Dick Denny’s name may not have the same resonance with guitarists as Leo Fender’s, but for a generation of British guitarists and scores of amplifier builders who came in Denny’s wake, his work is no less ingenious or important. Denny, you see, was the brains behind the Vox AC15. With his simple stew of EL84 power tubes, 15 watts of power, and a 12" speaker, he created one of the greatest, most timeless vehicles for electric-guitar expression. Within a few years, Denny’s AC30 would supplant the AC15’s first masterstroke as the standard bearer of British amplification— effectively becoming for British Invasion bands what the Spitfire was to the Royal Air Force.

But even if more powerful amps ultimately got the headlines, the AC15 remained an article of tone-generating perfection. Its combination of glinting clean tones and delicious harmonic overdrive remained invaluable in the studio and on small stages. As the legend of the forgotten Vox grew in the decades to follow, small boutique amp builders looked to the AC15 as inspiration and a model of design elegance.

The nine amps given a workout here are, in one way or another, children of Dick Denny’s vision. They may vary a bit in terms of power and features, but each looks to the magical formula of EL84 power tubes and a ballpark of 15 watts. For our roundup, we assembled three L.A. studio and touring pros and let them have their way with each of these lovely little machines. In the process, we were all reminded just how near-perfect Dick Denny’s tone recipe was from the beginning and what a wonderful time it is to be in the market for one of his masterpiece’s offspring.

The Players

Justin Derrico

Since graduating from Musician’s Institute in 2004, Justin Derrico has toured with artists from the Calling to Robin Thicke, and has performed with Tina Turner and Beyoncé at the Grammys. He is currently touring with Pink and playing in the house band for NBC’s The Voice.

Steve Trovato

Steve Trovato has authored over 30 guitar instructional titles covering all facets, levels, and styles. He maintains a full-time position in the Studio Jazz Department at the University of Southern California. His latest album, Country Jazzmaster, is saturated with the influences and appreciation of country guitar and Western swing’s essential greats: Jimmy Bryant, Danny Gatton, Albert Lee, and Hank Garland.

Taylor Locke

Taylor Locke is a guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, and engineer. He’s currently wrapping up a third LP with his group Taylor Locke & the Roughs, and is a founding member of L.A. power-pop band Rooney. He operates a studio called the Velveteen Laboratory in Los Feliz.