Here we present the consice version of VOX's historic journey from the birth of Rock-n-Roll to the latest modern day inovations.
For the full and most accurate account, VOX historian Jim Elyea's book is now available. Vox Amplifiers, The JMI Years was twelve years in the making and this 682 page book documents the early part of VOX’s golden history from before its inception in 1957 through the end of the JMI-era in the late 1960s. It contains many behind the scenes stories, providing an insider’s perspective on the rise and fall of Jennings Musical Industries and Vox amplifiers. (More Info, Click Here...) Also see www.voxguidebook.com
THE HISTORY OF VOX
Edited by: Jim Elyea
Contributing Guitar Info: Martin Kelly
Tom Jennings receives a medical discharge from the Royal Engineers during World War II, and takes a job with Vickers, a munitions plant, in Kent. Here he meets Dick Denney, another amateur musician, who also has a keen interest in radio and electronics. During air raids, Tom and Dick jam together on accordion and guitar to keep up morale in the air raid shelters.
Jennings and Denney go their separate ways. An accomplished accordion player, Tom Jennings opens up a part-time business trading in second hand instruments, mainly accordions. Soon, it becomes a full-time occupation.
The year after WWII ends, Tom Jennings acquires his first commercial premises at 119 Dartford Road in Dartford, Kent. The business starts to import accordions for sale alongside other musical instruments.
Tom Jennings forms Jennings Musical Instruments, Ltd. He also opens a retail shop at 100 Charing Cross Road in London. Early adverts refer to it as "The London Accordion Centre."
Under the "Univox" name, Tom Jennings markets a small portable amplifier that can be used for all applications including the electric guitar.
Derek Underdown joins the team at Jennings Musical Instruments
One of Derek's main jobs is to help design a single note keyboard, also called the Univox. Unlike the Univox amplifier, these are made in-house.
The first product to appear with the VOX name, a foot pedal for controlling volume, is advertised.
With the Rock-n-Roll revolution underway, Jennings brings out a small line of guitar amplifiers, which enjoy limited success. These amps are designed in-house by Derek Underdown.
Meanwhile, still convalescing after a serious illness, Dick Denney continues to experiment with guitar amplification, designing and making a 15-watt unit with a 12" speaker.
Jennings Musical Instruments becomes Jennings Musical Industries (JMI).
Tom Jennings decides to look outside the company for a guitar amplifier design, and hears of Dick's amplifier. Dick pops by the factory, Tom likes what he hears, and by the end of the year, Dick is working at JMI designing guitar amplifiers.
The first appearance of the VOX name on a guitar amplifier is the short-lived AC2/30.
JMI produces a 15-watt guitar amplifier under the brand name VOX. It is called the
AC1/15. The "AC" refers to its use of only Alternating Current for the mains - still a revolutionary idea at the time. It has a single Goodmans Audiom speaker housed in a TV-front-style cabinet.
A third VOX amplifier is marketed - a holdover from the pre-Dick Denney days, it is first known by its old name, the G1/10, then by the spring, as the AC10.
Soon, other artists are using the VOX AC15 - Bert Weedon, Jack Emblow, and Vic Flick, who used an AC15 when he recorded the James Bond theme.
The first version of the AC30 is introduced. Identical on the outside to the AC15, it also has a single 12" speaker. The power section uses a pair of EL34 valves.
With the Rock-n-Roll scene becoming stronger, Cliff Richard’s backing group, The Shadows, acquires AC15s, and people start to notice their clean guitar sound.
The earliest VOX guitars appear. These outsourced instruments are named simply the "VOX Solid Body." Offered with either one or two pickups, they are very similar in appearance to guitars built by Guyatone.
With Rock-n- Roll becoming more and more popular, there is a need for a louder VOX amplifier. Inspired by the arrival of the 60-watt Fender Twin amplifier from the U.S., the decision is made at Jennings to make their own twin speaker amplifier. The first version is basically a double power AC15. With essentially the same circuit, but with four EL84s in the output, it has upgraded components, two 12" Celestion speakers, and four inputs. This TV front amp is given the model name "AC30/4 Twin." It has two channels- one Normal and one Vib/Trem. As with the Fender model, "Twin" refers to two speakers.
