Brian May Central

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Vox AC30 Brian May Custom Limited Edition review

(by Peter Michawlosky)


First I want to say I have tried a lot of the gear connected with Brian´s sound and feel pretty familiar with the tone.
I also play in a tributeband here in Sweden. I have tried most of the stuff that has Brian´s signature on them.
More about this later.

I went into a guitarstore to try the AC BM late one sunday and I know the guy running the drumsdepartment very well
so I could try the amp all cranked in the drumstudio. I brought my KZ Red Special fitted with the Adeson pu´s, my two
favourite boosters from Pete Cornish and Greg Coxhill ElectroLead( TB-83 and Novo) and my own guitarleads.

First impression:

The amp looks ok but maby a little plastic since it seems the controlplate is not made of metal and the plate on the backside is also made of some plastic material. A little cheap. But anyway pretty cool with this single volumepot on top. Connections of the backside for the guitar input and treblebooster link output plus on/off switch for the booster and also a low/high switch for amount of boost.

Plugged in:

All cranked and hit the first chord. WOW!!!!! A big sound. Slightly hard maby but the speakers were new and I know they get sweeter after some 20-30 hours of use. Rolling back the volume was great too. Maby it didn´t clean it up exactly like my 2 TBX´s but still a very good dynamic clean crispy sound. Sustain was extremely good and you could let the chord rings with a nice controllable feedback. The rythmsound impressed me massivly and the leadsound was too very good but maby didn´t give me the tone I get from my TBX´s. The result was exactly the same from both Pete Cornsih TB-83 and ElectroLead Novo.

The inbuilt booster was next thing to try. It wasn´t the same as the other I brought. I got a feeling it was a little over the top running the amp on full and it was slight oversaturated like it got too much. This was maby not that obvius at this level as it is CRAZY LOUD. More of this problem later. Anyway I loved the powerful sound of this amp and could hear its potentential for me. Very raw and powerful. My kind of sound even it wasn´t spot on the TBX´s

Anyway I was at that time looking for a third AC here and there were no one to buy on the second hand market so I went out of the
store with an AC BM that I got a very very deal on.

Playing at home:

I plugged it in at once I got back home and connected the THD HotPlate and here we go. On the on full volume there were these
nasty undertones/ghosttones and playing with any booster it was too much and oversaturated in way I could never hear in the store/studio.I then tried the inbuilt booster and the problem was even bigger. Well, a lot bigger. I felt sad about this of cuorse. The problem wasn´t this big when I rolled back the volume of the amp by 25-30%. Still had a good overdrive with any booster but these undertone were still there. Overload/oversaturation wasn´t that big problem but not perfect. At this stage the inbuilt booster was useless. I contacted some good friends about this problem ( Mark Reynolds and Martin Pitcher) They told me the old AC´s had this problem with undertones too and also this first year model of the AC 30TBX. I also contacted the store and they had one more amp and they got the same result with a Marshall powerbreak.

Then I send an e-mail to Brian May and after maby 5 minutes I got a reply from his management and saying they will send this e-mail to Brian. After maby 5-10 minutes I got a new e-mail saying Brian was now informed about this problem and had e-mail my letter to the right persons at Vox. More of their reply later.

Monday morning I called my amptech. He knows everything there is to know about AC´s and you really get stuck in the telephone everytime you talk to him. I explained the problem and he knew at once what was the problem and also told me this is a problem
on old Vox amp and also some Marshalls. I took the amp to his shop and he had it for some days and friday I picked it up. He did some modifications to it that you can see on my webpage http://homepage.mac.com/pemich/ were there is a schematic/drawing of what he did. We talked about the amp for a while and he loved the sound of it and said that this AC was built like amptechs thinks and a tubeamp should be built. Also told me to let the speakers be worn in for some 20-30 hours. Took it back home and plugged it. A lot better. At the same time I got a reply from Steve Grindrod. I think he was the cheif engineer on this one. First he said he was sorry for all this and was willing let me have the amp modded in the exactly same way as I let the amptech do. He also explained these amps are designed to run flat out and a powerattenuator will make these problem noticable. He also said these Blue Speakers were a little stiff "out of the box" and needed some time to sweeten up.

This mod is not expencive just some capacitors and resistors

Now after some time the amp is a lot better. The overload problem is still there but no way close to as it was first. Also the inbuilt
TB sounds pretty good. Playing this amp live with my band is great. Playing it with the volume rolld back a quarter of a turn makes
it pretty close sounding to my TBX´s. Live I use all 3 amps and the TBX´s for my "wet" sound and AC BM as clean centre amp.

More problems:


Some weeks ago the grillcloth started to hang and got lose on the top side. I noticed that the grillcloth was glued to this goldthing that I thought was made of metal. So the cloth is glued to this and this is the only thing that hold the upper side of the cloth.
And this goldthing is not made of any metal. It is some kind I rubber I guess with a goldtape on or something. Crap!!! I have heard about these problems on the AC 30 CC´s too and to me this is really really bad. This is something I will take care of my self as I want it to be just like it is on my TBX´s. One of them is almost 10 years now and still looking great except some dings on the vinyl

My final judgement:

I think an amp like this should be designed from start to sound good also with a powersoak. These undertones/ghostetones are still noticable running the amp on full with no mods or powersoaks A friend of mine also have one and the same problems
are there. He use it for pro-recordings and you can hear it there but not as noticable as with a powersoak. I think Vox has overlooked that most people that buy these amps lives in houses were they can´t play these amps all cranked and very few of us are fortunate to play big arenas like Brian. Also this cosmetic problem with the grillcloth is a real shame. I see this amp almost as a botiqueamp and therefor at this pricerange you can certainly ask for more and better quality. The amp now sound brilliant to me but I think none of these problems should be there from start. Brian also seems to eager to put his name on things he never use/used these days and I personally think he should me more careful about using his signature on all these gear. After all most of the things Brian used in the old days were consider to be crap. Now he´s like a goldmine for some. I can´t see this was Brian´s intentions from start and I´m not soo sure he is familiar with this now. It´s gonne be interesting to see if these amps will collectors items in the future or if they start to fall apart in a few years time???

Anyway the amps rocks now and sounds great to my ears but........

Peter Michalowski


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