Vox aficionado Jim Elyea talks about his journey in producing the most complete reference for JMI-era Vox amps ever made.
The History for Hire Press has just published Vox Amplifiers: The JMI Years by Jim Elyea. Twelve years in the making, it is a very big book, and I’m not just talking about its physical size—although at 9.5 x 12 inches and 682 pages, it’s no slight thing in that regard either. In terms of what this book achieves, it may be even bigger than its outsized proportions can convey. In these pages is a seemingly endless array of pictures detailing every aspect of Vox history, familiar and unfamiliar, along with an engrossing narrative and meticulous documentation. Interspersed throughout are charts, sidebars and illustrations, and a running item called “Setting the Record Straight,” in which Elyea clears up many popular myths with the information he dug up in his years of searching. Laudably, he is never reticent about what he could not verify. Oh yes, there’s also plenty of gear porn.
Certain to become the definitive book on the subject, Vox Amplifiers also sets a new standard by which other books on the history of our most beloved gear might be judged. It’s not just that the text and the photography are equally edifying, organized and easy to navigate, or even just that it covers so much territory, from history to field guide, to reference manual, to nostalgic coffee table book. What sets it apart is its depth of detail. It must have been Elyea’s obsession with Vox amps that started it, but his quest to find out everything that could be found out about Vox Amplifiers in the early years can only be described as relentless.
He began his gear collecting with a general interest, but as he got more interested in Vox amps he decided to focus solely on them, foregoing guitars, effects, and other amplifiers alike. “As much as I loved the different guitars and amps,” he says, “when a potential new addition to the Vox collection would appear, another guitar would go on the block: 360/12, 370, 6120, ES-5, SJ-200, TV Junior, pre-CBS Strats, black guard Teles—they all were sold to buy more Vox.” Though just the thought of parting with such a bevy of great guitars is enough to make any gearhead rueful, the end result of all this trading-off was the Vox Museum, so the story is a bittersweet one, rather than just bitter. Elyea continues, “I remember the day I sold a complete set of Fender Reverb units, all with covers, and I never looked back. As a result, the Vox Museum has become a repository of some of the rarest amplifiers around, and with the book, I am able to share it with everyone.”
Starting with that collection, which spawned an expanding database of amplifiers, Elyea also put in years of tracking down manuals; data sheets, log books and other documents, made many trips to the UK to talk to everyone he could find who’d ever worked there; did scores of interviews… you get the idea. This guy is thorough, and when he went out to find something, he went all out to find it, every detail. Elyea informs me that there are “some other things” that he would’ve liked to include in the book, but it’s hard to imagine what could’ve been left out.
Just a glance at the book makes it clear that an obsession has been at work here, but reading it reveals a depth that could not have been inspired by obsession alone. This book was concieved with great ambition. Elyea says that after years of waiting for the next great book on Vox to hit the stores, it dawned on him one day that he would be the one to write it. “At that moment, there was no question,” he tells me. From there the obsession began to find a focus—or perhaps, more accurately, a purpose. The painstaking attention to detail recorded in these pages is extraordinary; it is the product of a keen appetite for knowledge.
Describing the way the plan of the book took shape over time, Elyea says, “Like a fool, I thought it would be easy. The original idea was to have a thirty-five-page field guide with seven or eight charts, some basic info, and photos of some of my collection. Simple.” He started a database (which has since grown to over two thousand amps).
Recalling how organizing the data from all the amps he’d collected changed his approach, Elyea says, “at one point, I could see that instead of one large series of numbers that all the amps shared, each model had its own, distinctive sequence. This was a major revelation, to be able to demonstrate that there was a logic behind the Vox numbering scheme.”
The obsession resurfaced, and Elyea decided that the book should be as complete as possible. The scope of the book grew wider and wider, from the low powered amps to the larger 50 and 100 watt models. “Then, I realized I had to do all the amps,” he says, “not just my favorites. As I began to research the other models, I began to see that they were all cool, just in different ways, and they were all my favorites.” But it wasn’t just the details of Vox’s product output during the JMI years that captured the author’s attention.
The historical scope of the book began to take on life of its own, as well. “My wife Pam suggested I put an ad in the local Dartford newspapers asking to talk to people that had worked at JMI/Vox or their suppliers,” he recounts. “About a week later, the floodgates opened. I was deluged with calls from former JMI workers who were anxious to tell their tales. At this point, I realized there was much more than a field guide—there was a story.”
