Hands-On Review:Vox AC30CCH 30-watt Head and V412BN 4x12 Cabinet
Vox AC30CCH 30-watt Head and V412BN 4x12 CabinetBy Chris Gill
The original sixties Vox AC30 Top Boost amp belongs on any guitartone aficionado's Top 10 list. But unlike certain classic Fenders and Marshalls that are ubiquitous workhorses, the AC30 enjoys popularity bordering on cult status. Despite being a huge part of the sound of many of the world's biggest bands (including The Beatles, Queen, Tom Petty, U2 and Radiohead), the AC30 is an amp that most guitarists would like to own but, given its traditionally high price, only a handful of discriminating players consider a must-have.
That's a pity, because the AC30 Top Boost is a very versatile amp that's suitable for many styles beyond its usual mop-top and Brit-pop associations. The amp's glassy, overtone-rich distortion works for any style of rock, except perhaps metal, and its ringing, chime-like clean tones are ideal for pop, funk, country, jazz...you name it. Yet to some players, the AC30 Top Boost is like a supermodel that's saving herself for marriage: while they may find it attractive, they're not sure they have much use for old-fashioned eccentricities such as individual Top Boost, Normal and Vibrato/Tremolo channels that can't be blended together.
Vox's new AC30 Custom Classic amplifiers eliminate those quirks with various upgrades, including an effect loop, a master volume control and input link, output bias and Smoothing switches. These and other new features bring the AC30 up to date without sacrificing the tone that made the amp a classic.
The AC30 Custom Classic is similar to Vox's limited-edition AC30 Hand Wired amps, which were introduced in 2002. Like its predecessor, the AC30CC has all-tube circuitry (including a GZ34 tube rectifier), dual inputs and spring reverb; what's more, its Top Boost and Normal channels can be blended. In addition, the Custom Classic models are constructed in China using printed circuit boards, rather than in Britain using hand wiring. This alone shaves a few thousand dollars off the price.
Four versions are available: the AC30C 1x12 combo, the AC30CC2 2x12 combo with Vox custom speakers, the AC30CC2X with Celestion Alnico Blue speakers and the AC30CCH 30-watt head. I tested the AC30CCH head with the Vox V412BN 4x12 extension cabinet featuring four Vox custom GSH12-30 speakers.
The AC30CCH's control panel looks like an original AC30's, but a few new features are evident. The amp has just two channel inputs (Top Boost and Normal) rather than the six inputs you'll find on an AC30 Top Boost. Instead of segregated volume and tone control sections, the AC30CCH features only a volume control for the Normal channel and volume, treble and bass controls for the Top Boost channel. The remaining controls— reverb tone and mix, tremolo speed and depth, cut and master volume—all function with both channels.
Four tiny toggle switches are located near the control panel's top. An Input Link switch functions like a jumper cable, letting you combine Normal and Top Boost channel sounds. A brilliance switch brightens the Normal channel's high frequencies, while the Top Boost channel includes an EQ standard/custom switch that changes the characteristics of this channel's EQ controls. The reverb section's Dwell switch varies the reverb's input level to make the effect's sustain more subtle or pronounced. While the switches engage without any loud pops, they don't appear to be heavy duty enough to survive the abuses of touring.
Other welcome additions include a "warm/hot" Output Bias switch that lets you select the 22-watt output of a regular AC30 (warm) or the 30-watt+ output of a Top Boost model (hot). A Smoothing switch engages different capacitors to make low frequencies tighter (44uF) for a more modern sound or looser (22uF) for classic "vintage bloom" where notes sag slightly before they swell, giving your guitar a hornlike tone when you push the amp hard (just ask Brian May).
The Custom Classic delivers vintage Vox tones while it adds new sounds to the AC30's repertoire. Surf guitar aficionados will love playing a Strat through the Top Boost channel with the reverb cranked up—it's like two popular sounds of the early Sixties combined into one (imagine George Harrison playing Dick Dale's "Miserlou"). With a Les Paul going through the Normal and Top Boost channels simultaneously, with both channel volume controls maxed out, the amp growls like a Marshall "Plexi" but you can keep the volume at a civilized level with the master volume.
One tone the AC30CCH doesn't do is the oversaturated multistage-preamp-distortion thing. This amp is more for players who appreciate the warm, lively and responsive tones of a classic Vox but want an amp with more versatile performance and tonal range. This Vox can deliver some of the sweetest clean tones you'll ever hear, but it can also howl like a beast.
The Bottom Line
Thanks to its affordable price, outstanding tones and versatile features, the AC30CCH brings the classic Vox sound up to date in a package that's truly a joy to use onstage or in the studio. Vox's new Custom Classic amps do away with the quirks that make an original AC30 less useful for modern players while they retain everything that guitarists love about those vintage classics. If you're one of those players who have sat on the fence when it comes to AC30s all these years, now is the time to add a Vox to your "must-have" list.
List Price: $1,200.00
Manufacturer: Vox Amplification Ltd., voxamps.co.uk