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This article was originally published in issue #40
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The final link in Brian May’s signal chain is his faithful trio of Vox AC30 amps. Brian’s love affair with AC30s began at a young age, witnessing his two of his heroes, Hank Marvin and Rory Gallagher, both favouring the combo to produce very different and unique tones. It was Brian’s after gig conversation with Rory that prompted him to head into London and purchase two rather beaten up AC30s for just £25 each (those were the days! - Ed)
Brian has used many AC30s over the years, and he has a huge collection of them. He even had his own limited edition signature AC30 released a few years ago and today favours three modified AC30TBX amps in his set, with the middle amp dry, whilst the outer two heads have the effected signal. This together with his Red Special, a treble booster - and let's not forget the sixpence as a pick - all go together in creating his majestic tone.
The AC30 C2 is an up to date take on the classic 'Top Boost' model, and features some very welcome features, whilst retaining its classic Vox styling. We opted for the C2 over the hand-wired AC30 for two reasons; the first being affordability, and the second being a purely cosmetic slant when comparing the amp to Brian May’s favourites.
The amp features two 25 Watt Celestion 'Green Back' speakers, with the traditional choice of EL84 power tubes. If you are a real purist you may wish to track down one of the Alnico blue speakered versions, but that is going to cost you a hefty premium. The amp features two independent channels, which aren’t foot switchable, but includes two 'high' and 'low' independent inputs. The channels consist of a normal channel and a top boost, which includes bass and treble.
We also have a reverb section that includes tone and level plus a tremolo section featuring speed and depth controls. Both the reverb and tremolo can be switched by a footswitch that is sold, a bit disappointingly, as an optional extra. The master section includes tone cut, for rolling off top end, and the master volume. The controls are mounted onto the chassis, located on the top of the amp, and maintain the traditional vintage look with 'chicken head' knobs. The top panel also houses the standby controls and indicator lights.
The rear of the cabinet is partially open but differs quite a lot from genuine vintage AC30s by being quite well guarded. This, we assume, is for safety reasons (it will keep careless fingers off your glassware!) so that's fair enough as it has no impact of the amp's performance. More significantly, the C2 includes some welcome new features including an effects loop; this is a plus point when wanting to emulate Brian’s use of delay and chorus, without having an elaborate switching system. There is also an additional speaker output for adding an extension cabinet, and also the foot switch jack socket.
Performance wise the amp produced some beautifully rich warm tones, with a classy boutique feels to them. The normal channel was ideal for twangy Hank-style cleans. With the help of the master volume I was able to push the normal volume to start driving the tubes, giving me a convincing Link Wray tone, especially when I dialled in some tremolo and reverb. The reverb produces a very lush ambient effect, and with the tone control you can tailor the tone of your reverb to your choice. The top boost channel can also produce clean to crunch tones, but is slightly more flexible due to the EQ. The sound of both channels also changes depending on whether you are using the high or low inputs. When driving the level of the top boost channel whilst plugged into the high input, thanks to the master volume I could drive the amp and get a Brian May like tone at a level that wouldn’t get you kicked out of your band!
To my mind this is a great AC30, and mixes a wide range of classic Vox tones with modern features and build quality. Some die hard fans may dislike the PCB build, the master volume and the lack of a valve rectifier. But what you get is an amp at a more affordable price, capable of mixing '60’s inspired cleans with classic Rock crunch and with which, when driven, you can achieve much more modern sounds. The addition of the master volume aids getting crunch tones at a more sedate level, plus with greater headroom you can drive this beauty on miked pub gigs. If you’re looking to start a Brian May inspired rig, the C2 is a great starting point; highly recommended!