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. During its glory days it was manufactured by the Jennings Organ Company aka The Jennings Company and started in 1958.

Dick Denny & Tom Jennings
Due to financial issues Vox JMI was sold in 1964 to a UK conglomerate called The Royston Company. Tom Jennings, the founder retained a post as did Dick Denney. It was Denney that actually designed Vox amplifiers. In 1967 both men parted ways from Royston.

The following year, 1968 Royston filed for bankruptcy. Some former employees of JMI (Jennings Musical Instruments) cut a deal with the bank that held the assets and procured the Vox name. They began building Vox under the name of Vox Sound Equipment. This venture was shut down and bankruptcy proceeding took place in 1969.

Another British company, Birch Stolec Industries, purchased Vox from the holding company. On a side note, Rick Huxley, bass player for the Dave Clark Five, was their sales manager. This company began building Vox amps that utilized printed circuit boards. They also manufactured solid state models.

Dallas Musical Industries purchased Vox in 1973. They were formerly Dallas Arbiter. They went back to building Vox amplifiers using handwiring techniques.

By 1978 the company was once again purchased by Rose Morris. Rose Morris was the distributor for Marshall Amplifiers and the Vox purchase was a hedge against losing the Marshall business.

In 1993 the Korg Company, a Japanese multinational company, bought the Vox trademark and has continued the tradition of manufacturing Vox amplifiers including their version of the AC-30. Interestingly enough, Korg also distributes Marshall Amplifiers.

Vox 1959 AC15
Let us go back to the beginning when Vox amps were made in Britain by the JMI corporation and were used exclusively by the Beatles and many other British Invasion groups. Tom Jennings founded the Jennings Organ Company in Dartford Kent. His first successful product was called the Univox. This was a powerful electronic keyboard with a built-in amplifier and speaker.

In 1956 Jennings met Dick Denny. Denny was a big band guitarist and was going deaf. He invented an amplifier to let him hear the music he was playing on the guitar. He took the design to Jennings and Jennings. This was the first Vox AC15 which gained popularity when the Shadows used it.  Next was an amplifier that was twice as powerful, the AC30.

The Vox amplifiers ran on a class A circuit. This meant the power tubes were always on which gave the sound better frequency output and smoother distorion. This is one of the reasons a Vox AC 30 watt amp seems to sound louder than a class AB 30 watt amplifier such as the Peavy 30.

So the Shadows, which were huge in Britain used Vox, so it was obvious that other UK bands would desire them.  So many of the British Invasion bands of the mid-1960's chose Vox. It was what was available.

Vox was not prepared for the screaming crowds that the Beatles and other touring bands faced. They realized the AC30 at full volume was not going to cut through the screams of the female fans.

So they investigated producing a larger version. What they came up with was the Vox AC100 aka the Vox Super Deluxe.

One interesting feature on the AC100 and other Vox amplifiers was the step up/step down transformer which allowed the amp to accept differing currents.

In late 1964 JMI proposed that the Thomas Organ Company be the sole US distributor for Vox. It may have been short-sighted of the former Jennings Organ Company to believe a US organ manufacturer would be a great vehicle to distribute Vox amplifiers.

Once Thomas Organ inked the deal they realized that JMI/Vox was not capable of manufacturing an adequate number of amplifiers to make the deal profitable.

Thomas Organ, not at all happy about the situation and proposed a deal that they become licensed manufacturers of Vox amplifiers in the United States and Canada. Probably due to the financial situation at JMI, they agreed.

This is how the Vox Super Beatle and other products came to be made by the Thomas Organ Company aka Vox US.

Once the legal wrangling was finished, Thomas Organ hired a solid state electronics engineer named Sava Jacobsen and gave him the task of building a solid state amplifier that sounded like "a Vox." Jacobsen did a tone analysis of a Vox AC30. He then went to work to build a 3 channel solid state preamplifier, which included a top boost, mid-range boost, reverb and tremolo in its circuitry.

Vox Viscount
He paired that with a modular 35 watt solid state amplifier to connect to the preamp. Vox/Thomas gave this amp the British sounding title the Vox Viscount. Jacobsen went on to develop 60 and 120 watt modular amplifiers.

The 120 watt power amp that was connected to his 3 channel preamp was known as the V-14 Super Beatle amplifier. It was mounted in a trapezoidal style cabinet. To go along with this a speaker cab was created. The speaker cab was unique as it was mounted in a chrome-plated steel trolley.

