Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Vox Super Beatle

The most desirable Vox Amplifier is undoubtedly the Vox AC-30 with top boost manufactured in the U.K. The Korg Company bought the Vox trademark and has continued the tradition of manufacturing Vox amplifiers including their version of the AC-30. I seriously doubt if they will revive the mid-60's Vox amps made by the Thomas Organ Company. I certainly recall these bulky creations and have utilized the Vox AC 100.

A friend of mine was discussing, the one that got away, with me last week, and his was a Vox Super Beatle.

For the unfamiliar around 1965, Thomas Organ started building Vox amplifiers in the USA. Their first model was a large version of the British Vox amp called The Vox AC-100 aka The Super Beatle. I was fortunate to play through one of these and recall it was a speaker cabinet and a head that came with the usual Vox chrome trolley I believe the speaker cab had two twelve-inch speakers.

The head was 100 watts of tube power through one channel. The controls were very simple, volume, treble, bass, on/off, and standby. There was also a rotary switch for different European electric standards.

It was a very nice, very loud amplifier, but rather plain. My thoughts are this amp was suited for large halls or stadiums back in the day when you could not hear the band over all the screaming. Many players and/or sound people did not use reverb since the large arenas were so cavernous and subject to echo. This was also during the pre-distortion era.

Thomas redesigned The Super Beatle using their organ technology. What emerged were transistors. Very large solid state. The Super Beatle amps went through several revisions from around 1965 to when manufacturing ceased in 1970. The first three versions were known as The Super Beatle and the fourth was dubbed the Beatle Super Stack.

The initial model featured most of the bells and whistles we would expect on an amplifier of this era such as reverb and tremolo. It also included a distortion effect, based on the popular Vox fuzztone.

The next version included everything except the distortion effect. The third incarnation had it all; reverb, tremolo, distortion, a percussion effect and a "G" tuner that utilized an oscillator to produce a "G" note.

The third model was manufactured using FET's or Field Effect Transistors which were popular at the time. This entire series of The Super Beatle featured a trapezoidal shaped head with a rectangular large speaker cabinet. It came with a chrome trolley manufactured to hold the head at the top, while the cabinet was held in place by large bolts on either side. The head of each bolt was a very large chrome knob that could be twisted to hold the cabinet at different angles. The whole thing was on wheels. The grill cloth was the typical Vox design.

The fourth version was known as the Vox Beatle Super Stack was unique in that it had 4 twelve inch speakers with the North Coast design label.

Each of these amps came with three channels. Each channel had differing features.

This was before the days of channel switching. Channel 1 had reverb, tremolo, and fuzz.

Channel two had reverb, tremolo and a unique feature known as the Mid-Range-Boost or MRB which sort of acted as a wah-wah emphasizing the mid-range frequencies.

This channel had three positions for the MRB. The final channel had reverb, tremolo, and something called Tone-X, which sounded sinister although it was merely capacitors to emphasize bass and treble, similar to the deep and bright switches on Fender amps.

On the amps backside was the percussion effect and controls for the effects.  Musicians that used these amps often turned the heads backwards, so they could easily get to the controls.

The Beatles played through The Super Beatle amplifier during their last few US concerts in 1966.

There is no evidence to show they endorsed the amplifier of use it for recording. The Super Beatle was solely a USA made amplifier geared to USA players.

It should be noted The Who used these amps for the 1967 US tour. Although when the Who played Cincinnati that year, the used rented Fender Dual Showman amps at that concert.

The amps were equipped with a large footswitch to control most of the effects.

There were other amplifiers in the series that had less power; The Viscount, The Royal Guardsman, and The Beatle all had the same control panel layout and effects features. These went from 30 watts to the 100 watt Super Beatle.

The driver section of this amp utilized transformer coupling, which increased the amplifiers efficiency. Some of these amps used germanium transistors.

My friend is involved with a local band that runs through Vox Berkley amps.

He tells me these amps are prone to problems and spend a lot of time in the shop. However they are excellent sounding amplifiers; loud and clean that have a great retro-look.

1 comment:

LeFerna said...

Please consider looking at my father's WWII guitar he carried in Iwo Jima. It has the signatures carved in it of 38 Marines... one of which is the father of our US Security Adviser, Gen JL Jones. It is quite uinique!