Gear talk for the GAS-afflicted.

Vox AC4HW1 Handwired – Chime AND Chunk!

Vox AC4HW1 Handwired – Chime AND Chunk!

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.

Apparently this dude is Louis Vuitton.

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?







  1. Percy Ottershaw says:

    On the plus side very nice set of tones there Ed (BTW how bog standard is your strat? so we can judge how our crappocasters would be) BUT 1) $1299 when the poor sods making them in Vietnam are probably getting 10cents an hour (and lead poisoning to boot from lead solder)??? 2) no reverb 3) seemingly no line out (especially if the 16ohm speaker jack disconnects the internal speaker)3) the fused mains socket seems to be one of those ‘replace the whole socket’ types if the fuse blows – not good 4) no visuals on how good/well done the point to point wiring is – can vary much and will affect reliability.

    My knack preference is ‘Good girls don’t’ especially the gutted Coca Cola version when they sold out LOL.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thanks Mr Ottershaw!

      My Strat is stock, but it’s an unusual/rare Japanese model, so truth be told I have no idea what pickups are in it. The bridge pickup is likely a Dimarzio PAF Pro, but the two single coils are a bit of a mystery – I’ve heard tell that they may be stock American singles from that era, but can’t confirm.

      As I said, price will definitely be a make or break situation for many. Personally, I think that if it suits your needs, then the fact that it’s $1299 for 4W shouldn’t really matter – it’s not only the handwiredness for me, but take into account that it’s a bigger box than all other available AC4s, which goes a long way toward helping it sound like a big amp.

      I didn’t miss the reverb at all, but then I’m a relatively dry player – and when recording you can always add some post.

      Sorry, I can’t really take it apart to check out the wiring, but that’s a good point – next time I’ll try to find images on the net to include for context. :)

  2. Percy Ottershaw says:

    On a side tangent – find it really saddening that a lot of Kiwi amp makers go tits up so very quickly – from Abbey in the 70’s to Radiotone and the Bellbird lot recently. Perhaps if we can give $100 mill to Jackson’s pics, we should offer an initial subsidy or support to NZ amp builders. After all the Crowther Hot cake got us noticed worlwide so just imagine if the ‘Crudtone 5000′ made in Matamata was used by Keef n co (rolling stones)? What do you fellow peasants reckon???

  3. […] We eventually followed this up with a review of the Vox AC4HW1 – the handwired version of these combos. You can find the review in all its glory (with clips this time!) right here. […]

  4. Glen Brennan says:

    Hi mate,

    Great review and excellent quality recordings too. I recently bought a VOX AC4HW1 but find the AC mains hum is very loud – just wondering if you also had this experience?



    1. thesamurai says:

      Hi Glen!

      I didn’t find it too bad – are you sure it’s power supply related and not a bad preamp tube, perhaps? Is it still new and under warranty?

      I know there are at least one or two other AC4HW1 owners on our forums – maybe you could ask there and see if they’ve had any similar issues.

      Thanks for reading!


  5. […] okay. Lots of great amps are coming out of China and Vietnam these days – case in point the Vox AC4HW1 which is one of my favourite little amps today, so I’m not going to let a “Made in […]

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