Hi Folks! My name is Steve Russell and I try to help John run his website. I recently acquired a lovely old Vox AC30 amp, and John suggested that I told the story about it, goes!

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 Russ telephoned me, I asked him if I could call round the next day in order to inspect the amp. I have always had a soft spot for fawn-covered Vox amps, as they were the standard piece of professional gear back in the very early 1960's at the time that I was playing in my first bands. A fawn, and later black, AC30 was what everyone aspired to in those days. I always considered that the fawn amps were much classier than the black version though.

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.

A further item of interest was the manner in which the original owner had extended the mains cord of the amp. This was by means of a length of old-style (and now illegal?) fabric/rubber-covered cable, which was attached to the end of the Vox plastic mains cable by means of a few twists in the wires and plenty of insulation tape! Considering the excellent overall condition of the amp, Russ and myself came to the conclusion that the amp had been purchased new by the owner of the Epiphone, who was almost certainly a player in a orchestral style Dance Band. Perhaps the amp was bought when the owner decided to amplify his previously fully acoustic guitar with a DeArmond pickup; certainly the dates of the two pieces of equipment do correspond. The Vox could well have been a semi-permanent fixture on the bandstand in the Dance Hall that the orchestra played, resulting in the need for the legs to raise up the amp a little in its surrounding of wooden music stands, and the mains cable extension to get the power out from the wings to probably the only guy on the stage needing electricity. As the popularity of dance bands waned in the mid 1960's, perhaps the guitar and amp fell into disuse and were stored together at the back of a garage until the death of their owner some 40 years later? Who knows, but I don't think that our joint conclusion is very far from the truth.

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!



John: Although she was a 1961 amp, she had had virtually all the decoupling caps changed previously, although they were still very old and most needed replacing yet again! There were various & mixed brands in her: Dublier, TCC Metalmite, RS, Hunts & some Philips/Mullard mustards.

John: Unfortunately, after first getting her back to life….the choke, now under full working load again started to smoke….pity!


……and the rewound choke.

John: I changed the 82 ohm resistor on the 4 x EL84 cathodes for a 47 ohm….this is something Vox did in the early days and it beefs the output stage up somewhat. I also changed the 250uf cap….this was reading 876uf......I don’t think so!

John: Apart from the Philips/Mullard mustard caps, which were fine and is almost always the case with these, I had to change every other cap in her! There were also a damn good few resistors way too far out-of-spec. You can see all of this on this photo and the following two. Also shown here is a nice new silicone-rubber power cable with a P-clip for retaining/anchorage.

John: The main smoothing cap on the top of the chassis got so hot whilst the amp was under-test that I burnt my bloody finger on it! This had to go too…..a new one can be seen fitted here.


It's been about 40 years since I last played through an AC30. I had forgotten for instance that the "Tone" control is really a "treble defeat" and hence works the opposite way to a conventional tone control. That took me an hour or so to realise! I had also forgotten about the inherent quality of construction of these fine amps. Taking the thing to pieces in order to clean it up, and noticing things like the bolt-type "screws" (with separate inserts fixed into the body of the amp) used to hold the back panels on for instance. Finally there is that sound! A beautifully lush tone that can at times raise the hairs on the back of one's neck. Also, I don't think that I have come across anything that comes close to the superb vibrato and tremolo effects on the amp. I owe John a large debt of thanks for bringing this 50 year old piece of history back up to such a standard, which I honestly believe to be as good if not better than when it first left the factory.

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.