I first encountered Jim Elyea back around the year 2001 when I was looking for some esoteric information on an early Vox AC4 amplifier that I had acquired. I was working as the editor of The Guitar Magazine in London, England, and started inquiring in gear circles for someone who might know a little more about this seemingly odd transition-period version of the little student model amp. There I was, a guest in the land of Vox, and yet all roads seemed to lead back overseas and all the way to the west coast of the United States, where resided, I was informed, not only an amp collector on a massive scale, but the ultimate authority on all things vintage-Vox. These roads steered me right, and I have turned to Elyea time and again when I’ve been stuck for the final word on a Vox-related question for a book or magazine piece.
During our very first contact, Elyea mentioned that he was writing a book on Vox amps, and that he’d appreciate the passing along of any details, serial numbers and other info gleaned from unusual examples that I might encounter. “A Vox book, eh?” I thought. “It’s been done … but why not.” We would correspond every few months, Elyea would mention that he was still working on the book, and I would go away wondering when, or if, it would ever see the light of day.
It’s eight years later, and Elyea’s Vox Amplifiers: The JMI Years (History For Hire Press, $85; www.voxguidebook.com) has landed like a cinderblock on our doorsteps. Indeed, “the Vox book” had been done before — and done admirably, in the form of The Vox Story by David Petersen & Dick Denney — but it has never been done like this. Elyea’s 682-page tome is the Vox book to end all Vox books. Much, much more than a fun reference born out of a labor of love, it’s an exhaustive compendium of all things JMI-Vox-related, including a wealth of back story — and “side story,” if you will — to give full context to Vox in its heyday, including the stories of the prominent bands who used the gear, Vox’s rival manufacturers, those that influenced it, and so forth.
The hardbound book is beautifully laid out and neatly typeset — given the kind of editorial respect that amp books were rarely afforded before the new millennium — with newly shot, high-resolution photos of over 100 vintage Vox amplifiers, alongside numerous archive photos of the factories, personnel, artists and advertising images relevant to the tale. Elyea’s rendering of the Vox story unfolds across seven sections;
- Section 1: The History of JMI and Vox
- Section 2: Component Parts
- Section 3: From Concept to Consumer
- Section 4: The Amplifiers
- Section 5: Dating Your Amplifier
- Section 6: The Groups
- Section 7: Additional Materials
Each comprises virtually a book’s worth of information in itself, and packs unexpected tidbits to delight not only the Vox aficionado, but any guitar or gear fan. Section 2’s exhaustive look at the minutia of Vox cabinets, coverings, grille cloth, tubes and speakers, for example, and Section 4’s comprehensive rundown of every relevant model are the stuff a collector’s dreams are made of. Meanwhile, Section 6’s detailed examination of the relationship between bands such as the Beatles, the Shadows, the Rolling Stones and others and their Vox amps is trenchant enough to appeal to even the non-guitar-playing music fan.
As an amp nut myself, I was drawn first to the internal photos and detail shots of vintage Vox models, and the thorough explanations of circuit and model evolution that accompany them. Anywhere I let the pages fall, though, I discover a captivating story from within this compelling slice of rock and roll history. Sure, there’s bound to be something missing from this book. No publication is perfect, right? But if any jot, tittle or iota relevant to Vox’s JMI years is missing from this book, I certainly haven’t found it.