Hands-On Review:Vox Brian May Special
Amplification with a royal rock heritageBy Charlie Link
Brian May is the master of a distinct guitar tone thick and sweet with singing midrange and treble harmonics. His gear setup has been thoroughly studied by May aficionados in pursuit of majestic guitar sounds. Besides his homemade Red Special guitar and trademark wall of AC30 combos, there are two other pieces of lesser-known equipment integral to May's array. Together, they are known as a Deacy Setup.
Super tone for everyone
A Deacy Setup is a match-up between two other pieces of gear, the Deacy amplifier and Treble Booster. They are responsible for some of Brian's most noted sounds and orchestrations on record.
Deacy is a little amplifier literally assembled from spare parts. This .45W powered pet amp is named after Queen bassist John Deacon, who built it for May. Put together from parts salvaged out of a garbage bin, the amplifier circuit board was almost definitely rescued from what was once a car radio. This board was mounted in a small '60s bookshelf hi-fi speaker, and in combination with a lantern battery, brought Deacy to life.
With just one input and no controls, Deacy has to be used with another device to control it. For May, that controller is his Treble Booster pedal, another homemade guitar delicacy which actually boosts the upper midrange frequencies, to be exact, and is the second part of this legendary pair. The Treble Booster is also used to provide a signal boost running into the front of his AC30, driving the amplifier's tubes past their limits for super-saturated overdrive.
Which is where Vox and the Brian May Special come in. Guitarists and fans yearning for an outfit that does the same thing as Brian's Deacy Setup now have it. Specified as a recording amp, the VBM-1 boasts multiple uses and comes complete with a modern control layout.
A nice meet and greet
While the controls are mostly of the common sense variety, a short guided tour will reveal some of the niftier advantages the VBM-1
Input: Plug in here. That wasn't so hard, was it?
Gain: This adjusts the gain of the VBM-1 Booster section, which is an exact replica of Brian May's Treble Booster pedal. It can control the VBM-1, but can also drive the preamp of another amplifier using the Booster Output. Turn the gain control up to produce sweet, upper midrange-heavy overdrive tones that range from round, light fuzz to thick and hard tones soaked in distortion. Conversely, turn it down and you can achieve warm clean sounds.
Booster Output: As stated above, this output allows you to boost the input of another amplifier, just as Brian May does with his Treble Booster pedal and an AC30. You can use this to blissfully drive any amplifier into sonic ecstasy. The only two controls that have an effect on the Booster's output to another amp are the Gain and Gain Switch. Plugging into this output also cuts the output to the VBM-1.
Gain Switch: This two-setting button pushes the Booster into rip-roaring-fun output stage. The High setting produces heavy sounds with a thick midrange and luscious treble. Select the Low setting and you'll hear a smooth and mellow distortion that's responsive to playing dynamics. This switch is very interactive with the Gain knob, so experiment to discover the sound you want. If, however, you're going straight for the Brian May sound, just crank the Gain knob over to 10 (sorry, no 11) and then push in the Gain switch.
Tone: This control is placed after the overdrive circuitry of the Treble Booster and adjusts the overall tone of the amp. It goes from - to +, with 0 being the noon setting. The + side of things adds in high frequencies to deliver a brighter sound with lots of aggression. The - range of the knob dials in the bass frequencies for a rounder sound that's colorful and warm. Setting it to 0 nullifies this circuit. There's a wide variety of sounds to be found here, so play around a while before you settle on just one tone or you'll be sorry.
Volume: Yup, it's a volume pot.
Recording/Headphone: This output jack gives you the ability to direct record or plug a pair of headphones in for private practice sessions.
Ext. Speaker: The ability to plug into an exterior speaker or guitar cabinet is nice, but probably wouldn't do much if you wanted to use it as your main stage amp. Remember, though, this is a 10W amp intended for the inside of a studio or bedroom. Besides, it's covered in white vinyl. You'd never get it clean again if you carried it anywhere near a bar or club.
Brian May was adamant that the VBM-1 would achieve at least three things before he would allow it to go into production. He wanted it to sound exactly like his homemade Deacy Setup. Vox 100% achieved this goal. The second thing was that he wanted the amp to have a little more power, control, and flexibility. With the incredible boost, recording, and practice features, they achieved this as well. The third thing was that the combo would be as affordable as possible, and they did that too. For Queen and Brian May enthusiasts, this amp is the ticket. Its purchase will put you in possession of the completely unique Treble Booster sound (which makes the deal worth it all by itself), and a practice and recording partner that's bred for rock 'n' roll.
Brian May Special Specifications
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