Vox might be best known for its super-influential
AC30 amplifier, but the
company also has a storied guitar-building
history. The most notable Vox guitars—the
Phantom and Mark VI—were some of the
most distinctive designs of the 1960s. At the
time, Vox found fans among players including
the Hollies’ Tony Hicks (the 12-string intro
on “Look Through Any Window” sounds
distinctly Vox-like) and Brian Jones, who
used the snarky tones of his all-white Mark
VI to add bite to his slide work. More contemporary
players including Tom Petty and
Mike Campbell, Echo & the Bunnymen’s Will
Sergeant, Daniel Lanois, and countless psych-rock
revivalists have continued to use the distinctive
sounds of Vox guitars to widen their
own tonal palates.
So it might have come as a surprise when
Vox largely abandoned its own obvious
design and tone heritage with the premium
semi-hollowbody Virage line in 2007—forgoing
vintage visual motifs and sounds for a
fresh look and highly playable, sonically versatile
instruments. Capitalizing on the success
of the Virage line, Vox recently introduced
the less expensive, but equally cool Virage II
series of guitars. We checked out the HDC-
77, a semi-hollow 6-string that is at once
traditional and modern, with its unusual construction
and high-performance electronics
New Construction Concept,
With its maple-laminate top, dual cutaways,
and semi-hollow design, the HDC-77 owes
an obvious debt to Gibson’s ES-335. But it
also incorporates several innovative deviations
that mark a departure from the design
template established by Gibson’s
semi-hollow standard-bearer. Like its
big brother the Virage, the HDC-77
is curved along both the length
and the width of the body, making
it exceptionally comfortable to hold
when seated or standing. The body is
routed from a solid piece of mahogany so that
two chambers (which are visible through the
soundholes) are formed on either side of two
lengths of wood in the center that Vox calls
tonebars (not to be confused with the tonebars
found on a Gibson L-5). The laminated maple
top and back are then mounted to this mahogany
frame—a design that is said to allow the
guitar to vibrate more freely and enhance the
guitar’s tone. And the inversely carved neck
heel allows for unencumbered access to the
guitar’s highest frets and increases the wood-on-wood area at the joint.
The HDC-77 is equipped with smartly
designed hardware too. Vox’s MaxCon-nect
cast aluminum bridge is ultra-light—at under
two ounces—which helps transfer string
vibration to the body and improve sustain
and resonance. It’s also micro-adjustable,
enabling more precise intonation than on
many standard bridge designs. Vox’s cast
S-shaped Super Smooth tuners are also a
nice touch. These countered machine
heads fit snuggly under the fingers,
allowing easier gripping than conventionally
shaped machine heads—especially
good for those with sweaty hands.
The HDC-77 is also outfitted with
Vox’s brilliant CoAxe pickups, which are
built around single and twin coils that can
be selected via a 3-way switch—effectively
giving each pickup three distinct voices.
There’s also a standard 3-way switch for
accessing each pickup alone or both at once.
That means the HDC-77 is a beast of ridiculously
broad tonal possibilities.
Overall, our Korean-made test model of
the HDC-77 was very well built. The fret ends
were smooth, the binding tidy, the fretboard
markers cleanly inlayed, and the black-burst
finish evenly applied to reveal the flamed,
book-matched top and back.
The guitar was not without minor imperfections.
Some of the pores on the dark rosewood
fretboard were filled with a mysterious
white substance, perhaps an unintentional artifact
of the manufacturing process, and more
time could have been devoted to sanding the
guitar’s innards. Those small matters aside, the
guitar looks and feels very well made.
Comfortable and Capable
As a hardcore traditionalist, I was on the fence
about some of the styling and design aspects
of the HDC-77. But the doubts faded the
minute I removed the guitar from the case and
marveled at its remarkably light weight. At just
over 6.5 pounds, it’s about two pounds lighter
than most center-block 335-style designs. The
guitar did indeed feel exceedingly comfortable
to hold, and it was very easy to tune it up to
pitch—and keep it there.
Unplugged, the guitar had impressive
resonance and sustain, thanks perhaps to its
innovative build and hardware. It also possessed
an unexpected snap that’s likely due to
the scale length of 25.125", compared to a traditional
semi-hollow’s 24.75". The HDC-77’s
neck is low profile, but not pencil-thin, and it
was easy to play barre chords for an extended
period without experiencing much in the way
of fret-hand fatigue. The 22 jumbo frets made
bending strings easy anywhere on the neck.
And thanks to the substantial carve at the
neck’s heel, I found myself venturing up to the
highest regions of the fretboard to work with
fresh-sounding chord voicings.
I explored the HDC-77’s amplified personality
by plugging directly into an Electroplex
Rocket 22 and a Fender Pro Junior. While the
guitar’s electronics might sound a bit complicated
on paper, they proved totally intuitive to
operate. The single Volume and Tone provided
an excellent range of expression. Highs weren’t
lost when I decreased the volume, and the
Tone knob had an agreeable and useful taper.
It was difficult to find a stinker among the
HDC-77’s multitude of electronic settings.
The single-coil positions of both pickups
shimmered nicely on a clean amp setting, and
the hotter, more P-90-styled position had the
guitar growling like an old Les Paul Junior.
The humbucking position of each generated a
tone that, while not quite as massively present
as a good old PAF, was heavy and harmonically
detailed. On both pickups, it was easy to roll
back the tone knob to get that Clapton-esque
woman tone. And the bridge pickup seemed
hot enough for high-gain shredding situations.
Vox’s HDC-77 is a guitar that benefits from
a smooth marriage of tradition and innovation.
It would be an excellent instrument
for a serious intermediate player, given the
reasonable price tag. But with its broad
spectrum of tones, the guitar would also be
right for a studio musician, a home recording
enthusiast, or a player who doesn’t feel
inclined to haul a boatload of axes to a gig.
And it’s an instrument built in the exploratory
spirit of a brand that’s responsible for
some of the greatest guitar and amplifier
innovations in the electric guitar age.
you need a wide range of tones in
a single, extremely playable guitar.
you’re a vintage snob.