Vox was a massive name in 1960s Britain, with guitars and amplifiers widely used by the very biggest names in British music: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Hollies, The Dave Clark Five and the Yardbirds, to name but a few. Soon American acts would join the roster, most notably Paul Revere & the Raiders and James Brown, but also countless less well known bands. For a few short years in the mid 1960s, the Vox name was everywhere.
But the story of the 1960s Vox guitars is complicated, with many different guitars made in different plants worldwide, often quite different from each other. But it started in England; JMI were making Vox guitars at a factory in Dartford, Kent (See pic), primarily for Shadows fans in the UK. After Beatlemania, Brian Jones' teardrop Mark VI and the British Invasion of 1964, they could not keep up with worldwide demand, especially in the US. JMI outsourced some production to two Italian factories, EKO in Recanati, and Crucianelli, primarily for the American market, and at it's peak had a huge number of models available. Eventually the UK factory ceased guitar production, and the last few Vox guitars available for several years, were the Vox Giant range guitars, made in Japan.
Today, many of these rare guitars are highly collectable, with vintage Vox guitar values on the rise. They are loved for their crazy shapes and for their inbuilt guitar effects. Have a listen to some vintage Vox soundclips.
The various Vox manufacturers
Vox guitars have been produced by various manufacturers in the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan; for convenience, you can split 1960s Vox guitars into four main categories. Each had different components, and it is not too difficult to place a guitar in one of these groups, just by looking at controls, pickups etc.
Two UK-produced Vox Ace guitars from 1962/3
Vox Prototype Designer Mick Bennett drills holes for control knobs, of a Vox Mark guitar at the Dartford plant, United Kingdom
JMI The earliest UK Vox's were solid-body guitars, assembled in the JMI 'Unity Works' plant in Dartford, Kent, with components coming from numerous British suppliers. Later necks were imported from Italy, but even with an Italian neck, these are regarded as the British Voxs. Unable to cope with worldwide demand, a second plant 'West Street' was opened nearby in 1965, but was badly damaged by fire in January 1966. Numerous JMI guitars were produced in the UK, from the Fender-style solid bodies Shadow, Ace, Stroller and Consort, to more original designs, such as the Phantom, Mark and Marauder. These were primarily for the British market, though many were exported to the United States in the early/mid 1960s.
Crucianelli / Eko At the same time, there was significant demand for hollow-body instruments, something not easily produced in any numbers at the Dartford plant. So Vox imported a range of guitars from Italian manufacturer Crucianelli. These models include the Vox Lynx, Vox Cougar bass, Vox Challenger, and Escort bass. Furthermore, demand for solid body UK models was so high that certain guitars were produced simultaneously in Britain and Italy (primarily by Eko of Recanati). Italian Phantoms from this period have some differing components and constructiom from their British-built counterparts.
A late sixties Vox Ultrasonic, produced in Recanati, Italy
EME The third main phase of Vox production is possibly the best known worldwide. These were the Italian built Vox's from the EME factory in Recanati; a joint Venture between Vox UK, Eko in Italy, and Vox's US distributor Thomas Organ. Most of these instruments were bound for the United States, where they were distributed by the Thomas Organ Company.
Although they have distinctive components, and often built-in electronic effects, most were versions of existing Vox models: primarily the phantom and teardrop shaped guitars (eg Delta, Starstream), Gibson/Gretsch-style single and double cutaway hollow bodies, (Ultrasonic, Viper, Cheetah, Apollo, Bossman) - plus the Invader and Thunderjet solid bodies.
From 1966 things started going wrong for Vox, ultimately resulting in the company briefly going out of business, and Vox guitar manufacture ending in the UK. By mid 1968, JMI were in the hands of the receiver. Leftover Vox guitars were distributed unbranded (though potentially still with some Vox markings) by Dallas Arbiter.
Vox Sound (Japan) The last Vox's produced in the 1960s, (and into the early 70s) were the Japanese-made Vox Giant guitars. Aimed at the UK/European market, and first shown at the August 1968 Frankfurt trade fair. These guitars were mainly copies of American designs - Les Paul (and later SG) styled solid bodies and Gretsch Country Gent styled semi acoustics - quite nice guitars, but without the uniqueness of earlier models. These did not sell particularly well, and importation quickly stopped, leaving Vox to concentrate on Amplifiers for the rest of the 1970s.
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