VOX Legends » The Beatles and VOX
Go to a Paul McCartney show today and it's hard not to instantly be transported back to the golden era of the British invasion when The Beatles recorded iconic albums and delivered electric performances that would help to define a generation. John, Paul, George and Ringo set the world on fire with their hit songs, raucous tone and intense performances throughout the 1960’s. In this new era with the electric guitar as king, The Beatles needed to make sure they had the right tools to do the job.
Back in early 1962 the band were little more than local heroes, returning back from honing their live performance skills playing night after night in Hamburg for over two years. Soon after they were dazzling punters in Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club with their new songs and incendiary live shows. Up until that point, Paul McCartney and the rest of the group used any gear they could scrape together. It was not until The Beatles were taken under the wing of manager Brian Epstein that they truly begin to hone not just their image but also their live sound. Unheard of in those times, the maverick Epstein quickly managed to strike up an endorsement deal with a small amp company out of Dartford that would come to define the sound of the British Invasion.
In a time when highly desired American brands were rarely imported to the UK, local manufacturers recognised a demand to create their own line of instruments and amplifiers to supply the burgeoning Rock and Pop explosion on the British side of the pond. Back in the early 1960’s VOX was a relatively fresh brand and new to the scene, though known and desired in the UK amongst aspiring guitarists due to emerging guitar hero Hank Marvin of The Shadows. Around the time The Beatles were signed by George Martin’s Parlophone label in 1962, Brian Epstein signed an endorsement deal with VOX for the band to exclusively use VOX gear in their backline. Soon the band started using a combination of VOX AC15 and AC30 amps. Throughout their live career and the majority of their time in the studio, VOX would go on to supply a variety of different amps and equipment to the band. The group pushed VOX engineers to expand the boundaries of their designs with their ever-increasing requirements for more volume and headroom. If you ever had the opportunity to see the Beatles, chances are you were hearing Paul McCartney and the rest of the lads play through VOX gear. From the sweaty gigs in the clubs of the North of England to the Ed Sullivan Show & defining Shea Stadium gig, when you heard The Beatles, you heard VOX. The timeless British VOX tone is there in all of its grandeur in those classic early recordings.
The Early Days
In the early days the band plugged straight into AC30s and as a result it is the amplifier most identified with the British invasion and early Beatles sound. In late 1962 Paul transitioned to the all-new VOX T-60 bass amp, which was one of the world’s first musical transistor amplifiers (did not need valves/tubes). George and Johns AC30s were soon modified to sport the new 'top-boost' unit, which enabled the band to drive the amps harder for a more cutting and saturated tone. Pushing his T-60 harder and harder night after night, Paul eventually replaced it in favour of an AC30 head and a new vertical bass cabinet loaded with combo of 12 & 15 inch Celestion speakers. As the Beatles started acclimating themselves to the recording studio, much of the character of those early records came from George Martin’s approach to capturing the band playing live in the room through their VOX amps with minimal overdubs, The opening riff of 'Day Tripper', the jangly intro to 'I Feel Fine' and the raucous rhythm to 'All My Loving' all provide great examples of the classic 1960’s VOX tone, not to mention the genius of Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting.
The Beatles Rise to Stardom
As The Beatles rose to stardom it was clear that they were going to need even more power to be heard over the deafening screams of crazed teenage fans going to their shows in even greater numbers. In the days before the modern multi channel high-powered PA systems taken for granted today, VOX would again have to answer the band’s call for more volume with more powerful amps. VOX’s answer was to construct a single channel 50 watt head which would be paired with a 'closed back' 2 x 12" speaker cabinet. These cabinets also uniquely featured an additional Midax Horn to accentuate the high frequencies. In development since late 1963, VOX further beefed up the head design to 80 watts with the AC80/100. This powerful new head, coupled with larger speaker cabinets provided more power and projection onstage. The increase in power proved to be a revelation for Paul who quickly upgraded to the AC100 head and had VOX construct a vertical 2 x 15" closed back bass cabinet. Paul’s bass lines would now have more presence and was a great partner for his Hofner 'Violin' Bass. As demand for the band increased it saw their performances move away from medium sized gigs to concert halls, outdoor shows and eventually stadiums. From late 1964 the entire band would all eventually adopt AC100’s for maximum headroom and power on stage. The band found however that the weak PA systems of the time simply could not match the increasingly deafening screams directed at them by thousands of adoring fans. Tired of the incessant touring and frequently complaining of the inability to hear themselves on stage they eventually made the decision to stop touring and focus on work in the studio after their final public show at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966.
Fast forward to the present day. Celebrating the long-standing relationship between the two icons, in 2008 Paul generously signed a VOX AC15H1TV and wrote 'Cool Amp' on the white Tolex. This collectors dream was then auctioned for the 'No More Landmines' charity. Throughout his career with The Beatles, Wings and as a solo artist, Paul has used many different tools to do the job, and yet every night he goes out there, you’ll find him standing in front of two VOX AC100s. Nearly 50 years later they’re still inseparable.
Words: Christopher Glancy, Thomas Cumming and Max Lauer-Bader