound quality. Not helped by the advent of Hard Rock with legends such as Hendrix and Cream favouring amplifier made by the competition.
The Wah-Wah made its first appearance. Designed to emulate the sound of a muted trumpet the Vox Wah-Wah pedal was one of Voxs most innovative and successful products.
With the Royston Groups take over of Vox and the Thomas Organ Companys control of Voxs U.S. operation, Tom Jennings resigns.
1968 - The Bill Wyman bass arrives and the Royston Group invest heavily in other areas outside the music industry, but these investments did not pay off and some major contracts were lost.
1969 - Royston Industries go into liquidation and are put into the hand of the receiver. After nine mouths of uncertainty the Corinthian Bank becomes the new owner of Vox. The name changes to Vox Sound Ltd.
1970 - Vox Sound Ltd is sold to a consortium comprising of John Birch and George Stowe of Stolec Electronics and the Schroder Bank. Manufacturing was moved to Hastings where a few organs and the AC30 were made. The AC30 now included reverb and was manufactured using a printed circuit board (PCB). The valve rectifier was also removed and replaced by a solid state device.
1972 - CBS Arbiter, the UK Fender importer make an offer to buy Vox Sound Ltd. Accepted by George Stowe, Vox has a new owner for the forth time. Production moved to the Dallas Arbiter factory in Shoeburyness where their own version of the AC30 was made. In a cost cutting exercise some features were change much to the annoyance of AC30 fans. The cabinet was now made out of particleboard as opposed to plywood making it heavier and weaker.
In 1972 Vox had the good fortune to team up with Brian May of the group Queen. Combining multiple AC30 with a unique playing style, the image of Brian May backed by a stack of AC30s provided excellent and much needed promotion for Vox.
Arbiter reintroduces the Vox organs with the re-issue of the Continental I and Continental 300. A new version of the AC50 was made and a new amp the V100 was made but short-lived.
A mini AC30 was made that had a 2.5-watt output and was battery powered. Soon a mains option was added and the Vox mains/Battery amplifier was named the Escort.
1975 - The Vox Escort 30 appears a 30 watt transistor amplifier cosmetically styled like an AC30. By now a Solid State version of the AC30 was available, the AC30SS and although it did not sound like a real valve AC30 at the time it was good valve for money.
1978 - CBS-Arbiter had by now had a fair attempt at reviving the Vox brand, and new models like the AC120 amp, Italian made pedals including a Wah-Wah and the tone bender had appeared. But with live music declining and strong competition from other music companies a decision was made to sell Vox Sound Ltd.
CHAPTER THREE - Not The End!
1979 - Rose Morris had been the distributor of Marshall amplifiers throughout the 1970s but it became apparent that Marshall wished to do the job themselves and so Rose Morris started looking for another amplification line to run. Rose Morris soon became the new owner of Vox Sound Ltd, which became simply Vox Ltd. The first great achievement that Rose Morris made was to buy back the rights to Vox from the Thomas Organ Company. Rose Morris had no manufacturing facilities so it acquired the exclusive use of the Arbiter plant at Shoeburyness.
1980 - Much work was needed to be done to revive the Vox name and there were many manufacturing difficulties to overcome, but at the 1980 British Music Fair the Vox V125 was launched. This was basically a modified AC120 in the form of a head driving open back two by twelve-inch speaker cabinets. Soon other models appeared, a V125 Bass model, A V15 valve combo and transistor Escort 50 Lead and Escort 50 Bass. Utilising a modified V125 chassis a combo known as the Climax was made.
1982 - Vox recommence production of guitars. Made in the Far East the Custom and Standard guitar ranges provide some of the best quality guitars to bear the Vox name. Later in 1985 the Korean built White Shadow guitar made and appearance and replaced the Standard and Custom range.
1984 - With the help of outside contracted design and manufacture, the Vox Venue series started production. The Venue series soon comprised of 50 and 100 Watt combo amps for guitar and bass and keyboards. Also a GT100 model with a high frequency horn for the acoustic guitar was made. A short-lived P.A. venue based design was introduce giving two models, the Venue PA 120 and PA 200. The Venue range was well received and used by groups of the 1980s including the Style Council and the Smiths.