Also introduced is the AC6 - a small practice amp. By mid-year, this evolves into the AC2 with only the moving of the tone control and a name change.
The Shadows reach number one with their first instrumental, "Apache," which features the sound of AC15s. VOX amplifiers are known as the best of British amplifiers.
The VOX guitar range now boasts five budget guitars - the Ace, Duotone, Soloist, Clubman, and Stroller – along with the decidedly up-market three pickup Consort and two pickup Escort. Also offered are two bass models - The Contour and Bassmaster. Built by Stuart Darkins and Co., a furniture maker in Shoeburyness, all could be described as copies of Fender guitars.
The Shadows take delivery of three TV front AC30 Twins. Although only used for a short time, and little seen, this model is forever associated with them. Also seen are the first VOX chromed amplifier stands.
Not totally satisfied with the results of the Celestion G12 speakers being used in VOX amplifiers, Chief Engineer Derek Underdown and others at JMI work with the engineers at Celestion to come up with a version that better fits the needs of VOX amps. By August this new speaker is ready, and is given the Celestion designation, "T.530." Originally painted an oyster Hammertone colour, by the start of the new year it is painted azure blue and sports a belled magnet cover. This version is now fondly known as the "Vox Blue."
Around the fall of 1960, Dick Denney's version of the AC30 goes into production. By using the reliable ECC83 (12AX7) valve in the pre-amp stage, a third “Brilliant” channel is added, increasing the number of inputs to six. Dubbed the AC30/6, it is marketed alongside the AC30/4 for almost a year and a half before the less popular AC30/4 is discontinued.
By the end of the year, beginning with the AC15s, the new Split-front design is introduced using the new Fawn coloured Rexine. With only colour changes, this cabinet design is used through to the present day.
Tom Jennings decides that VOX guitars need their own shape, style, and identity, and commissions something unique and previously unseen. Presented with a radical trapezoid design, Tom brings it out as "The Phantom," which quickly becomes an icon of '60s guitar design. These early Phantoms are the first VOX guitars built from scratch at the Jennings factory, and feature pine bodies, metal pickup covers, and a unique tremolo design.
In an effort to placate the wishes of the groups of the time for more high end, an add-on device is offered that can be added to an AC30. This "Top Boost" unit is mounted to the back of the chassis, with its two controls on a white Traffalite plate that is accessed through a hole in the back of the cabinet. It gives proper treble and bass controls and an extra gain stage, with an amazing combination of total variations by adjusting only two knobs. By 1963, it would be available not only as a separate add-on, but as an integral part of the circuit.
The AC2 magically becomes the AC4 with no internal or external changes.
The VOX Continental Organ is introduced. With its characteristic orange colour and reversed black and white keys, it is an instant classic, used by most of the British Invasion groups including The Animals and The Beatles, and later in America, by The Doors. It would soon be joined by the double manual Continental II and the less expensive Jaguar.
The Beatles buy their first VOX amplifiers on hire purchase (credit). John gets an AC15 Twin and George an AC30 Twin with added Top Boost– both amps are in covered in Fawn Rexine.
The first T.60, arguably the first transistorized amp for bass guitar, is given to former Shadows' bassist Jet Harris.
The Beatles record "Love Me Do" and "How Do You Do It?" using their Fawn VOX amplifiers. They will record a total of five songs using these particular amps.
"Telstar," by the Tornadoes, is released and tops the U.K. charts. Its characteristic riff is played on a Univox organ. Also on the charts this week are Bert Weedon, Lonnie Donegan, The Shadows and The Beatles – all VOX users.
VOX amplifiers begin the changeover from Fawn covering to black. This transition happens to each model at a different time. Over the next few years, there will be a half dozen variations on the black covering used.
Reg Clark makes the deal of a lifetime, giving The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein two (almost) free AC30 Twins in the new black covering. Brian in turn promises the free use of The Beatles to publicize VOX.
The Phantom is revamped. Now called the Mark II, it is redesigned with an improved neck, pickups, and tremolo. Phantoms are very successful, being used by many top artists of the era including the Dave Clark Five and the Hollies.
