Guitarists never seem to get tired of variations on the Vox AC30 theme for the same reasons that they don’t get tired of bands that feature AC30 devotees like the Beatles, Queen, U2, and others—because this is timeless, classic stuff that we’re talking about. But if you’ve ever tried to lift an AC30 or crank one up on a gig, you know that those are not the easiest things to accomplish. Joe Morgan knows this too, and he has taken it upon himself to provide a lighter, more controllable take on that Vox-y tone that we love.
The AC20 Deluxe’s very name reeks of classic amp goodness, and that perception is reinforced by its cosmetics. This beautiful piggyback package consists of a small head and 1x12 cab, both decked out in a durable, textured covering that makes for a smart-looking system that’ll class-up any stage it sits on. The simple control layout is deceptively flexible. The Volume, Cut, and Power Level (or Power Scaling) knobs will get you in the ballpark, and then the Bright switch, the Normal/Brilliant switch, and the 12AX7/EF86 switches will tweak your tone to your exact preference. It might take a second to get used to, but it’s a versatile system and very easy to dial in with your ears.
With a Thinline Fender Tele plugged in, we got a big, full sound that instantly had that 3-D “otherness” that you demand from a great amp. From there, it was easy to adjust the Volume for more gain, the Power Level for more or less volume, and the Cut control to rein in the top end. But then we started hitting the Bright switch in conjunction with the Normal/Brilliant switch and it was clear there was a lot more going on with the AC20 Deluxe than the three-knob front panel might lead you to believe. On the darker settings, all I had to do was crank the Cut knob to bring in a really cool brightness. If the sound was a little trebly—it was a Tele, after all—I rolled the Cut knob back. Sweet!
Then I plugged in a PRS McCarty. Suddenly I needed a little bit of brightness. No Problem. I hit a couple of switches and the AC20 Deluxe sounded like it was designed for this guitar. Through all of these tests, it remained touch sensitive, dynamic, and fun to play. I had no trouble finding a happy medium where I could plug in any guitar—from a dark Les Paul to a jangly lipstick tube-equipped surf guitar—and get a great sound.
Just when you think the AC20 is out of tricks, you’re reminded that there is a switch on the back that takes you from a 12AX7 preamp tube to a higher-gain EF86. The EF86 makes it easy to get lots of sustain at low volumes, but it compresses the sound more. I found myself running the Volume lower with the EF86—for slightly less gain—and increasing the overall level with the Power knob. With the 12AX7, I favored higher Volume settings—for more distortion—and lower Power levels. If this sounds like I was just trying to get the same sound with different settings, I kind of was. But what I ended up with was two different flavors of an overdriven tone, both very usable. I would guess that most players would find their favorite tone and then set it and forget it, but it serves as a reminder that this amp is way more flexible than its modest control complement might suggest.
This amp also has a very pedal-friendly front end. An Xotic EP Booster worked seamlessly, and I loved what it did to the AC20’s gain structure. There’s no effects loop, but I still got great results running delay and reverb pedals in the front end. Fuzzes, distortion boxes, and wah pedals all sounded great, maintained their individual voices and character, and didn’t necessitate any tweaking of EQ—just like you want.
Joe Morgan designed this amp to improve upon certain qualities of the vaunted AC30. He wanted it to be voiced warmer than a bright Vox, he wanted it to not break your back when you have to lug it, and he wanted it to get its voice singing without tearing the roof off the venue. I’m going to say that he succeeded at all of those things. My only clarification would be that this amp still wants to be played loud. The closer I could get it to its full volume level, the better it sounded. And, make no mistake—this amp is loud. It’s not “ruin the gig” loud, but it is definitely “keep up with a set of drums” loud. For it to truly do what it is meant to do, you would be wise to crank it up and do that elusive “play the amp like an instrument” thing. If you do, you will be rewarded. Of course, the AC20 Deluxe’s Power Scaling feature is a very musical way to tame sound pressure levels—and it does not suck tone—but the cool interaction between preamp, power amp, and speaker cab really happens when this rig is pumping some air and breathing some fire.
This amp is a winner. It looks great, it’s portable, easy to use, and would sound amazing for a huge variety of styles. You see plenty of country guitar slingers using Morgan amps these days, and that makes perfect sense. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see these cool designs employed in any number of genres.
MODEL AC20 Deluxe
PRICE $1,999 (head)
CONTROLS Volume, Cut, Power Level (Power Scaling)
POWER 20 watts
TUBES Two 12AX7s, one EF86, two EL84s
EXTRAS Bright switch, Normal/Brilliant switch, EF86/12AX7 switch
SPEAKER Morgan 1x12 cabinet with Celestion G12H75 ($549 street)
WEIGHT 23 lbs head, 49 lbs cabinet
KUDOS Sweet class A tones at any level. Very portable. Pretty cosmetics.