Vox AC30

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Classic keys cry out for classic amps, and I just couldn’t resist this AC30, one of the most celebrated guitar amps of all time.

When I began searching for one, I quickly ruled out the true vintage ones.  A typical made in England, 1960s Vox AC30 amp costs $3,000 or more, looks like it was dragged behind a truck, and if has its original speakers, you’d probably be afraid to put any volume through them for fear that you’d destroy what’s left of them.

I did some research, and decided I ought to look for an AC30 CC2X.  That’s the first generation of Chinese-made AC30s, made starting in about 2005.  The workmanship was reputed to be excellent.  At that point, they were still being built with birch (not fiberboard) cabinets and tube rectifiers.  And it was equipped with a pair of 12″ Celestion Blue Alnico speakers, a modern take on the classic, chimey Beatles speakers.

When they were new, these amps had a list price of $2,300. I found a like-new one for $800. The only problem was that it was located more than 500 miles from me, and a phone call with the seller didn’t give me confidence that he’d do a good job of packing and shipping such a heavy amp.  I was about to give up. But I called a friend I knew in the seller’s city and asked him if he had a road trip planned to my area anytime soon.  I got lucky: He was headed to a city about 80 miles from me in just a few days. I got the seller to deliver it to him, and it was an easy pickup for me.

I got it home, plugged it in and heard an awful buzzy, helicopter-like noise coming from the amp.  But after a while, the noise went away and the amp sounded lovely — and has ever since. I think the issue was that the amp sat in my friend’s van for more than two days in bitter cold weather.  As soon as the amp warmed up, it was fine.

Beyond looking great with my ’65 Vox Continental, it sounded great, too.  Elvis Costello. Animals.  Iron Butterfly. The AC30 just nails those classic sounds.  And I discovered it’s a great amp for my Clavinet D6, too.  I’m very pleased with it.

These are extremely versatile amps. You have a choice of using a mellow Normal channel or the classic, bright Top Boost channel. But with a flip of a switch, you can play through both simultaneously, and blend them to your taste.  My favored setting for my Vox Continental is roughly 60/40 Top Boost to Normal.  My Gibson G-101 can be extremely bright-sounding, and I prefer to play it through the normal channel alone to “tame” the sometimes excessive brightness.  I also use the AC30 for my Clavinet D-6, and find that the Clav sounds great on all sorts of amp settings, depending whether I want, say, a thin, trebly sound, or I want the lowest register to have that deep, slap bass sound you can get from the Clavinet.

One word of caution: Mine is an early model of the AC30CC2. On those amps, using the standby switch tends to blow out the rectifier tube.  This is a well-known issue on these amps that Vox fixed on later production of this model, and on subsequent AC30 models.  In fact, I had been warned of this issue, and had been avoiding using the standby switch. But then I forgot one day. I used it and heard a big POP! — and the amp fell silent.  My tech said the switch is not really necessary as long as I let the amp warm up a bit before playing (a point that I’m sure tube amp fanatics will debate endlessly), and suggested that he disable the switch. I agreed. So now, it’s “idiot-proof.”  This practical solution works for me — and I can reverse it in minutes with a soldering iron if I ever want.)

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