Saturday, July 5, 2014

Vox Guitars

1962 Vox Advertisment
I had no idea that Jennings Music Industries/Vox was building guitars as early as 1962. The company started as the Jennings Organ Company in 1958, by Tom Jennings who owned a music shop in Dartford Kent, U.K. The popular music of that era was rock and Jennings was in on the ground floor as he joined up with a guitarist named Dick Denney who had built an amplifier for his guitar.



Tom Jenning and Dick Denny
Denney was suffering from hearing loss and the amplified sound of his guitar could keep him working. He had created the Vox AC15. Jennings had some success with his own portable organ which he called the Univox. Jennings Organ became Jennings Musical Industries and their logo was the shortened version of Univox; Vox.




Vox Ace   - Stoller -   Clubman Bass
The first guitars and basses that Vox had built were the Ace, Stroller and Clubman. These were built by a cabinet making company in Shoeburyness, Essex in the U.K. Vox's first electric guitars, the Apache, Stroller and Clubman were modeled after solid-body, bolt-neck Fenders.

In 1962 Fender guitars and basses were not available for sale in the UK. Vox’s initial run of guitars were low priced.

Tom Jenning commissioned the London Design Center to come up with an idea for an electric guitar that did not resemble any guitars available at the time. They came up with the Vox Phantom. Jennings introduced this in his 1962 catalog. It was originally manufactured by the cabinet company, but very soon was made in Italy by the EKO company. Though the shape of the guitar was unlike a Fender Stratocaster, the equipment could have been right off of one.

The Phantom came with 3 single coil pickups and a vibrato bridge, although it was a Bigsby unit. The guitar was awkward to play when seated, but it was well made. The Phantom bass had two single coil pickups. The headstock of both instruments was Fenderesque with its six-on-a-side tuners, but was not as eloquent.

Within a year Jennings had another unique instrument on his hand called the Mark VI or Teardrop model. It had a lute-shaped body and the prototype came with two single coil pickups and a Bigsby style bridge unit. Advertisements surfaced showing Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones playing the guitar. He even used it on an Ed Sullivan Show appearance.



Bill Wyman, the groups bassist playing the bass model. In fact the bass model was marketed as the Wyman Bass. Although it is doubtful that Wyman ever used the bass on any recordings.

During the mid to late 1960’s there was an uptick in the use of the electric 12 string in the music of the day.




As the sound became popular Vox introduced the Phantom XII; the 12 string version of the Phantom. It saw prominent use with the British band The Hollies.

Vox also introduced the Mark XII 12 string electric guitar. Oddly enough both featured the Bigsby style vibrato bridge. Most of these guitars were produced in Italy by the EKO company.

A stereo version of the Phantom XII was introduced that had split pickups and a built-in mixer that enabled the sound to be sent to separate amplifiers. Hamer later incorporated a similar feature on their 12 string basses.

Vox Organ Guitar


Vox had a hit with the Continental Organ that was played by all of the British Invasion Bands. Vox incorporated the organ circuitry into a guitar. The frets were electrified and became contacts for notes. The guitar had buttons on its front that were similar to those found on a chord organ. Effects, such as vibrato and percussion were built-in. This instrument is a story unto itself that was told in an earlier article.

Vox Delta Phantom

This technology and development in Vox effects lead to the introduction of guitars with built-in effects; the Delta Phantom, the Starstream Teardrop and the Delta Phantom bass. It was in 1967 that Vox introduced a series of guitars that featured a fuzztone, percussive tremolo, treble/bass boost and a wah-wah effect operated by the heel of the player’s hand. The guitars came with a built-in E-tuner, which was a switch that activated an oscillating circuit which played a high E note.

Vox Starstream

A vintage Starstream recently sold (in 2014) for $2500. Vox was the first company to design and market a wireless microphone system. Most of the guitars from this era were made in Italy by Eko.



By 1982 all guitar production was moved to Japan and done by what had to be the biggest guitar manufacturer in the country; Matsumoku, who made Aria guitars. The Japanese instruments were arguably the best Vox instruments ever made, but for the fact their unique factor was gone. Vox guitars looked like every 1980's electric guitar. In 1985 production was moved to Korea.

