AC30 Tones for the 21st Century
A lighter, more flexible take on a British-voiced ’60s stalwart: The PG Victory VC35 "The Copper" review.
Great AC30 tones. Light, portable design. Cool modern options.
No spring reverb or tremolo.
Victory VC35 “The Copper”
Ease of Use:
Okay, imagine you’re designing a modern amp based on a vintage model. Would you cling as closely as possible to the original sound, or try to update it for current tastes? Would you mimic the original appearance exactly or create something free of visual associations?
There’s no right answer, of course. We’ve seen magnificent clones of vintage amps, and equally magnificent amps that have only tentative ties to the old designs that inspired them. U.K. amp builder Victory’s take on Vox’s AC30, "The Copper," manages to walk both sides of the traditional/new-school divide. Simply put, the amp sounds like a fine old AC30, even with the addition of a few welcome updates. But cosmetically, it’s a big, bold departure. Or maybe it’s a little bold departure.
A Lighter Shade of Wail
The first thing you notice about Victory’s VC35—even before unboxing—is how light it is. The head-only unit weighs roughly 18 pounds, which is less than half the heft of an equivalent modern Vox head. It’s petite, too: roughly 13.5" x 7.5" x 7.5". It comes with a cute padded canvas gigbag with a shoulder strap. Ask anyone who’s ever earned a hernia from hoisting a heavy Vox (me, for example): An AC30 you can sling over one shoulder is a lovely concept.
The concept isn’t all that’s lovely here. The VC35 head resides in an all-metal enclosure—there’s not a splinter of wood. Most of the housing is perforated, facilitating tube-cooling air circulation and lightening the load. The seven chicken-head knobs are one of the few nods to traditional Vox style. Removing a couple of screws provides access to the tubes. Removing a couple more reveals the inner workings. It’s a neat, attractive layout, mixing traditional through-hole components with modern parts. Tubes and sockets are board-mounted. The transformers are from England’s Demeter Windings, while the caps are from South Korea’s Samwha company.
We tested the Copper with Victory’s V12-VB, a vertically oriented 2x12 cabinet housing a Celestion G12H and a G12M Greenback. (You hear a close-miked G12H in the demo clip.) A fabulous-sounding cab in a matching copper color, it does a magnificent job of supporting the Copper—in both senses.
True vs. New
Like an AC30, the Copper employs four EL84 power tubes, plus two 12AX7/ECC83 preamp tubes. But the VC35 has no rectifier tube. It is solid-state. There’s also an EF184 pentode driving the preamp’s tone stack. Unlike a vintage-style AC30, the Copper is a single-channel model minus a tremolo circuit. Meanwhile, the reverb is digital—one reason the amp weighs so little. The splash comes from a Spin FV-1, the same chip used in so many current digital reverb pedals. It doesn’t sound very spring-like, but it’s an attractive sound that gets the job done. There’s also a mono effects loop.
Another departure is the amp’s biasing scheme. The Copper’s low-power switch drops the wattage from 35 to 12. According to Victory, “In low-power mode, which uses lower plate voltages, the amplifier runs entirely in cathode bias, which is effectively Class A operation. This mod produces very natural and sparkling tones reminiscent of early British amplifiers.” But in high-power mode, the amp employs both cathode and fixed bias. “Many EL84 amplifiers exceeded the recommended plate dissipation,” explains the manufacturer. “This can lead to early valve failure and the output stages running extremely hot, even when they are not being played.” (Huh. Maybe that’s one reason vintage AC30s tend to require frequent service.) The Copper requires biasing when installing new power tubes. But Victory eases the process with external biasing points and an excellent bias walkthrough in the manual.
Chime and Grime
Despite those departures from AC30 orthodoxy, the Copper sounds like a fine original. Most sounds exhibit a crackling presence, while low-gain tones are luscious and smooth. At higher gain, you get that uniquely Vox distortion, with its violent upper-mid breakup. Check out the first riff in the demo clip, played on the bright bridge pickup of a 1963 Stratocaster. Hear that spattery sizzle on the riff’s highest notes? To me, that’s Vox in a nutshell. It’s not a “pretty” sound, but man, the energy! Hearing distortion like that always makes me wonder why the hell the guitar community describes this property as “chime,” since bells ring clear and pure at high frequencies. Sounds more like “crackle” or “shatter” to me! (Reviewer dismounts hobbyhorse.)
The Copper dispenses a wealth of authentically ’60s-sounding tones. Meanwhile, several modest but meaningful additions stretch the amp’s range. A bass-cut switch filters out the lowest lows at the amp’s input. The result isn’t terribly dramatic with clean tones, but at high-gain it can be the difference between focus and blubber. (Not that there aren’t many uses for blubber tones!) Meanwhile, the mid-boost switch expands the treble control’s bandwidth so that cranking the knob gooses more upper mids. Finally, there’s a separate low-pass tone control in addition to the bass, mid, and treble pots. Situated in the circuit after the phase splitter, it can help tame excessively bright sounds. These features don’t compromise the retro-sounding tones, but they help you get louder and dirtier than a traditional AC30 without crapping out.
The Copper sounds stunning through its optional companion cabinet. But given the amp’s meager weight, I imagine some players will pair it with something smaller than the 47-pound V12-VB. For example, I connected the Copper to a Universal Audio Ox, a combination load box and speaker emulator. Pretty much every virtual speaker pairing was lovely.
I seriously dig the Copper. It offers a fantastic rendition of the classic AC30 formula with such modern refinements as bass cut and mid boost switches, digital reverb, half-power mode, and an effects loop—all in a light, compact, and attractive package. The Copper is also available in a 1x12 combo model for $2,499, and a deluxe head-only version with true spring reverb and a tremolo circuit for $1,749.
Watch the First Look: