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This article was originally published in issue #25
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With their innovative body shapes, Vox’s Teardrop and Phantom guitars that appeared in the 1960s were dominant presences in the world of unusually shaped guitars (even at time when weird was normal! - Ed). Even today, many musicians are still mesmerised by these guitars and their perpetual popularity causes them to sell for high prices on the used market. The strong demand for reissued models saw limited run production versions and then the Vox Apache series of travel guitars with built-in amplifiers, which added yet another quirky chapter to the tale of these instruments and then finally, in 2013, these iconic models were reissued as part of the revamped Vox line of electric guitars.
Vox currently offers these instantly recognisable, body shapes in two versions: the Teardrop-style MARK III and the Phantom-style MARK V. Additions include a tremolo arm that supports a variety of genres and performing styles and three single-coil pickups for an ample variety of sounds. Each model lets you choose from four colours ranging from what you might call 'pop hues' to traditional sunburst.
But is there more to these guitars than just their unique looks? Both offer exactly the same spec, the only difference being the shape, so it's really a case of which shape do you prefer? And while I'm on the subject of shape, it's worth establishing right from the start that these guitars are both hard to play sitting down without a strap! Of course, it's the same deal with many uniquely shaped guitars on the market. You may want something out there and different, but you still have to be able to play the thing comfortably! Fortunately, with a strap, these guitars offer no problem, just a little heads up on that point, as you will notice on the video I was caught short, as it were. Moving on from that, how do they play, feel and sound?
Both guitars came very well set up, with easy action and no intonation or fret buzz issues. The 22” scale length and neck shape made for easy playing, whether for lead or chord work. The neck on both is hard maple with a rosewood fingerboard, all finished nicely with fairly large frets making legato lines easy - and no sharp fret edges. The bodies are made from basswood, which tends to reduce the very high and very low frequencies leaving the mids more pronounced, making a guitar ideal for lead playing.
The pickups comprise three single coil types wired in the usual way, using a five way selector switch, plus volume and two tone controls. Many tones are possible from these guitars, from the Country twang of the bridge pick up, through to Bluesy and cutting mids from the neck, plus just about everything in between.
How do they sound? Well, check out the video, first, of course, so that you can hear for yourself. Personally, I'd say they do actually have a vintage sound about them (whatever that is, but it's the best way I can describe it!), and I'm sure that was intentional as they are reissues of the '60s guitars, after all.
I found them ideal for the traditional Blues and Soul sounds in fact, with the Mark V having more pronounced bass to my ears, probably due to the fact that the body is a little larger than the Mark III's.
A new feature on these reissued models is the addition of a tremolo bridge. A two screw bridge rather than six (which will leave some people muttering various things about tone...) is used on both, and both have been fitted with the bridge lying flat rather than floating, and wit three heavy springs installed. This you can obviously change to suit your own playing style, or leave if you don’t tend to use the trem that much. That did make testing it an issue, as neither were really set-up for much abuse, but I'm sure with some tinkering and good adjustment they will work just fine. Finish overall was top notch. The colour scheme won't appeal to everyone, but there are plenty of choices.
Sadly, it appears that these guitars are currently only available outside of the USA, for some strange reason but fortunately buying one from a retailer in another country isn't the fraught process it once was, so if the desire is there, go for it!
To sum-up: two fine playing and great sounding guitars from Vox. If you are in the market for something a little different, that will get people's heads turning both aesthetically and sonically, then you should go check them out. Just don’t forget a strap.