Korg LTD, a Japanese music conglomerate acquired Vox in 1992 and began building Vox amplifiers in 1994. By 1995 Vox was producing a series of Stratocaster and Super Strat inspired guitars and basses known as the White Shadow and White Shadow M series.

Korg/Vox did not make the Phantom and Teardrop guitars from 1998 to 2012. Instead a relationship was struck up with Korg employees and North Coast Music of Minnesota.


North Coast has been a distributor for Vox amplifiers since 1991 and is the USA’s largest distributor of Vox products.

Mark III Prototypes
John Hawkins the store’s owner had numerous requests for Vox guitars. He got the go-ahead from Vox/Korg to build a teardrop style guitar and hired a cabinet making firm to produce the necks and bodies. Another Minnesota firm made the hardware.



Brian Jone personal Mark VI
By 1995 Hawkins presented his examples at the NAMM convention. The Phantom version was unveiled the following year at the NAMM show. The guitars were picked up by Vox and offered to the public in the 1998-99 catalog.




50th Anniversary Mark III


In 2007 Korg/Vox introduced a 50th Anniversary limited edition Mark III Brian Jones model with 57-07 engraved on the neck.



Along with this, Vox introduced a 50th Anniversary Bass guitar that is similar to the one Bill Wyman advertised and endorsed.



In 2009 Vox introduced the Virage I and II series with single and double cutaway models. This was an interesting guitar because a shallow neck heel design offered ease of playing in the upper register.



Another Vox guitar was offered in late 2010 called the Series 55 and Series 77. All of these Korean made instruments are based on either Gibsons Les Paul or ES-335 design. All of these guitars received excellent reviews.

In 2013 Vox re-introduced the Phantom and Teardrop guitars under the names Mark III and Mark V. The Mark III is the "droplet" shape and the Mark V is the "coffin shape."

These guitars are not offered in the United States. Possibly due to the following legal action.

Phantom Guitarworks was started by guitar builder and player Jack Charles Meussdorffer over 21 years ago. Meussdorffer makes exquisite reproductions of the Phantom, Teardrop and Mandoguitar models under the trade name Phantom Guitars.

He has done this for two decades without any issues until recently.

Korg LTD, as I have said, acquired Vox from its previous owners in 1992 when Vox sales reached low ebb.

Korg was quick to introduce their version of the AC30 and AC15 which are made in China.

They have since followed with many amps in the Vox tradition and some new versions. However Korg has never shown much interest in the Vox guitars. They have built some guitars with the Vox brand that look nothing like the Vox’s of the 1960’s and 70’s.

In 2002 Mr. Meussdorffer took some of his instruments to the NAMM show. The folks from Korg/Vox were there to display their amplifiers. They asked if they could borrow one of his guitars to “examine” it.



He was a gentleman and the Korg people came back to tell him they owned Vox and he could not sell his instruments any longer. Although he could go to work for them. In September of 2013 Korg filed a complaint against Meussdorffer in US Federal Court. Meussendorffer’s attorney filed a counter-claim. 






Korg’s legal argument against the trade name Phantom Guitars is that the names, Phantom and Teardrop and the shapes of the guitars have become generic and therefore public domain.

In 2012 Vox created a guitar called The Apache which is available on Amazon.com and Reverb.com. This guitar is in the Phantom and Teardrop Shape. It comes with a built-in amplifier and drum machine. It is marketed as a travel guitar. Take note, in all the advertisements the word Vox is not on the guitars headstock. Instead there is a image of an old airplane.

I am assuming because the shape is generic and in the public domain.


Although Korg LTD owns the trademark VOX, a British company known as JMI aka Jennings Musical Instrument is back and is making handcrafted amplifiers once again that look like the Vox AC series that we came to know during the British Invasion. This time it is under the name JMI. And they look exquisite. Currently there are only a handful of dealers in the U.K. and the U.S.A. I hope we hear more about these amplifiers soon.



As an added note, JMI has recreated and improved some of Vox's most famous effects such as the Tone Bender and the Rangemaster. These were all redesigned by their creator Gary Hurst.

As a final note; I mentioned in a prior article that a specially made Vox guitar used by George Harrison in the Magical Mystery Tour sold at a May 2013 auction for USD $408,000 in New York City.




