The history of the legendary Vox AC15 and AC30 amplifiers

The history of the legendary Vox AC15 and AC30 amplifiers
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By Martín Olmos

The Vox AC30 and AC15 amplifiers have defined the history and audio of an entire generation of great English bands, beginning with the Beatles. We tell you the story of these great tube amplifiers.

The history of Vox

England and the second world war

The history of the Vox AC30 and AC15 amplifiers dates back to the 1940s. In an England completely submerged in World War II. Two names will stand out in this story, that of Thomas Walter Jennings (1917-1978) and Dick Denney (1921-2001).

Jennings was initially an amateur accordionist who served in the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers during the war. Soon after, he was discharged from the army for health reasons. And destined for the Vickers munitions factory, until the end of the war.

Dick Denney was a fan of electronics and guitar. It should be noted that since his adolescence, he liked to experiment with family radio. But his concern did not always give the expected results.

At the beginning of World War II, everything related to radio amateurs and their associates were banned, which generated great frustration in the young Denney. Resigned, he continued working alongside his father in the family barber shop. Remarkably, Denney was deaf in one ear, which is why, during the war, he was posted to the Vickers munitions factory where Jennings worked.

On the left Thomas Walter Jennings and on the right Dick Denney.
On the left Thomas Walter Jennings and on the right Dick Denney.

The friendship between Thomas Jennings and Dick Denney

In their free time both Denney and Jennings would get together to play in an amateur way. Remember that the bombings on London were permanent, and this generated long hours of leisure in the shelters. This allowed Denney and Jennings to forge a friendship based primarily on a common interest in music and electronics.

Among their conversations, they would confess in an interview, they highlighted the observations they made about the amplification systems that some bands of the American army had. Back then, there were army bands that played trendy themes to entertain the troops.

It is worth clarifying that all the amplification systems were very precarious and incipient at that time, and that the war did not allow the importation of this type of products, which is why it aroused so much interest in the two friends.

Separate projects, but not by long

Jennings Organ Company

After the war, Jennings dedicated himself to repairing accordions and buying and selling instruments, until he established his own store in 1946. In parallel, his concern led him to create a self-amplified electric organ that he called “Univox”. Which was a great success, which was perhaps the kickoff for what would come next. The instrument was marketed through his Jennings Organ Company.

Univox J4 / 5 organ.
Univox J4 / 5 organ.

Guitarist, radio repairman and Diyer

Denney, for his part, was engaged in radio repair, while working as a guitarist in a stable lounge band.

In 1952, Denney suffers a pulmonary crisis. This forces him to move away from the stage and to rest. Thus, he takes up one of his dreams, the design of a tube amp for guitar. As a result, he created a small, 15-watt tube amp with a 12-inch speaker.

In those days, no more power was required, since the usual places to play were lounges or pubs. Later he would refine it by adding a vibrato and a tremolo, perhaps inspired by those that included the Wurlitzer organs.

Originally, this prototype generated some unwanted hum. So he opted for a “valve change.” Using EF86, ECC83 and EL84 he solved the problem.

Of these primitive amps I would make two more models. One would be the one showing his old friend Thomas Walter Jennings.

The appearance of the Vox AC15

Vox AC1 / 15 from 1958, later called AC15. With TV-front aesthetics.
Vox AC1 / 15 from 1958, later called AC15 with TV-front aesthetic.

Denney, knowing about Jennings Organ Company and taking advantage of his friendship with Thomas, decides to go to his old friend’s shop to show him his recent creation. Two days after delivering one of his models, Jennings, absolutely delighted with the result, summons him to offer to work together and launch the amplifier on the market through his company.

In view of this, he changes the company name to Jennings Musical Instruments -JMI-. In addition, Denney goes on to occupy a relevant position in the renowned company.

This is how the AC1 / 15 was released on the market in January 1958, which would later become the Vox AC15. The aesthetic included a square front with creamy tolex and the famous grille with diamonds, this is known as TV-front -TV front-. Of a darker sound than their successors, these first models did not include an alternative channel as they would later years later.

Soon the Vox became popular with the musicians and bands of the time. Established stars like The Shadows wore these little outfits.

However, both Jennings and Denney continued to bet on the amateur or amateur guitarist, and that is how they released two smaller versions still. In 1958, the 4-watt AC-2 was released, which would later become the Vox AC4, and the following year, that is, 1959, they released the 10-watt Vox AC10. Both maintaining the same TV aesthetics of the AC-1/15.

The Shadows advertising the Vox AC30

Vox AC30, the older brother of the AC1 / 15 or AC15

The Shadows musicians were delighted with the sound of the Vox, but knowing that the power was insufficient, they played with 60-watt Fender Twins. It is then that Hank Marvin, leader of the band, talks to Dick Denney to make them something bigger than the AC15. But Jennings rejected the proposal, arguing that it would be unfeasible from any point of view. However, Dick Denney launched the order for The Shadows, despite the refusal of his boss. So, in 1959 the mythical Vox AC30 appeared, the older brother of the AC15. The band receives the first three units.

Vox AC30 / 4 with TV-front cabinet (1959-1960)
Vox AC30 / 4 with TV-front cabinet (1959-1960)

Vox changes design and aesthetics

In 1960, Vox changed the aesthetics of amplifiers. It leaves the conservative design of the TV -TV-front- format for the legendary cabinet design that it preserves today.

Evolution of the Vox AC30 during its history

The new model was known as Vox AC30 / 4, since it came with four inputs, two for each channel. The equipment preamplifier was the same as the AC1 / 15. But Vox discovers that the EF86 valves were not efficient at high volume, since they were microphonic and that they even failed under the highest vibrations of a 30-watt equipment. Against this, they redesigned the preamplifier and replaced the EF86 with ECC83 tubes and added one more channel. In 1961, they launched this new model called AC30 / 6, which had three channels and two inputs for each one. These changes were optimal for high volume performance.

Vox AC30 / 6 from 1961, already with the mythical final aesthetic.
Vox AC30 / 6 from 1961, already with the final mythical aesthetic.

Appearance of the Vox AC30 with Top Boost

During this time, Vox creates the “Top Boost” circuit. Initially, it was available as an optional addition to the series model, to which was added a separate panel at the back with the functions. The “Top Boost” module could be ordered factory installed. This optional module introduces an additional gain stage and tone controls for bass and treble, as opposed to the single tone control of the Normal Channel.

The success was such that it quickly became a standard feature and channel. Thus appears, around 1963, the version called Vox AC30 / 6 Top Boost or Vox AC30TB. In this, all functions are available on the main panel. This version of the equipment, although it has continued to change during the rest of its history, already has most of the current characteristics of the classic Vox AC30 and is definitely the one that sounds in many of the first of the Beatles albums and other great bands. Later the Vox AC30 would also add a Spring Reverb -reverb to springs-.

The Beatles in action with their Vox teams
The Beatles in action with their Vox teams

Vox AC30, “The British Tone” and the Beatles

Thus, the Vox AC30 marked an era and the rest is the history of Pop and Rock music, being part of the British Invasion -British Invasion– of bands. Chosen by musicians of all genres and decades, from “the Liverpool boys” to Brian May from Queen to The Edge from U2. Vox is a company that diversified by building guitars and effects, and continued with the manufacture of organs. But always, it will represent a synonym for “amplifier”, for “The British Tone” and of course, for the Beatles, the band that made an already great company immense.

For more information on the guitar, visit Vox web site.

Related Post: Vox AC30 vs AC15 amps: review, differences and opinions.

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