It is quite a story, too—at least it is the way Elyea tells it—and a story not without its touches of pathos. There is, for example, the account of “The Shed.” One of the byproducts of Vox’s revolutionary Artist’s Loan program, which had been responsible for the ubiquitous presence of Vox equipment on the stages of the most celebrated acts of the era, was the growing collection of worn and wellused amps that were being stored in a shed behind the factory in Dartford. When the shed got full and something was needed to fill up a hole that had been dug at a nearby construction site, the decision was made to kill two birds with one stone. Elyea writes simply, and without sentimentality, “The petrol station (a new version of it, anyway) is still at the corner, and underneath it are the rotting remains of dozens of the most historically significant Vox amplifiers ever made.”
There are other such stories, as Elyea relates: “I recall Jack Jennings, Tom’s brother, telling me about his saving the ledgers in which he logged out every amplifier that was shipped from JMI. I then listened in horror as he told me of saving them for so long, only to give up and throw them away a half dozen years before I met him.”
When I asked Elyea to describe how he was able to get so much information from former JMI employees, his response was, “back to back sessions in a corner table at the Bull and Vic pub in Dartford. There was one trip in the late ‘90s where everyone I talked to had fantastic stories, and every tidbit was golden. With so much great information coming so fast and furious, I barely had a chance to grab a bite to eat before the next interview started. I was in heaven.”
Most of them were glad, he told me, that someone was finally interested in something that they had spent so much of their time with. Quite a few of them had never been interviewed about their Vox experiences before, and many of them had very much to say. Since so many years had passed, Elyea informed me, it took him a lot of time and multiple interviews to get the story, with all of its details, straight. Dick Denney avoided being interviewed for years, but Elyea didn’t quit. “I was finally about to set up a minireunion of him, two other JMI engineers, and two friends of mine, Robert Stamps and Brian Kehew, at Dick’s daughter’s house,” he says. “After just a few minutes, he realized he was among friends, and warmed up. Before I knew it, we had been talking for 15 hours.”
He adds, “It was amazing how proprietary many of the engineers were. Some stories ‘evolved’ as a level of trust was built up. Everyone was very gracious about working their schedules around mine, and also in sharing their photos and other materials. The biggest problem was that so many of them had lost their photo scrapbooks in fires years ago.”
Somehow in all those travels, Elyea still ended up receiving a great deal of technical information, and copies of schematics from former engineers and salespeople who were eager to share them. “Most of the rest came from the attic at 119 Dartford Road,” he says. “It took me two years to talk my way up there, and when I finally went up there, I was able to come back with some fantastic information.” As plenty of afficionados (who’ve had to rely on their own resources to dig them up for decades) can tell you, many vintage Vox schematics are now rare, and quite hard to find. Often extremely poor copies, unreadable in some places, have circulated for lack of anything to replace them. Elyea wanted to publish the schematics he’d uncovered, and his tech-saavy friends encouraged it, but the book had already become so expansive that to include them would’ve made it unmanageable, so the decision was made to offer them in a separate portfolio with the Deluxe edition, so enthusiasts could get the whole batch.
|Here’s a summary of the book’s contents:|
In 12 chapters, Section 1 details the history of JMI and Vox in pictures, and in the words of those who were there.
In 18 chapters, Section 2 investigates every physical aspect of the amplifiers themselves, from cabinets and control knobs to valves and vent covers, and all elements in between—this section features loads of charts and timelines.
In 4 chapters, Section 3 treats the design, manufacturing and promotional history the amplifiers.
In 12 chapters, Section 4 covers each of the Vox amp designs, with the more famous among them receiving their own chapters.
Section 5 is a short reference guide to dating your Vox amplifier.
In 4 chapters, Section 6 discusses The Shadows, The Beatles, and the other groups that made Vox a name heard everywhere.
Finally, Section 7 contains as appendices all of the additional material and organization that makes the book such a useful reference manual: a list of JMI people, a chronology, a glossary, notes and indexes, etc.
When I asked him how he was going to top such an achievment, Elyea said, “part of me is so anxious to start another project I can practically taste it. There are, of course, several good ideas ready. The more rational side is going to make me enjoy this moment, at least for a few months.”
The next book might take a while, but that’s okay. We’re going to take our time with this one. The stand-alone, 682-page Standard edition is published by the History for Hire Press, and retails for $85. The Deluxe Edition, which comes with the Vox Schematic Portfolio and a slipcase designed to look like a Fawn AC30 Twin in a green, Vinyde cover, retails for $150. The first thousand of these are numbered and signed by the author.
For more information:
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.