Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Vox AC4TV Tube Amplifier: Cheapness and Coolness

When I was a young lad, tube amps were the norm for guitar players, from professional to garage to bedroom guitarists, tube amps were everywhere. Most of the most moving guitar work I've ever heard were done on tube amps. Most of the tube amps I've liked over the years were Fenders, but at various times there were some guitarists who I played in bands with that got some fantastic tone from Vox tube amps like the AC30 and the AC60.

One thing that always let you know that you were playing with a Vox tube amp player was the burning smell that these amps sometime eminate when being pushed into overdrive, particularly the AC30. I played in one Texas blues band earlier this decade where the guitarist favored a highly overdriven AC30 to do the loud parts, as he called them. The first time I smelled his amp, I went and looked to see if something was smoldering or melting in there. Nope, built like a tank.

Since then I've come to find that this burning smell sometimes accompanies Vox AC amps. I've never smelled that level of a burning HOT smell with other tube amps, even smaller amps like the 1960's Fender Princeton and Champ amps.

It's worth noting that a fellow named Steve T. that I went to high school with had one of the originals of these amps. Along with (a really excellent custom) homemade Stratocaster that Steve had made himself, including the neck and homemade/handwound single coils, Steve toted one of these 4 watt AC4's with him, an original from the 1960's.

I doubted that it could keep up with my drum set the first time he came to my house to jam. I actually questioned whether I'd be able to hear him over the drums and vice versa. He sort of scoffed and said that the amp had a rather unusually high output.

The amp had no problems competing with the very loud Ludwig blue Vistalite drum set I had at the time, with full complement of A. Zildjian "Rock" cymbals and New Beat hh's.

So here's a new (old) amp that got re-released this year from Vox, the British amp superstars. You can get it at the usual online dealers for $249 with free shipping. I'm sure that some calling and price beating could get the price down lower than that. But at the given price, it's a super bargain.

It has three available wattage settings, being 1/4 watt, 1 watt and 4 watts. It has separate volume, gain and tone controls with an on/off switch on top. The rear features a volume control for the headphone out, a headphone out and a speaker out.

These features are extra cool. The speaker out means you can hook this bad boy up to a larger cab with more speakers, and get a very big Vox tube sound.

There's no effects, but with an amp like this, you rarely want any. A reverb can always be added, as can any myriad of effects. But the basic Vox tube sound, for less than $250, can now be yours in a small package.

For guys like me, who are bedroom guitar players and home recorders, it's a great deal. By guys like me, I mean guys who like cool stuff but really can't justify the space or the expense of an AC30 added to what Mrs. El Fisho calls "too much stuff". I'm fortunate to have a music room, but a tiny and cheaper amp like this new AC4TV is alot easier sell than an AC30. Besides, the AC30 would be way too loud, even at it's lowest volume.

Because the ability to get "that Vox sound" means you have to get some interesting volume vs. gain adjustments going to match your guitar to get that " just breaking up" blues rock point, the sound we all know and love. So the wattage adjustments on this amp mean that you can be "cranking" your sound to this desired breakup point BUT AT A LOW OVERALL VOLUME when using the 1/4 watt setting. Although reviews I've read said that the 1/4 watt setting can actually generate some healthy volume.

Although I've got a Super Champ XD, I might be asking Santa to bring me this Vox. It's not handwired like in days of yore, but it's an authentic all-tube amp. And it's already been and this model is destined to be a classic for many years to come.

Every once in awhile, an amp comes along that has a great sound for a bargain price. This is one of those amps that I highly recommend for a practice amp for the experienced guitarist and as a home recording amp for the recording enthusiast. You can mic that bad boy right through your interface with a quality mic and get a earthy tubey sound that just can't hardly be emulated by a digital program.


  1. "It has three available wattage settings, being 1/4 watt, 1 watt and 4 watts. It has separate volume, gain and tone controls with an on/off switch on top. The rear features a volume control for the headphone out, a headphone out and a speaker out." ????

    No gain control and no headphone out or headphone volumne control.

  2. Thanks Anon, for correcting me. Even a fishing musician can make a mistake. Just ask the wife.

    Seriously, thanks for pointing that out and I'll correct it now. I was relying on an erroneous review I read and didn't fact check.