Vox Viper V289

Hollow bodied electric guitar with built-in effects

1967 Vox V289 Viper
Pete Townsend on the Smothers Brothers show 1967 Pete Townsend of The Who on the Smothers Brothers show 1967, with his Vox Viper

The Vox Viper, or V289, was one of Vox's late sixties semi-acoustic models sporting built in effects. The example pictured was built in late 1967, and Vox's EME plant, in Recanati, Italy.

It is perhaps not as well known as some models; unfortunately the most famous piece of work involving this instrument is its destruction at the hands of Pete Townsend on the American Smothers Brothers TV show.

The built in effects are rather interesting, and consist of an E-tuner (plays a quiet E note), treble/bass boost, distortion (mild overdrive to full blown 60s fuzz) and repeat percussion. These are the same effects as on other Vox guitars and basses of the period, though some also had a built in palm-operated wah wah pedal too. Similar models to the Viper were the V267 Cheetah: same effects plus a tremolo, and the V268 Vox Ultrasonic the top of the range with wah-wah.

The original Vox literature describes the Viper as follows:

Offers the guitarist a world of exciting new sounds and conventional playing ease. Double cut-away fully arched top, and back with twin f-holes beautifully trimmed enhancing the appearance and tonal resonance of the instrument. Built-in E tuner, distortion booster, treble and bass booster, repeat percussion, two exclusive Vox Ferro-sonic pickups. All new easy-to-fret fast neck with Vox double T-bar and adjustable steel rod. Fully adjustable bridge with six individual bridge rollers, providing individual suspension for each string, adjustable forward or backward for perfect in-tune fretting. One volume, two tone controls, 3-position pickup selector. Sunburst or Cherry.

The Vox Viper was fitted with dual Ferro-sonic pickups; these were produced by Eko, and also appeared on a number of their guitars.
The machine heads are individual closed gear Vox-logo type, part number 09-3752-0
The back of the body is covered by a large fabric pad, held in place by press studs. This conceals a smaller plastic cover, this time screwed in place, and offering access to the guitars circuitry, but most importantly, to the 9v battery that powers the in-built effects.
The E-tuner plays a tone to which to tune the instrument. Guitar tuners were not widely available or especially portable at this time.
The five-ply neck is held in place with four bolts through the neckplate. This holds the six-digit serial number, and (despite being produced entirely in Italy) the legend 'The British Sound'.
Bridge with cover and engraved Vox logo.
Vox Viper controls

The controls are as follows:

  1. Pickup selector switch; neck pickup only, bridge pickup only or both pickups
  2. Master volume
  3. Neck pickup tone control
  4. Bridge pickup tone control
  5. Treble/ bass boost control and on/off switch
  6. Distortion level control and on/off switch (mild overdrive to extreme fuzz)
  7. Repeat percussion speed control and on/off switch
Vox Viper in action. I recorded this clip purely to demonstrate the different tones available from the Vox Viper - the biting treble from the treble boost, the smooth jazzier tones of the bass boost, and the effects; repeater, blistering 60s fuzz, and even the E tuner! Incidently the bass in this clip is a Gibson RD artist bass
1967 Vox V289 Viper

The headstock has the same curved profile of the earlier British Mark and Phantom models, but unlike these it has a large inlaid logo, rather than the decals typically used in the UK. The Viper headstock has none of the floral motifs of some other guitars in the series. Compare this headstock with that of the Ultrasonic.

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