The legendary Vox AC30 has evolved through several incarnations since its introduction in 1959. The new AC30S1 is the latest, an offshore rendition intended to deliver the essence of this timeless tone machine at a price that should be appealingly accessible to most working musicians and weekend warriors. It’s more an homage to the image and sound of the early ’60s AC30 than a period-correct re-creation. It features just one simple channel with gain, bass and treble controls in a portable 1x12 combo that includes reverb, an effect loop and a master volume control.
Vox bills the amp’s single channel as being derived from the classic Top Boost preamp, considered the apex of AC30 tone for most guitarists. But it’s worth noting that the traditional Top Boost circuit requires one and a half dual-triode 12AX7 tubes to do its thing, plus another full 12AX7 for the phase inverter. This amp carries only two 12AX7s in total, making it half a tube short. To that end, the designers tell us they have reconfigured the Top Boost sound into a more efficient circuit, which also has the bonus of being more pedal friendly. The reverb is a digital emulation of a spring-type effect, and the effects loop is solid-state.
An AC30 just wouldn’t be an AC30 without four EL84 output tubes (but, hey, fun fact: the very first AC30s of early 1959 used two larger EL34 output tubes). The AC30S1 follows suit with a quartet of these archetypally British bottles in its 30-watt output stage. Power is delivered to a single 12-inch Celestion VX12 speaker, a 16Ω driver that the maker tells us was specially voiced for this amp.
The plywood cab is mostly sealed at the back, except for a steel-mesh grille covering about 1/5th of the panel. The amp is dressed in the traditional black vinyl, with a copper diamond grille cloth and gold piping and logo. It weighs 54 pounds, which is less than the traditional AC30 2x12 combos of yore. A probe inside the U-shaped folded-steel chassis reveals standard consumer-grade construction rendered across three printed circuit boards, with preamp and output tube sockets soldered directly to them. It’s worth noting that you need to remove seven wood screws and four bolts to get at the tubes when it comes time to change them, plus a further 10 machine screws if the internal HT fuse needs to be replaced. But likely these are tasks for your authorized repairman.
Tested with a very Les Paul–like Collings City Limits with humbuckers and a Fender Telecaster, the AC30S1 displayed an admirable semblance of that sweetly chiming jangle that players love in an AC30 played clean, with the glassy ring and cutting power that are characteristic of this circuit rammed through EL84s. Pushing it into mild overdrive induced a textured crunch with some granular sizzle in the highs and upper mids. Cranked up for hairy all-out distortion (the master volume helps a lot here), the combo gushed gnarly, vintage-inflected lead tones that sat well across a wide range of classic-rock and garage-rock riffing. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect this amp to nail the 1960s JMI-built Vox Top Boost tone dead-on, nor that of a high-end boutique reproduction, and it doesn’t. However, it delivers fun and playable tones that certainly get you into the same arena.
The master volume works well and really lets the preamp crunch up at low volumes for home and rehearsal playing. The overdrive pedals I tested it with — a JHS Angry Charlie and an Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer — did their thing beautifully in the front end. The reverb sounded good and respectfully “springy,” while the effects loop accommodated a variety of delay and modulation pedals without noise or fuss.
All in all, the AC30S1 looks the part and delivers an admirable portion of the essence of this British classic in a compact and moderately priced package that’s much easier to schlep to gigs than a full-sized AC30.
PRICE $799 street
CONTROLS Gain, bass, treble, reverb, volume
POWER 30 watts
TUBES Two 12AX7 preamp tubes, four EL84 output tubes
EXTRAS Digital reverb, FX loop
SPEAKER 12" Celestion VX12
DIMENSIONS 26"x 21.5" x10.5"
WEIGHT 54 lbs
KUDOS Appealingly traditional Vox looks and a clever repackaging of the AC30 tone at a reasonable price
CONCERNS Internal access for routine maintenance requires the removal of 21 fasteners