Metaphorically speaking there are a number of beings that exist in the musical world that could claim to have achieved this solitary state of being. Jimmy Page’s ancient Supro, the first Strat or Nocaster, and Keith Richards’ original skin all hold an absolutely singular place in the great hall of musical artifacts. Given its pivotal role in defining the sound of generation after generation of guitarists, Vox’s inimitable AC30 guitar amplifier has been achingly close to achieving this holy one-ness for decades. Now, in one of the more closely kept secrets of recent times, the AC30 S1 takes this earth-shattering vibration to that higher plane.
Now, we’ve all seen, heard, played through and tried to lift an AC before. We all know what they are there for. Heavier than hell and louder than your neighbouring nation could abide, that infamous hazelnut grille cloth has long been the dream for anyone with a thirst for tube transcendence. At the same time we’ve all scratched our heads wondering how and why channel jumping works as much as we have wondered whether or not to bother venturing down that path. This is where the new AC comes in. For what feels like the very first time Vox delivers a single channel, single 12” speaker variation on the theme and for me it immediately takes its seat at the top of the hierarchy.
Much like the models it joins in the AC council of elders, 12AX7 preamp and EL84 power tubes drive the beginning, middle and end of the S1 story. The expansive, chiming response of the former is beefed up and thrust forward by the latter in exactly the way you’d expect from a Vox build. For what it’s worth, I’ve never found an AC30 I’ve loved as much as I’ve wanted to. I’ve always found the voicing a little too dry and evened out for my taste and wanted more space in the reverb tank to splash around in. That is until now. Immediately the S1 has a vastness, harmonic richness and almost Fender-esque brilliance that I’ve yearned for from Vox for as long as I can remember. I feel like the distilled nature of the single channel design has trimmed a lot of fat from the voicing and allowed it to blossom gloriously, giving that famous tube combination a lot more breathing space.
Driven hard there is a luscious amount of natural compression to the gain stage that opens up as you dig in while retaining a warmth, versatility and transparent grit that blues and jazz players will respond as favourably as your average rock pig. I can now breathe an eternal sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that Vox have perfected their historic AC line. While it might seem like me making a big deal over a simple modification, the proof is in the aural pudding. With a luxurious harmonic landscape and classic design features, theAC30 S1 is the Holy Grail amp that Vox have been promising for eons.