 




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Auto Tuning Guitars and Capo Clips

There are a couple of innovations that are unique to the world of guitar. The first is Gibson's Min-eTune, guitar auto tuner.

This technology started back in 2007 when Gibson Guitars introduced their robot models.



These were self tuning guitars with the controls mounted the front of the guitar where we normally find the volume and tone controls. Only one tone control took care of both pickups.

The other tone push-pull potentiometer controlled the tuning. Wires running through the neck are attached to tiny servo-motors housed in the tuners would turn the pegs until each string was in perfect pitch. The signal was sent by piezo pickups house in the tune-o-matic bridge. It was very expensive technology. 

The original Gibson robot Les Paul guitar was available only in blue silver-burst.



Gibson then took this technology, developed by guitar tech Chris Adams and the R and D team of Gibson, to other models. Included were the Robot Les Paul Studio, Robot SG, Robot Flying V, Robot Explorer, and a Robot Les Paul Junior.

In 2012 Gibson came out with an updated miniaturized version of this feature. This time it is in an enclosed unit mounted on the back of the guitar’s headstock and operated by several buttons. It is powered by a small rechargeable lithium battery that lasts for 80 to 100 tunings.

Not only will it tune your guitar to regular tuning, it is capable of different tunings, such as dropped D, G, DADGAD and others. If you have a tuning that you like it is possible to program it into this. Gibson offers this as an upgrade feature to their guitars.

This feature is pricey and will set you back $330 USD as an additional cost above a guitars purchase price. The unit can be purchased alone and with the help of a few tools it is easily installed.

Currently Gibson offers this add-on that will fit 12 of their popular models.




Another company called Tronical Tuners offers a similar device for Fender and other guitars brands. The price is about the same for this gizmo.

This German company actually produces the auto-tune technology used and developed for the original robot guitar system. Because these units actually tune the guitar, they can be added to even acoustic guitars.

The above units actually tune the strings to the desired pitch, however there is another option that is available and that is the Antares Autotune For Guitar.

Antares is a music software/hardware company.  They have made auto tune the crutch that many vocalists have relied upon. The software pulls the signal to the desired pitch. They have now come up with a retrofit unit for electric guitar.

Unlike the previous self tuners that actually turn the string pegs, Antares Autotune For Guitar comes with a computer board and hardware that is retrofitted in your guitar. When activated, the sound of your guitar is in tune, whether the strings are in tune or not.

The Peavey AT-200 guitar comes with the Antares tuning unit already installed. The guitar can be wildly out of tune, but by pressing the tone knob down and turning the volume the guitar adjusts to perfect tuning.

There are options for additional hardware that Antares has made specifically for the Peavey AT-200. These are pedal mounted and attached to the guitar via an 8-pin cable.

We have had this technology for sometime. It has been applied to Roland Guitar Synthesizers and the Roland equipped Stratocaster.

Variax has built it’s business on guitars with built in synth programs to make the guitar sound like other instruments in other tunings.  Though these examples are not the same as the Antares Autotune For Guitar, the technology started with the first guitar synthesizers.

And now for something completely different…..

This is an innovation is called Capo Clips.  These are metal clips that have “rubber fretters” attached to them in the shape of popular chords. By using your own capo to hold down the Fret Clip the player places it on the strategic part of the guitars neck.

These chord shaped metal frames are designed to work on any guitar. The “fretters” can be popped off to change the shape of the chord.  Think of an E major chord and by not depressing the forth string it becomes an E minor chord.

The manufacturer claims “  Capo Clips put the guitar in different keys and changes the way it resonates without having to physically change tunings like you would with an alternate tuning so you can get that rich alternate tuning sound without having to relearn new chords or riffs, just clamp it on and play using what you already know.” 

The manufacturer claims “A big part of capo clips genius is that less is more and by playing simple 2 and 3 note chords it automatically lets the sound of the capo clip bleed through and color your sound. Making something so easy to play sound rich, complex and cinematic.


Changing the relationship between the notes your fretting and the open strings creating kick ass new sounds! Major 7ths, Sharp 4s,close voiced 9ths, repeated notes, Sounds normally reserved for jazz or fingerstyle master players.”

A full set of 4 different shaped Capo Clips is $44.95 USD.