A few months ago, a friend of mine from Derbyshire (and also a dealer in vintage archtop guitars) called Russ Parker rang me. I could tell that he was excited by the tone of his voice. Apparently he had visited an auction at the Brown & Co Auction Rooms at Brigg, which is a small market town in Lincolnshire. He had been attracted there by the following entry in the Auction Catalogue:
"Lot 309: An Epiphone Blackstone guitar no. 1551 with interior guarantee label of typical form with chrome and tortoise shell finish in carrying case, the guitar 103cms long with amplifier. £300 - 500"
The Epiphone Blackstock is an acoustic archtop guitar which was made by the original Epiphone Company in the 1940's. Russ is particularly interested in 1940's & 50's archtops, the estimate price of £300 to £500 seemed reasonable with or without the included amplifier, so Russ set off for Brigg on the morning of the auction.
On arriving at the auction house during the viewing period, Russ quickly found the Epiphone but he soon felt rather disappointed. The old guitar was not in the best of condition, with mould staining to the once-beautiful sunburst finish, and pieces of body edge binding dropping off, although it did have the benefit of a very collectable DeArmond floating pickup. As he was peering into the guitar case, his foot happened to catch against something under the table. Russ looked down and saw a battered and somewhat mouldy green cover protecting an object sat directly under the guitar. This could only be the "with amplifier". Out of curiosity, Russ raised one corner of the green cover, exposing a very familiar-looking small area of speaker grill-cloth. Surely it couldn't be?........Yes, there was a Vox AC30! All thoughts of whether he should dodge the auction and get back home in time for lunch disappeared from Russ' mind. The Lot had been advertised as being an Epiphone guitar, and a rather battered one at that. Was he the only one in the room who understood that the "with amplifier" was probably worth up to ten times the value of the actual guitar?
Finally Lot 309 came up to bid, with initial bids being in the
low hundreds. Very quickly however, everyone else in the room, other than Russ,
lost interest. Unfortunately there was a telephone bidder who seemed determined
to acquire an Epiphone Blackstone, at almost any price! Russ continued bidding
steadily, hoping that the telephone bidder didn't know the true
significance of the "with amplifier". The opposing bidder eventually
dropped out at £1,700, no doubt finally realising that no Epiphone Blackstone
was worth going any higher for, or perhaps thinking that he was bidding against
a madman. Russ had won the guitar and the Vox, although he did have to pay a
hefty "hammer fee" and tax on top of the final bid figure.
When I arrived at Russ' home, he had already discovered that the original
owner had used old-style wooden coffee table legs to raise his amp off the
ground. The amp was sitting there proudly on its old legs in Russ' kitchen! This
used to be a fairly common practice in the UK back in the early 60's, with many amps
having threaded steel plates screwed to the bottom of the amp by their owners,
which the legs in turn were screwed into. The UK manufacture Bird actually used
to fit the threaded plates as standard to the bottom of their Golden Eagle amps.
Perhaps this practice encouraged Vox to produce and market the chrome stands
that provided a professional appearance to their amps when used on stage by The
Shadows and later by The Beatles. I don't think that those stands were available
at the time that this particular amp was made however.
As stated above, the amp seemed to be in somewhat of a time-warp. As well as
the lack of the usual scuffs and tears to the fragile fawn covering and the
grill cloth, an inspection of the chassis revealed that the amp still possessed
its full original compliment of Mullard valves and Haddon transformers. After a few
moments thought, I came to the decision that it was highly unlikely that I would
ever again come across a fawn AC30 in such an original condition so, after a little
bartering with Russ, the amp was mine. The next thing to be done was to
get it down to John Chambers to be serviced and given a thorough check-over!
after first getting her back to life….the choke, now under full working load
again started to smoke….pity!
I was always a Selmer man back in the 1960's, perhaps because of Selmer's
(reputed) better reliability, but more likely because back then I could only
afford a Selmer Selectortone 25 watt amp, as it was 2/3rds the price of the AC30
and damn near as loud. I still do like Selmer's, they are great amps, but I have
to say that from what I have seen and played so far, the Vox is better.
NOTE: If you are in the market for a good old archtop, Russ Parker can be contacted on +44 (0)7949 071 473. As a dealer and a collector himself, he maintains a very interesting stock.