I WILL NEVER FORGET HOW COOL BRIAN Jones and Keith Richards looked the first time I saw them with their Vox Teardrops and Phantoms. Back in the ’60s, those guitars were fashion statements as startling as their haircuts. But the Mark IX gets the Whack nod for more than just its shape—it’s also a rare 9-string model. The high E, B, and G strings are doubled as on a conventional 12-string, but the low E, A, and D are not. It’s actually a near-genius move. While early rock guitarists dug a 12-string’s jangle, they would often complain about a lack of clarity in the low end. Vox seemed to have the perfect answer by not doubling the low strings. That is, until players started removing those strings from their own 12-strings to get much the same effect. Sadly, the Mark IX came and went with just one production run between 1965 and 1966.
The Teardrop shape makes about as much practical sense as Méret Oppenheim’s surrealistic fur-lined teacup, and the back pad is a head-scratcher. If it’s supposed to protect the finish— well, I’d prefer belt-buckle scratches to drilling snaps into the back of the guitar.
PLAYABILITY & SOUND
This Mark IX was manufactured by EKO in Italy. Many vintage aficionados feel that Vox’s Italian models actually play better than the earlier, but somewhat more collectable guitars made in England by JMI (such as the Clubman and Shadow). Indeed, mine plays super-nice with a large, C-shape neck that fits my hand comfortably. The guitar is also built like a tank, and, as a result, it feels solid and inviting. The Mark IX’s sound—a unique, scooped-mid tone with a good amount of high-end chime—is individual in the extreme. No other guitar I’ve played sounds like this one!
the Mark IX’s weird rear pad.
The better-playing Vox guitars of the ’60s continue to command big bucks, and the weirder the shape, the more they go for. A Vox “Gui-torgan,” for example, might as well be made out of un-obtainium—if you can even find one. In 1966, a Mark IX would set you back about $300. Twenty years ago, I bought this one for $600 at the Starving Musician in Santa Clara, California, and that was quite a deal at the time. Today, a Mark IX can cost as much as $3,500.
WHY IT RULES
Early Vox guitars not only look far out, but they have a musical vibe all their own. This 47-year-old 9-string is especially cool because of the combined sound of the Vox pickups and the doubled treble strings. What also rules was seeing Joey Pommier of the Double- O-Souls sitting in a lotus position, playing “Embryonic Journey” on his Vox Mark IX during an opening set for The Count Five at the San Jose Civic Auditorium in 1966. Thanks, Joey! You inspired me to search for my own Mark IX.
Special thanks to Darren Boden of Elite Pianos, England, for his assistance.