The guitar line now features 17 different models – and all guitars are now made to far higher standards - necks and bodies are now made by E. Gomme and Son (G Plan) in High Wycombe, and assembled at the Jennings Factory.
One of the models is the Bouzouki electric 12-string, which is available a full 6 months before Rickenbacker hands George Harrison their second prototype 12-string instrument
In need of more capital to grow his company, Tom Jennings, after an extensive search for investors, sells a controlling interest in JMI to a large conglomerate, the Royston Group. Unfortunately, this does not become the relationship Tom has in mind, with Tom eventually forced out of his own company in 1967.
The AC50 and AC100 Bass amplifiers are in production. Some of the first ones go to The Beatles, who use them on stage for "The Beatles Christmas Show." The amplifiers will later be heard (but not seen) on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and seen (and heard) in "A Hard Day's Night."
The first prototypes of VOX's second iconic guitar design – the Phantom Mark III - are built by Mick Bennett at the Jennings factory, and feature a brand new plectrum-shaped body. It quickly becomes known as the "Teardrop." One of the first prototypes - a white, two pickup, six-string model using a Fender Stratocaster bridge is given to Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. He uses it extensively during 1964 and '65, and it becomes forever identified with him.
Also this year, in an effort to add more room, manufacturing is moved to a three story building on West Street in nearby Erith. There, JMI shares the building with Burndepts, another Royston Group company that happens to manufacture chassis for VOX amplifiers.
The Celestion T.530/Vox Blue speakers get a paint job. Now done up in Poly Grey, they are the exact same speakers, but are now re-named the T.1088.
The first AC100 Super DeLuxe cabinets with four Celestion T.1088's and two Goodmans Midax horns go to John Lennon and George Harrison. They are immediately pressed into service on The Beatles' first full-fledged American Tour. The Beatles will continue to use AC100s and AC100 SDLs for roughly two years.
Dick Denny and Derek Underdown work hard on prototypes for Dick's brainchild - the VOX Guitar organ - a revolutionary concept that offers the workings of a VOX Continental Organ in a Phantom Guitar body. The idea offers guitarists the chance to play organ sounds on a guitar. An early version is displayed at a London trade show in August, but problems with the design lead Dick back to the drawing board. The Series Two Guitar Organ is finally released in early 1966.
Also at the Russell Hotel trade show in London, Thomas Organ of Los Angeles places an order for $1,000,000 in VOX equipment to be shipping to the United States. The American teenagers are so rabid for VOX, that the first orders are air freighted. By November, Thomas orders another $1,500,000 worth of VOX equipment.
By now, the VOX catalogue contains the VOX Echo machine and the VOX Radio Microphone, as well as a full line of amplifiers including the AC4, AC10, AC10 Twin, AC15, AC15 Twin, several versions of the AC30 Twin and AC30 Super Twin, AC50, AC100, Foundation Bass, and T.60. Also seen is the AC30 Expanded Frequency-Fifteen, which is an AC30 chassis with integral Top Boost in a larger cabinet containing a pair of the same 15" Celestion speakers as found in the T.60 cabinet.
In the same way that the VOX factory struggles to keep pace with amplifier orders from America, they experience the same problem meeting demand for their guitars. The solution is to set up a second factory with Italian maker EKO in Recanati Italy to produce guitars for the U.S. market. By summer of 1965, most VOX guitars entering the U.S. are made in Italy. The first of these Italian guitars are exclusively re-named versions of U.K. models, but by 1966, original designs start to appear. Production of guitars at U.K. factories in both Dartford and Erith continues until January of 1968.
A new semi-acoustic teardrop bass is designed for Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman. The U.K.-made production version of the Wyman Bass is soon joined by 6- and 12-string models - The Spitfire Mark VI and Spitfire Mark XII. Beginning in 1966, Italian versions of these are also made – re-named the Wyman Bass, Acoustic Mark VI, and Acoustic Mark XII.
The Thomas Organ Company begins to supplement the imported VOX valve amplifiers from the U.K. with their own U.S.-made tube models. Soon, these are replaced with all transistor models, designed and made in the Los Angeles suburb of Sepulveda. The Super Beatle amplifier appears with a host of features including built-in tuning tones and a Hammond licensed reverb effect.