1985 - The AC30 underwent a re-design in order to reduce it production costs. With out this there was a strong feeling that it should be dropped from the catalogue. The design was made using one PCB and a reduced gain design was employed to overcome problems with lack of good quality valves and the hum problems associated with a single PCB design. The contractors Audio Factor who also made the Venue range carried out manufacture.
1986 - The venue range had the Dual 100 added which employed a twin switched channel to compete with the successful sessionette amps that were a strong competitor at the time. A new valve model was introduced the Concert 501 and the Concert 100 head and 4 x12 inch speaker cabs which sold well in the export market and retained some of the Vox looks.
1988 - Rose Morris decided that the way forward was to acquire its own manufacturing facility and started looking at a company called Precision Electronics who soon designed and built a new transistor range for Vox called the Q-Series and take over the manufacturing of the AC30.
1989 - Rose Morris buy a large section of the P.E plant and hire a small team to make Vox amplifiers.
1990 - The AC30 underwent some change but this time for the better. An attempt was made to get it back to sound like an original early 60s AC30 and a limited production run of 1000 were made and branded the AC30 Limited Edition. Each had a brass plate on the back with the units number. The Limited Edition was even endorsed by Dick Denney who for the first time in 23 years had some association with Vox.
1991 - Because of the success of the AC30 Ltd Edition a new model AC30 based on the same design was introduced but with Reverb and also available as an AC30 Head. This model was known as the AC30 Vintage. Both the Limited Edition and the Vintage were fitted as standard with G12M Celestion speakers but as an option, a Vox Blue speaker model was available. But Celestion did not make this Blue speaker and although it was a good attempt at recreating the oriental Vox speaker there were noticeable differences when compared to the Original Celestion built Blue speakers.
1992 - Time for change again and the recession of the late 1980s and slow economic recovery in the early 1990 had left Rose Morriss directors looking for a buyer for Rose Morris. The name Rose Morris soon disappears and Vox was under new management again.
1993 - For financial reasons the small Vox manufacturing facility at Wellingborough was shut as there was now an opportunity for a local company to manufacture the AC30. Realising that it was the original AC30 that guitarists wanted, the AC30 was put back to as near as an original design as could be achieved within todays manufacturing costs. Two major factors to obtaining the sound of the 1960s AC30 were put back into the design. The GZ34 valve rectifier, not used since the late 1960s was reintroduced and although a primitive component by todays standard it plays a major part in obtaining the real AC30 sound. Second, the original Blue Alnico speakers were reintroduce and built for Vox once more by Celestion. It was not only the sound of the original AC30 that was achieved, but cosmetically this new AC30 looked much like the original model with the reintroduction of the basketweave vinyl and vintage fawn colour diamond fret cloth. The result is the AC30 that you can buy today, with little change from the original, this amplifier proves that Tom Jennings and Dick Denney were right first time.
1993 also saw the reintroduction of the classic Vox Wah-Wah pedal made to the original specification. This was shortly followed by a limited production run of the Vox Tone Bender germanium transistor fuzz box.
1996 - The new AC15 arrives. A new version of the AC15 is made available, based on the original AC15 but with more practical features for the modern user like reverb, master volume and tone controls.
1997 - The AC1 desktop battery amplifier is made. A 1-watt, twin 2-inch speaker, mini amplifier in the style of an AC30.
1998 - Two new pedal arrive, the Valve-Tone and the Distortion-Booster.
1999 - The Vox Pathfinder 15 practice amplifier makes is debuted and is well received at the Frankfurt Musik Messe. The Vox Cambridge range is developed for release in late 1999.
2000 - The new Vox Cambridge 30 Reverb & Cambridge 30 Reverb Twin amplifiers arrive featuring a two channel valve driven preamp. Frankfurt Musik Messe sees the launch of the new Vox T-25 bass guitar combo.
2001 - July's music trade shows in the US and UK launch the new revolutionary Valvetronix range and T60 & Pathfinder 10 combos.