The characteristic Vox chime and classic overdrive are both in the Vox AC15 Custom in abundance, though the Top-Boost channel offers a wide range of overdriven sounds that can suit a variety of situations.
Along with Marshall and Fender, Vox is one of the “big 3” as far as classic guitar amplifier sounds are concerned. The Vox “chime” has been an often imitated clean sound for many years and, as has the midrange-heavy overdrive. Everyone from the Edge to Brian May has used Vox amps as the basis of their sound, so when I saw that Vox was offering a new amp called the AC15 Custom which offered classic Vox tones at a street price of around $600, well, let’s just say I was at once intrigued and skeptical. Did Vox pull it off? Let’s find out.
The Vox AC15 Custom is a 15W two channel amp featuring Normal and Top-Boost channels. Each channel has its own volume control, and the Top-Boost channel sports controls for treble and bass. There are inputs for both Normal and Top Boost. In addition, there are controls for reverb level, tremolo depth and speed, and master volume and tone cut.
The speaker is a 1×12″ 16 ohm Celestion G12M Greenback. The amp is powered by 3 12AX7 preamp tubes and 2 EL84 power amp tubes. The AC15 may be run with an external cabinet with the internal speaker either muted or enabled, depending upon your preference. An optional Vox VFS2 footswitch allows you to control the reverb and tremolo functions. The amp weighs 48.5 lbs.
I tested the AC15 Custom with a PRS DGT and a Nash T-52 Telecaster. As I said earlier, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the AC15 before I even tried it because I knew that this series of amps was made in China, which helps explain their relatively low cost. To cut to the chase, my concerns were unfounded.
The normal channel is capable of shimmering sparkle and to sounds just on the verge of break-up. Personally, I think the tremolo sounds the best on this channel. This is also a very “pedal-friendly” channel and handled any overdrive or distortion pedals I threw at it. With both the PRS and the Nash, the clean sounds were full and rich, very “Voxish,” especially with the Nash Tele.
The Top Boost sound is primarily the “lead” channel and easily products sounds ranging from classic rock to blues to more modern rock. It’s not a metal sound, but it suitable for a wide range of styles. This amp has proven to be especially popular with “worship” styles of music, given its ability to blend in to a mix very well.
At first, I was put off by the lack of footswitching, but one hidden “feature” I discovered was to input both the Normal and the Top-Boost using a stereo output pedal (I used a Boss Delay), and the result was a very complex sound, sort of like a Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive. You could also use an ABY pedal for the ultimate in flexibility, which might even be better than footswitchable channels.
I was afraid that 15 watts might not be sufficient, but I tested the Vox in a small club with a 5 piece band and was able to hang with everyone easily. I chose to mic the amp to blend the sound better, but on stage I didn’t find myself wanting to kill the drummer or his family, so that AC15 Custom can definitely hold its own.
The characteristic Vox chime and classic overdrive are both here in abundance, though the Top-Boost channel offers a wide range of overdriven sounds that can suit a variety of situations. Given its price and versatility, the Vox AC15 Custom is usable in a variety of situations and styles.
Name of Gear: Vox AC15 Custom
List Price: $900
Manufacturer Info: VOX Amplification Ltd.; voxamps.com
Pros: Excellent clean and overdriven tones; good value
Cons: No footswitchable channels; footswitch not included