Dick Denny’s name may not have the same resonance with guitarists as Leo Fender’s, but for a generation of British guitarists and scores of amplifier builders who came in Denny’s wake, his work is no less ingenious or important. Denny, you see, was the brains behind the Vox AC15. With his simple stew of EL84 power tubes, 15 watts of power, and a 12" speaker, he created one of the greatest, most timeless vehicles for electric-guitar expression. Within a few years, Denny’s AC30 would supplant the AC15’s first masterstroke as the standard bearer of British amplification— effectively becoming for British Invasion bands what the Spitfire was to the Royal Air Force.
But even if more powerful amps ultimately got the headlines, the AC15 remained an article of tone-generating perfection. Its combination of glinting clean tones and delicious harmonic overdrive remained invaluable in the studio and on small stages. As the legend of the forgotten Vox grew in the decades to follow, small boutique amp builders looked to the AC15 as inspiration and a model of design elegance.
The nine amps given a workout here are, in one way or another, children of Dick Denny’s vision. They may vary a bit in terms of power and features, but each looks to the magical formula of EL84 power tubes and a ballpark of 15 watts. For our roundup, we assembled three L.A. studio and touring pros and let them have their way with each of these lovely little machines. In the process, we were all reminded just how near-perfect Dick Denny’s tone recipe was from the beginning and what a wonderful time it is to be in the market for one of his masterpiece’s offspring. Read More
Taylor Locke: I’m really impressed. There’s a versatility to this amp—the amount of gain on tap is great, and the way the bass, mid, treble, and cut controls interact with each other is very useful. There’s not a bad setting on the amp, and it was easy to switch from my SG to a Stratocaster. The boost switch—and the amount of gain you get with it—means you don’t really need to put a pedal in front of the amp. I was able to get plenty of sustain for lead parts.
One thing you need to be careful about with smaller 1x12 amps like this is the bottom end getting loose and falling apart when you play with more gain. But this amps is very tight, and each of the controls does what it should so you can really carve out a variety of different tones. I can’t say enough about the build quality, too. You could do almost anything with this amp— you could make a whole record with a couple different guitars and this amp.
Justin Derrico: This amp is killer. It’s got a nice bark and it’s really chimey, with a nice amount of gain, too. For a combo, it sounds big. I plugged in and it took, literally, a second to dial it up. My philosophy is, if it takes you more than two minutes to dial in a good sound, then it’s the wrong amp.
Steve Trovato: My first impression of this amplifier is that it’s a Cadillac—it looks classy. And it’s got plenty of wattage for a small gig, which is a feature that I really appreciate. I set the amp up with master volume up all the way, then turned the gain up so that it was almost breaking up. When I set it there and adjusted the rest of the tone controls, it sounded just great. It’s big, it’s robust, and when I started playing the distortion pedal through it, it didn’t get muddy. However, I don’t really like to carry any extra gear to a small gig, and this amp does not have reverb, so right off the bat I’m going to have to bring a pedalboard with reverb or something to get some time delay.