Although Tom Jennings does not want to have VOX amplifiers manufactured outside of the U.K, parent company Royston does, and Royston wins. From this point on, JMI makes VOX amps in England, and The Thomas Organ Company makes VOX amps in the U.S. All U.S. amplifier models soon become transistor based.
The 4- and 7- series amplifiers (Hybrids) are added to the catalogue. Inventive for their time, these U.K-made amplifiers borrow some technology from the U.S. amps, with modular, transistorized front ends (preamps) and valve back ends (power sections). Made in very small quantities, these amps are used on The Beatles' "Revolver" and "Sgt. Pepper" albums, as well as being used by The Troggs, Billy J. Kramer, and The Rolling Stones.
At Brian Jones bequest, Mick Bennett and his team design and build an electric dulcimer. Named the Bijou, and produced in limited numbers, Jones uses his extensively throughout 1966.
Due to the quick rise in cost of the metal Alnico, which is used for the magnets in the T.1088 and other speakers, Celestion brings out a line of ceramic magnet speakers. Less expensive to manufacture, they first appear on some of the Hybrid amplifiers.
JMI and Thomas Organ form a consortium with the Italian guitar manufacturer EKO. Named EME, the new company will manufacture guitars and organs for the U.S. and other markets.
JMI/VOX receives the prestigious Queen's Award for Industry.
The spring catalogue introduces the new, all solid-state line. Guitar amps shown are the Traveller, Virtuoso, Conqueror, Defiant, and Supreme. Bass amps are the Dynamic, Foundation, and Super Foundation. All models feature onboard distortion. This line will continue to be made for several years.
The AC30 Twin and AC50 continue to be manufactured. The AC30 Twin will be in constant manufacture to the present day.
Vox guitars from the professional range (both Italian and British production) are now offered with optional on-board effects. These include fuzz, repeat percussion, top boost, mid boost, bass boost, and an E tuner.
The Italian-made guitar line boasts a teardrop design - the Starstream - plus the Gibson-esque - Ultrasonic and Grand Prix. These models include the onboard effects plus an additional palm operated Wah-Wah.
The last original U.K.-designed VOX guitar is launched - The Marauder. It features an oddly shaped, almost square body, with optional effects.
Tom Jennings is asked to resign from the company he started over two decades ago. Dick Denney and Custom Shop manager Mick Bennett follow him back to 119 Dartford Road, where Tom forms a new amplifier company, JEI. Derek Underdown is also made redundant, and leaves the company.
With the departure of Tom Jennings and internal problems within JMI, U.K. guitar production grinds to a halt in January.
Investments by other companies in The Royston Group go bad, and the entire Group goes down, taking JMI/VOX with it. By June, the company is no longer known as JMI, but as Vox Sound Equipment, Ltd. This would later be shortened to Vox Sound, Ltd.
The Beatles record the White Album, in part with a Solid State VOX Conqueror.
The last of the Italian made Vox guitars are produced at the EME factory, although many of these remain unsold into the early '70s.
Vox Sound Equipment, Ltd. goes into receivership.
By the end of the year, the Corinthian Bank becomes the new owner of Vox.
Vox Sound, Ltd. is sold to a consortium comprising of John Birch and George Stowe of Stolec Electronics and the Schroder Bank. Manufacturing is moved to Hastings, where a few organs and AC30s are made. At this point, the valve rectifier is eliminated and printed circuit boards are introduced.
Vox has the good fortune to be championed by Brian May of the group Queen. Brian combines multiple AC30s with a unique playing style, and the image of him backed by a stack of AC30s provides excellent and much needed promotion for Vox.
CBS Arbiter, the UK Fender importer, buys Vox Sound, Ltd., and the VOX brand passes to a new owner. Production moves to the Dallas Arbiter factory in Shoeburyness, where their version of the AC30 is made.
At CBS Arbiter, AC30s are again made with point-to-point wiring. In a cost cutting exercise some features are changed - the Celestion T.1088's with their Alnico magnets are replaced with Celestions with ceramic magnets, and the cabinet is now made out of particleboard as opposed to plywood making it both heavier and weaker.
