Nov 26, 2012
The Hand-Wired Series reigns as both the flagship and as a popular favorite among the many families of VOX amplifiers. This esteemed series now welcomes a new addition; the AC4HW1 mini combo amp. The all-tube chassis uses two 12AX7 tubes in the pre-amp and a single EL84 vacuum tube in the power stage, pumping out 4 Watts of power through a 12-inch Celestion G12M Greenback speaker. The Volume control, Bass and Treble tone controls, and Master Volume provide any player with plenty of sonic variety. The HOT/COOL switch offers either the coveted VOX Top Boost tone, or a pure and rich gain that bypasses the tone circuit completely. For relaxed jamming at home, rehearsing, or performing on stage, the AC4HW1VOX Hand-Wired Series is all the amp you’ll ever need.
I love the sound of the Vox AC30. It’s a relatively recent love, I’m ashamed to admit – even though Brian May was my first musical hero, and arguably the most famous AC30 user of all time, I’ve always been more into my hotrodded/higher gain Marshalls, with the occasional dalliance with a Mesa Boogie. But in recent years, I’ve come to realize that the slightly gritty, chiming “clean” sound of the AC30 is what I’ve been thinking of in my head since pretty much… forever. I’ve never loved completely clean tones, and being able to get just that bit of grit and compression in there, while being able to pull back to a cleaner sound using just right hand dynamics – well, it’s awesome.
However, there are drawbacks.
I never completely realized – I mean, I knew academically, but not really – until I started playing guitar in a band with a guy who owns an AC30. Those motherfuckers are LOUD. Like, pants-rattlingly, ear-shatteringly, your-grandchildren’s-grandchildren-will-develop-tinnitus loud. And you know, it’s an amazing tone. Glorious open back combo with a muscular upper mids sound that just DOMINATES. I am, of course, talking about turning an AC30 up until it begins to overdrive. That sort of volume level.
Now… my other guitarist just laughs and calls me a wuss. And maybe I am one, hahah. But what are your options if you’d like to get some AC tone at a sane volume level?
This is where the AC4 comes in.
Holy Handwired, Batman!
The baby brother of the AC30’s baby brother, the AC4HW1 is only rated at 4 watts. You might think that’s puny, but actually, for someone like me… it seems perfect.
While many of the AC4 series are based on the Normal channel of the AC30, this one is based on the legendary Top Boost sound. Here’s a quick rundown of the features:
- Based on the Top Boost channel.
- Interactive Treble/Bass EQ controls, as well as Gain and Volume.
- Footswitchable Hot/Cold switch – activating Hot bypasses the EQ section.
- Class A action with 2 x 12Ax7 in the preamp and 1 x EL84 in the poweramp.
- 12″ Celestion Greenback.
- Handwired in Vietnam, which is as good as it gets these days since Vox doesn’t make ‘em in the UK anymore.
In my opinion, the primary advantage the AC4HW1 has over its AC4 series-mates is the 12″ speaker. It means that it gets a bigger speaker, but thus also meaning that it gets to sit in a slightly bigger combo box. This helps the amp feel less boxy than some of the others which only feature 8″ or 10″ speakers.
It’s also covered in a very classy, retro looking fawn tolex, with the Vox emblem emblazoned in gold. My covers band singer said it was “very Louis Vuitton”. I can neither confirm nor deny this, since I’m fashion-handicapped.
Fire it up!
For maximum tonal flexibility I picked up my Fender HRR60 Strat – a rare Japanese model which I’ll talk about a bit more one of these days. Plugged straight into the amp, and miked it up with ye ol’ Audix i5, off axis. So… let’s get started!
Some lovely chimey neck pickup tones from my Strat, with the AC4HW1 in Cool mode, with the gain just shy of halfway. Master volume is cranked to about three quarters to get a little bit of grit in there from the power tube.
Switching to humbuckers, and rolling off the Treble control on the amp gives a little bit more of a pushed, midsy tone.
Wind the gain up past the half way mark, and bring a decent whack of treble back in, and you get some pretty sweet overdrive tones, featured here playing the “perving on under-aged girls” classic by The Knack, aka My Sharona. (If you’re wondering what the hell I’m on about.. go and listen to the song, and listen to the lyrics. Really listen…)
No demo of Vox equipment would be complete without mangling some Brian May licks, so Don’t Stop Me Now… I switched over to the High input to get a little bit more grunt out of it.
Now, winding the gain WAY up (because I’m a gain freak), but rolling back the volume control on the Strat yielded a pretty good cleanish tone, actually. But that silliness passed quickly, and I dimed the volume control again to get into some righteous rock by the Darkness.
What really surprised me was the amount palm-muted chunk you could actually get from the AC4HW1. I guess it’s because it’s not a true open-back combo – the lows are a little more focussed and tighter than an AC30 would be. Not saying that it’s a bad thing – if anything, it just impresses me even more with its versatility.
Still on the High input, I turned the gain down to around half – this gives a wonderful in-between tone that is cleanish for the most part, but can get gritty when you dig in. Check it out:
For. The. Win.
There you have it – a plethora of soundclips from the AC4HW1, and it’s probably not even scratching the surface of what you could do with it. I usually stop at 4 or 5 clips, but this amp just surprised me with what it was capable of, and I just had to keep going.
It’s an extremely versatile little combo which is not only operable at sane volumes, but should be 100% usable for band practice or small gigs – or more, if you’re miking up.
The only prohibitive thing may be the price tag of $1299 – there is the preconception that the lower the wattage, the lower the price should be. Granted, that’s often true of cheaper models, but don’t forget that this is the Handwired AC4, the flagship model, the big kahuna, the Big Cheese!
If you want great AC tones ranging from chime to chunk at non-deafening levels, wrapped up in a classier than classy package and can spare the cash, you should definitely think about trying one of these.. TODAY!
Oh, sometimes I forget that I have a ranking system. How many F*ck Yeahs do I give this? Count ‘em:
Have you played any others within the Vox Handwired family?