The original Vox Super Beetle, the V-14 came with a normal channel, a brilliant channel and a bass channel.

The normal channel featured a top boost rocker switch, the brilliant channel featured a midrange boost rocker switch and the bass channel came with a sweepable frequency tone control that Jacobsen called Tone-ex. The amp was rated at 120 watts RMS and 240 peak power all into a 2 ohm load. The cabinet was loaded with 4 Vox 12" speakers.

The amps rear panel featured controls for tremolo, repeat percussion, midrange effects and reverb. Repeat percussion was an effect that Thomas included on their organs.

This was sort of a tremolo effect in that it turned the signal on and off, but rapidly and at differing speeds. Thomas used this effect to get a banjo sound on their organs.

Vox 1141 head
Between 1966 and 1967 the Super Beatle head went through two more designs. The second inception was known as the Vox V1141 and the Vox V1142. The amps were similar and had all the accouterments of the V14 plus the addition of Fuzztone. There was no controls for the Fuzztone on the amps panel. Instead it was controlled by a four button footswitch that also controlled the MRB or Mid Range Boost.

These amps were introduced just in time for the Beatles final American concerts. Though the amplifiers features were not much different than the original V14, the V1141/V1142 had internal improvements in design.

Vox V1143

The new V1143 was introduced in 1967 and the name Super Beatle was no longer advertised due to the Beatles objections. This amp utilized FET's or Field Effect Transistors which were designed to reduce noise.

This amp had a feature called an E-tuner. This was also found on later model V1141's and V1142's.

It was a switch that activated an oscilating circuit that emitted an E note equivalent to the first string of a guitar. This was a poor mans tuner that carries on on the Roland Minicube. The chassis of the new amp and speaker cabinet were made of particle board instead of wood.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Thomas Organ Vox story is the fact that the preamp used for the Super Beatle was the same one used on the Viscount, the Buckingham, the Royal Guardsman and the Westminster amps. The main difference was the power amp. The design of these amplifiers utilized transformer coupling, which increased the amplifiers efficiency. Some of these amps made use of germanium transistors.

Another amplifer produced by Thomas Organ was known as the 7120 Vox Beatle Super Stack. This beast was over six feet high and had two semi-opened back cabinets with two ten inch and two twelve inch speakers each with the North Coast design label. The whole thing was mounted on a huge chrome steel trolley. The amplifiers controls were all mounted on the front panel of the head. This was Vox USA's answer to the Marshall double stack.

For the Beatles final US tour in 1966, JMI provided them with Vox AC 100 amplifiers. The Beatles never utilized the Thomas Organ solid state creations.

Although it is said that The Who used the US Vox Super Beatles on their 1967 concerts. I attended the August concert at Cincinnati Music Hall, the Who was playing, but the headliner was Herman's Hermits. The Who used rented Fender Dual Showman amps at that venue

I have a  friend is involved with a local band that plays Beatle tributes. His band member use 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.



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!

Anonymous said...

I had a Vox amp in the 1960's. It was the British made Buckingham. It was a tube amp. The Thomas Organ solid state Vox amps were pure CRAP, plain and simple, especially when they were compared to a Vox tube amp or a pre-CBS Fender tube amp. The quality was so crappy on the Thomas Organ solid state Vox amps, their sales just crashed and no right thinking person would buy one! Probably was not until 2000 before Vox amps started selling again in the USA.

don said...

I bought a 60 watt Thomas Vox Westminster head for bass in the early 70s for $45. It developed an issue so I replaced it with a Traynor tube amp and then an Ampeg then a Sunn and various rigs after that. I liked the Vox while it worked though. If I could have found another Westminster or a Beatle I would have bought it. I kept mine all these years as I couldn't get any money for it and couldn't seem to find anyone to work on it.

I recently found a shop that works on Thomas Organ Vox amps and with luck they can get it working again. Either people love these old things or hate them. Hardly anyone wants a solid state guitar amp, but the Westminster I bought did influence me to prefer solid state bass heads over tube bass heads and I still own an Ampeg V4 tube amp.

Anonymous said...

The Beatles did indeed use Thomas Vox Super Beatles on the 1966 U.S. tour. Many photos on the web bear this out.

Blogger said...

Quantum Binary Signals

Professional trading signals delivered to your mobile phone daily.

Start following our signals today and profit up to 270% per day.

Blogger said...

eToro is the most recommended forex broker for rookie and advanced traders.

Blogger said...

Seeking to join new affiliate programs?
Visit this affiliate directory to see the ultimate list of affiliate networks.