CBS Arbiter reintroduces VOX organs with the re-issue of the Continental I and the Continental 300. They also offer a new version of the AC50.
A mini AC30, the Escort, is offered. It is a small practice amp with a 2.5-watt output that can work on batteries or be plugged into the mains.
A Solid State version of the AC30, the AC30SS, is available, and although it does not sound like a valve AC30, at the time, it is good value for the money.
Someone at CBS notices that they own not only VOX but Fender as well, and sees this as a conflict. CBS Arbiter then sells VOX to Rose Morris. Rose Morris had been the distributor of Marshall amplifiers throughout the 1970s. When it became apparent that Marshall wished to do the job themselves, Rose Morris started looking for another amplification line to run, and picked VOX. Interestingly, Rose Morris contracts to continue making amplifiers at CBS Arbiter's plant in Shoeburyness.
Much work needs to be done to revive the VOX name, and there are many manufacturing difficulties to overcome, but at the 1980 British Music Fair, the VOX V125 is launched. This is basically a modified AC120 in the form of a head that drives 2 x 12" speaker cabinets with open backs. Soon other models appear - a V125 Bass, a V15 valve combo, and the transistor Escort 50 Lead and Escort 50 Bass. Utilizing a modified V125 chassis, a combo known as the Climax is also made.
VOX begins production of guitars again. Made in the Far East the “Custom” and “Standard” guitar ranges provide some of the best quality guitars to bear the VOX name. Later, in 1985, the Korean-built White Shadow guitar makes an appearance, replacing the Standard and Custom range.
The AC30 undergoes a re-design in order to reduce its production costs. This cost cutting assures that it is not dropped from the catalogue. The design uses one PCB. A reduced gain design is employed to overcome problems with lack of availability of good quality valves, as well as the hum problems associated with the single PCB design. The contractors Audio Factor, who also made the Venue range, made these AC30s.
The Dual 100 is added to the Venue range. This employs a twin switched channel to compete with the successful Sessionette amps that are a strong competitor. New valve models are introduced - the Concert 501 and the Concert 100 head with the 4 x 12" speaker cabs. These sell in the export market and retain some of the VOX good looks.
Rose Morris decides that the way forward is to acquire its own manufacturing facility, so they buy a large section of the Precision Electronics plant in Wellingborough, and hire a small team to make VOX amplifiers. P.E. soon designs and builds a new transistor range for VOX called the Q-Series, as well as taking over the manufacturing of the AC30.
The AC30 undergoes some changes, but this time for the better. An attempt is made to make it sound like an original early '60s model, and a limited production run of 1000 are made. Branded the AC30 Limited Edition, each amp has a brass plate on the back with the unit’s number. The Limited Edition is even endorsed by Dick Denney, who for the first time in 23 years again has some association with Vox.
Because of the success of the AC30 Ltd. Edition, a new model AC30, based on the same design, is introduced. The "AC30 Vintage" has reverb, and is also available as a head.
Both the Limited Edition and the Vintage are fitted as standard with G12M Celestion speakers, but as an option, a version of the Vox Blue speaker model is available. Celestion does not make this speaker, and although it is a good attempt at recreating the original, there are noticeable differences.
Rose Morris sells VOX to its present owner KORG.
For financial reasons, the small VOX manufacturing facility at Wellingborough is shut down.
Realizing that it is the original AC30 that guitarists want, the KORG-era AC30 is put back to as near to an original design as can be achieved with today’s manufacturing considerations. With two major changes to the design, great leaps are made in approximating the sound of the 1960s AC30. The first is replacing the GZ34 valve rectifier. Not used since the late 1960s, and although a primitive component by today’s standard, it plays a major part in obtaining the real AC30 sound. The second change is the introduction of the newly reissued original-style VOX Blue Alnico speakers. After much work, Celestion is once again able to build the same speakers as before. Not only is the sound of the original AC30 achieved, but with the reintroduction of the basketweave Rexine and the vintage-style brown diamond grill cloth, this new AC30 looks very much like the original model. The result is the AC30 that you can buy today, with little change from the original, proving that Tom Jennings, Dick Denney, and Derek Underdown were right first time.
