Revisiting the Vox AC30 as a Pedal Amp with a Little Help from Chase Bliss Audio and Walrus

With the block to themselves on a Friday night, Dan & Mick cranked up a TPS classic item of gear: Dan’s vintage Vox AC30. While there is no shortage of opinion on the (mis)behavior of AC30s when partnered up with pedals, the hour of TPS proved that, once again, speculation can’t contend with experience. In the hour on air, Dan & Mick not only highlighted the brilliant brightness of the AC30 on its own, they also demonstrated how to deploy it with pedals when playing in the context of a band.

The AC30 as an Ideal Pedal Amp for Gigging

These days almost everything is billed as a pedal platform amp. Sure, some amps have a headroom structure that lets pedals breathe more than others. However, this doesn’t mean that amps that weren’t built with pedals in mind—or even those coming from times before pedals were a thing—can’t handle a stompbox thrown in front of them. Case in point, the Vox AC30.

Vox amps are known for their “chime,” that almost presence-like feel of the higher frequencies. When played at lower volumes or in isolation, this sound can be tough on the ears. To some, it seems a bit spikey and might not deliver the right warm, tonal palette for your pedals. However, a change of context might make this perceived shortcoming a real asset for your playing and pedalboard.

As Dan remarked, this is particularly true when playing in a band. “It’s when we’ve been having rehearsals and I’ve plugged into the AC30, then the drums start up and the bass starts up, and I go ‘That’s why I love this amplifier!’” Suddenly that high-end sharpness was what carried the sound and enabled the complex signal of a pedalboard to retain its integrity and character in an ensemble. As Mick reflected on a rehearsal the evening prior, “In that band context, I’ll be hearing you all night, it’s a wonderful thing.”

Part of Dan’s rediscovery and renewed fulfillment with the AC30 also has to do with playing at a level that’s right in the AC30’s sweet spot. It’s that volume that’s too loud for home but ideal for a pedalboard set up at a gig. For Dan, “There’s this magical point on the AC30, where you turn it up and it’s still clean but the amp just has this natural limiting that’s not really obvious until the band kicks in.” Here’s where that chimey Vox headroom pairs perfectly with pedals.

So what new additions to Dan’s board played well in this pocket?

Chase Bliss Goes Beyond EQ with the Condor

Chase Bliss has been busy this year: first there was the Brothers Analog Gainstage pedal, most recently the Thermae Analog Delay/Pitch Shifter. Between these, however, was a pedal that is just now getting the press it deserves: the Condor Analog EQ/Pre/Filter pedal.

As Mick noted, “I couldn’t believe this when we were checking it out earlier. At first I thought, ‘Nah, no way.’” But as soon as he realized the Condor is so much more than a mere bass, mid, and treble mix machine, everything changed. In short, the Condor is a sophisticated multi-effect pedal that provides deep and dynamic control to all or part of the EQ spectrum through parametric parameters. This means it can enhance your sound through simple frequency adjustments or be engineered almost like a synth engine to produce a range of effects from boost, to overdrive, to chorus, and tremolo. As always, the analog sound of signal remains untouched with the effect created using detailed digital controls.

One of Dan’s favorite uses was constructing an almost harmonic tremolo sound. “At the moment, I’ve got the middle [frequencies] modulated and set for a broad spectrum of mids modulating. What you get is…magic!” In addition to having an individual sound dialed in, Dan also had the Chase Bliss Faves Midi switch on board for instant recall of his other saved presets and sounds.

Walrus Audio Dives Deep with the Fathom Reverb

One of the big stories out of Winter NAMM this year was the Walrus Audio Fathom Multi-Function Reverb. With four customizable rich reverb sounds—hall, plate, lo-fi, and sonar—the Fathom has become a regular cast member on TPS boards as of late.

For most of the show, Dan & Mick dialed in the Fathom to a deep yet open hall reverb. Whether it was to create a bit of space and sustain for clean tones, body and range for choruses, or an edge of echo for fuzz, the Fathom proved itself to be not only an ideal wingman for the AC30 chime but the perfect partner to make great pedals sound even better.

With a board built of gear not only from Chase Bliss and Walrus, but a range of other items from Keeley, Analog Man, and T-Rex, Dan’s board was a thing of beauty. The verdict? The AC30 handled them all expertly, especially at volume and when set in the sweet spot. So just when you thought the eight billion opinions on gear forums were right, once again, the lesson learned is that trying things out for yourself is the only real way of having an informed perspective.

TPS Rig Rundown:

Guitars: Fender Custom Shop 1963 Telecaster, Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335, Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Standard.

Pedals: Sonic Research ST-300 Mini Tuner, Analog Man Sun Face NKT Red Dot, Analog Man Bad Bob Booster, Keeley D&M Drive, T-Rex Mudhoney, J Rockett Touch Overdrive, Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi, Strymon Timeline, Analog Man ARDX20 Delay, Chase Bliss Audio Condor EQ/Pre/Filter, Walrus Audio Fathom Reverb.

Amps: 1961 Vox AC30, Fryette Power Station.

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