Hands-On Review:Vox AC100CPH
Classic AC30 and modern high-gain amp sounds
Rock-and-roll has been around for a little over 50 years and so has Vox. To celebrate its half-century of producing musical instruments, Vox has revived the AC100 name for its new guitar amp head, the 100-watt AC100 Classic Plus Head which the company also abbreviates as the AC100CPH. It’s part of Vox’s new Classic Plus Series, which also includes the 50-watt AC50CPH head and the 50-watt AC50CP2 combo.
That’s exciting news for guitar players like me who dig the AC100CPH for its two distinctive channels, one that produces the classic AC30 amp sound, the other that’s a high-gain monster. This makes the AC100CPH a perfect guitar amp for my performance needs. I’m the guitarist in a band that plays covers of rock and blues-rock tunes, mostly from the ’60s and ’70s, plus more modern, high-energy rock. I’m pretty much a purist, so I require my equipment to produce an authentic sound, whether it’s the crisp ringing rhythms of Merseybeat, the gritty blues of London, or the working-class hard rock of America’s steel belt. I’m not averse to occasionally using an effects pedal to achieve a specific sound, but I believe in producing my overall guitar tones from the solid foundation of a classic guitar straight into a classic amp. Because I play both rhythm and lead in my band I need to be able to quickly switch from a clean or crunchy rhythm tone to bone-shattering leads—which is just what the AC100CPH does quickly and reliably between both channels with the included footswitch.
One head is better than two
Each of the AC100CPH channels provides a distinctive and highly sought-after tone. Channel 1’s EL34 tube circuitry is based on the renowned Top Boost channel of the world-class AC30—the amp used by not only The Beatles but also guitar greats such as Rory Gallagher, Tom Petty, Peter Buck, and Brian May. The Top Boost channel provides a range of tones from clean to crunch. Channel 2 is designed to provide high-gain for screaming, searing leads.
At a recent gig, I put the AC100CPH through the sonic wringer. I began the first set with my Rickenbacker 6-string for some British Invasion tunes, so I stayed on Channel 1. The interactive EQ (bass, mid, and treble) of the Top Boost circuitry requires a bit of experimentation to get the right sound. That’s because adjusting one tone control affects the others. I also kept the Tone Cut control dialed down to ensure lots of sparkle and bite for some chimey rhythm sounds and bright, sterling leads (with a few windmill strums thrown in). Vox has a lot of experience with Tone Cut beginning with the AC15 in 1958. The Tone Cut control acts in reverse of the Presence control on Channel 2. The tricky part is to remember that turning the knob up cuts the harshness of high frequencies.
The output of the AC100CPH was fed into the matching V412BN speaker cabinet, which is fitted (or kitted, as the British would say) with four custom-designed Vox GHS12-30 12" Wharfdale speakers that are voiced to handle the range of tones from both amp channels. The cabinet itself sports a brown diamond crosshatch grille cloth that harkens back to The Cavern Club and Shea Stadium.
Our second set featured mostly British blues-rock. Once again, I used a simple signal chain with a Gibson SG Standard fed directly into the AC100CPH. Using Channel 2—the high gain channel—I clicked on the Fat switch to increase the gain while emphasizing midrange for the warm, round sustain that led the blues boom of the late ’60s and is still a crowd pleaser in every blue-collar watering hole from Asbury Park, New Jersey to Pomona, California. Several times during solos I hit one note and let it sustain just to enjoy the pure, natural sound produced by a humbucker-powered solidbody guitar fed through an EL34-powered amp. This type of feedback-sustain can be punishing for both amp and speakers but the AC100CPH and V412 half-stack delivered like a winner without wimping out. If you’re looking for less output, perhaps for smaller venues, Vox also makes the 50W AC50CPH.
The real test of the AC100CPH came in the third set. Most of the hard rockin’ tunes required rapid switching from a crunchy rhythm part to a high-gain snarling lead fill and back again, which I accomplished using the supplied footswitch to change channels. (When I couldn’t get the footswitch to work, the other guitarist informed me I had to have the channel selector switch on the amp head set to Channel 2 to enable channel switching. The manual mentions this, but then, who reads manuals?
The Bright switch on Channel 2 helped compensate for some excessive low-mids from my guitar’s humbuckers by adding more high-mids and upper frequencies to produce more bite. I also used the footswitch to control reverb on the lead channel to add spaciousness for some passages and then switched off the reverb for intimate up-close soloing (a technique used by B.B. King and then later by Peter Green on Fleetwood Mac’s original version of “Black Magic Woman.”) Not being a total purist, I did use some effects (echo and rotary speaker) via the AC100CPH’s effects loop. The bypass switch ensured a clean sound when the effects were not being used.
Yet another cool feature: you can record directly from the AC100CPH by using the direct out with either an XLR or unbalanced 1/4" connector. Because the output level of the direct out is independent, you can turn the Master Volume control all the way down for “silent” recording (just remember to keep the speakers plugged in to prevent accidental damage should you forget you’ve been using direct out).
With its durable construction, one channel of classic Vox amp sounds and one channel of modern high-gain sounds, the AC100CPH is going to be with me for a long time. . . perhaps long enough to see the Vox’s anniversary.
Features & Specs