On Friday the 13th, Dan & Mick slayed a rumor that has haunted the halls of guitar stores and lurked in the seedy underbelly of gear forums for ages: the oft-told but seldom tested idea that amps in the Vox AC series are inept and ill-equipped for handling pedals. Sure they’ve got that chime we all know and love and come with their own characteristic style of UK gain, yet for some reason, these rock solid amps have attracted a bad name when it comes to opinions on how they react or respond to effects pedals.
This week on TPS, Dan & Mick put the new Vox AC15 through the paces to hear it on it’s own terms as well as hit it hard with every range of gain pedal imaginable—from a gentle nudge of the Ibanez Tube Screamer to the growl of the Hudson Electronics Broadcast—and a few other recent options for delay from GFI System and Walrus Audio.
The Quality and Character of the Vox AC15
As Mick recalled, the heritage of this amp extends back to around 1958, yet it was not until recently that Vox resurrected the model as part of the re-issued AC line. While the AC15 at first blush seems like the little brother of the AC30, Mick highlighted that the configuration of the power section in the AC15 is distinctly different. The amp is instilled with legendary British tone and two channels: one controlled by a master volume and tone cut, the other a “top boost” channel with full-range EQ. If this weren’t enough to get the series of 12AX7 and EL84 tubes humming, the on board reverb and tremolo will certainly make this amp a solid contender alongside other mainstays in the 15watt category.
In addition to these stellar tones on either channel, Dan & Mick shared a hack for making the most of the amp’s connectivity options. By using a switching system, like the Gig Rig G2 and plugging two patch chords into both channels, it’s possible to either run the clean and top boost at the same time for some added aggression or to switch between them on the fly. In short, before even thinking of throwing some pedals in the mix, the AC15 proved its versatility across the spectrum for singing, glassy highs to grunting gain.
As Dan concluded by the video’s end: “I must say, I love the Vox thing and I think that [AC15] sounds awesome. I didn’t expect it to sound as good as it does but it’s fantastic. I would happily gig with that!”
Now onto the real question of the hour: how will this new take on a Vox classic handle modern effects pedals?
A Pair of Overdrive Pedals from Fulltone and Hudson Electronics in Tag-Team with the Vox AC15
To vindicate the AC15 from its underserved reputation of disagreeing with overdrive pedals, Dan & Mick experimented with a range of five gain pedals. Here’s a short take on just two TPS favorites and modern classics.
In many ways, the Fulltone OCD is a common reference point for any TPS experiment in high gain. When partnered up with the AC15, the pedal knocked out its iconic aggressive gain and rich tones particularly with humbuckers. As Dan & Mick commented, part of the beauty of this sound (and perhaps why Vox amps with gain pedals have been misunderstood) was that it offered up exceptional overdrive in an EQ clarity that will cut right through the mix in a live band situation. As Dan noted, “If you’re not used to that sound, you might not be into it.”
A few years back, Hudson Electronics blew everyone’s mind with the Broadcast, a transistor based, germanium preamp and drive pedal based on the circuitry of classic consoles of the 1960s. When run into the front end of the AC15, Dan & Mick were both impressed at the way that the normal channel handled the Hudson. The real magic, however, was with the top-boost channel, which started to cave in and collide in incredible ways with the gain structure of the Broadcast. As Mick reflected, “It’s got that full range and treble up top that really reminds me rootsy aggressive rock and roll,” in the spirit of the likes of Dan Auerbach or John Spencer. As Dan commented gob-smacked (yet again!) at the Broadcast: “I mean, that thing; every time I plug it in it’s just ridiculous!”
The verdict on the AC15 and drive pedals? The myth has is now busted: to say an AC15 can “handle” an overdrive pedal is a vast understatement—they can wrangle the best of them with a defined sophistication.
The final component of the TPS experiment looked at using the AC15 as part of a wet/dry set-up designed with low volume settings in mind. As Mick noted at the outset of the segment, while this might sound counterintuitive for players in home environments, it is a way of achieving body and fullness without necessarily demanding a spike in decibels. To explore this, the TPS anchormen deployed two recently launched delay pedals making their TPS debut: the GFI System Specular Tempus and Walrus Audio Arp-87.
Using the new Vox MV50 clean mini hybrid as the other amp in the equation, Dan & Mick kept the AC15 reserved for the delay and reverb in the wet/dry mix. This sound was warm and bright yet open, broad, and embodied the space without splitting eardrums. After losing himself in the sound for a few minutes, Dan tuned back into reality and simply stated: “All day man, all day long! Or at least, as long as this video.”
As Mick noted, “If you’re sat at home playing and you find that the sound of that single one-by-twelve cab just isn’t giving you enough bottom end and expansiveness, just adding a second amp can make a world of difference. And that MV50 clean comes in at $199 [US], which is really not like you’re buying a whole other amp for $900!”
For the full line of Vox amps, from the AC line up to modern hybrids, head over the Riff City and we’ll get you sorted out and set up for a rock-ready rig at any volume and venue.
TPS Rig Rundown
Guitars: Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster, Fender American ’62 Stratocaster, Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Standard, Duesenberg Bonneville, Paul Reed Smith DGT.Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini, Fulltone OCD, Hudson Electronics Broadcast, Ibanez Chorus Mini, Walrus Audio ARP-87 Delay, GFI System Specular Tempus, D’Addario Chromatic Pedal Tuner.