Everybody knows that the 1950s set the direction for almost every typology of guitar design, pickup configuration, and amplifier down to today. Typically, however, when looking back on these days, we’re thinking of the big gear that made a splash. But what about the world firsts of tiny gear?
As bands and artists from the UK armed up for the British invasion that revolutionized modern music, they did so with Vox in arms. Unquestionably, without these amplifiers built by Jennings Musical Industries in Dartmouth, the invasion would have failed. Vox, however, is more known for their powerful yet sparkly heavyweights, like the AC15 and AC30. These were the front of line weapons of choice for British musicians starting in the 1960s.
That size of amp, however, is tough to play in small spaces. So Vox did what Vox Does: innovate.
Starting in 1958, Vox released the AC2. The specs on this amp were pint-size compared to its bigger siblings. The amp came with a 6.5” speaker, which was powered by an EL84 power tube and tandem 12AX7 and EF86 tubes in the preamp section. These were tucked in an exceptionally small cabinet that had a TV style front face design. The amplifier’s controls were at once compact and ambitious. You get an input, a volume control, and a speed nob to dial in the onboard tremolo, which, by the way, was controllable by an external footswitch. That’s right, the idea of onboard amp effects for bedroom players is far from a new concept!
The AC2, however, didn’t last long before a modest makeover and rebrand. In 1960, Vox notched up the speaker size to 8”, which necessitated the growth of the speaker cabinet. It’s in this era that we also see the practice amp adopt the Vox design we all know and love, with the split front cabinet and vinyl covering. Under the hood, everything stayed the same.
In 1962, Vox decided to rebrand the amp one final time, calling it the AC4. The reason for all of these shifts was that, while the amp’s peak output power was 6 watts, in reality it hung around 3.5 watts. So why not round up and save your customers the confusion?
Originally, Vox sold around 3,000 Vox AC4 amplifiers before they were retired in the late 1960s. While most of these amps were presumably destined for home use for budding players, Paul McCartney was known to keep one back stage for tuning up his Hofner bass before taking the stage.
These days, if you’re looking for an AC4 you’ll find modern reissues, including sought after hand-wired editions, as well as vintage items lurking on the used market in a surprising array of colors. Cream, black, red, and blue vinyl, Vox offered them all on early 1960s. With those options, your at home Vox rocker looked even sportier than the ones showcased on the black and white television!