Also seen is the reintroduction of the classic VOX Wah-Wah pedal made to the original specifications. This is shortly followed by a limited production run of the VOX Tone Bender germanium transistor fuzz box.
The new AC15 arrives. This new version is based on the original AC15, but with more practical features for the modern user, such as reverb, master volume and tone controls.
The AC1 desktop battery-powered amplifier is introduced. With 1-watt into twin 2-inch speakers, this mini amplifier looks like a miniature AC30.
Two new pedals arrive, the Valve-Tone and the Distortion-Booster.
A reunion of over 20 former JMI/VOX employees is held in Dartford.
The VOX Pathfinder 15 practice amplifier makes its debut and is well received at the Frankfurt Musik Messe.
The VOX Cambridge range is developed for release in late 1999.
The first VOX fan festival, VoxFest '99 is held in Riverside, California.
The new VOX Cambridge 30 Reverb & Cambridge 30 Reverb Twin amplifiers, featuring a two channel valve driven preamp, arrive.
Frankfurt Musik Messe sees the launch of the new VOX T-25 bass guitar combo.
'Everlast' appears on the back cover of VOX's catalogue with the AC30.
VOX R&D becomes a division of KORG Europe.
July's music trade shows in the U.S. and U.K. launch the new revolutionary Valvetronix range and the T60 & Pathfinder 10 combos.
The VOX T-15 bass amp and new pathfinder 15 & 15R amps are shown at the Frankfurt Musik Messe.
Interest in the AC30 makes another resurgence when Lenny Kravitz tours with a wall of combos and custom cabinets.
VOX introduces the UNION JACK WAH pedal with a colourful flag on the pedal body.
ToneLab is introduced, offering VOX's innovative Valve Reactor and Valvetronix modeling technology in a portable desktop processor.
Matchbox 20 appears in an ad with the VOX AC30.
VOX's relationship with Brian May is further cemented when the company introduces the VBM-1 Brian May Amplifier.
VOX releases their hand-wired AC30 head and combo to critical acclaim, and the Pathfinder 10, 15 and 15R portable combos are reintroduced.
Youth-oriented artists begin to insist on VOX, when groups like Primus, Train and Our Lady Peace join the VOX register.
The new CHROME SERIES of Valvetronix amplifiers is launched. With modified looks, great modeling sound and a punch of power, it finds favour with younger players.
VOX R&D's office is established in England.
VOX introduces COOLTRON technology, and releases the first line of battery powered stomp boxes that include a tube.
VOX production moves to China and the AC30 Custom Classic is introduced.
VOX continues to gain popularity and artists such as Meredith Brooks, Simple Plan and Slipknot who endorse the AC30 and Valvetronix amps.
The portable, affordable DA5 amplifier is launched and later includes a variety of amps in red, pink, green, and other colours.
VOX's popularity surges with diverse artists that include Jim Ward of Sparta, Claudio Sanchez from Coheed & Cambria and Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy.
Taking a further step forward in sound development, VOX presents its AC50 and AC100 CLASSIC PLUS heads, cabs and combo.
VOX celebrates its 50th year of amplifier design with two custom created AC15 models, the first in its new line of Heritage Collection amplifiers.
The first three models in a series of guitar headphone amps are introduced - the amPlugs.
The definitive history of the brand, "VOX Amplifiers, the JMI Years" by Jim Elyea is published.
High-end semi-hollow VIRAGE guitars are launched at the winter NAMM show.
Vox announce that they are working with Joe Satriani to produce a new line of signature effect pedals.
Vox moves in to the world of computer software with the release of JAMVOX. Not only providing modeling effects, JAMVOX has a revolutionary feature that removes the guitar sound from CD and MP3 recordings.
The new VT SERIES replaces the best selling AD Chrome range adding more amp models and a global reverb effect.
The latest incarnations of the AC15 & AC30 are launched along with the new 33 & 55 series solid-body guitars and 77 series semi-hollow guitar. Vox also moves into the world of acoustic amplification.
Vox's Valve Reactor design is incorporated into a new AC15VR & AC30VR hybrid amp series.
All trade marks are the property of their respected owners and are used for historic purposes. Artist names are used for historic purposes only. They are not necessarily users of current Vox equipment.