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The Vox Mando-Guitar: an In-Depth Analysis

If you’re interested in learning more about the Vox Octave 12, the predecessor to the modern electric mando-guitar, this post is for you.

In my previous posts, I’ve typically discussed the GoldTone brand of mando-guitar.

As I’ve said, the GoldTone mando-guitar is the most popular brand of the instrument on the market.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other companies that make mando-guitars too!

In this article, I’ll discuss the mando-guitar made by Vox, one of the oldest electric musical instrument manufacturers in the world.

Though the company is most popular for its amplifiers, Vox has tapped into the manufacturing of many different products since its founding.

Today, Vox makes a number of different musical products.

Many Vox products are considered iconic in the music industry based on the superstar users they’ve amassed over the years.

The most iconic users of Vox products include The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, the Rolling Stones, and many more!

Some of these products include amplifiers, pedals, guitars, organs and keyboards.

But not many know that Vox also made a mando-guitar!

Let’s take an in-depth look at the history of Vox as a company and then break down the Vox mando-guitar!

The History of Vox

Vox is a British company founded in 1957 in Dartford, Kent, England.

A man named Thomas Walter Jennings founded the company, which originally went by the name of the Jennings Organ Company.

Jennings invented what he called the “Univox:” a self-powered electric organ in 1956.

Thomas Jennings met up with an old war buddy from World War II by the name of Dick Denney: a big band guitar player who had a prototype guitar amplifier.

Jennings took an interest in the amplifier and tried making his own.

At the time, electric instruments were becoming more and more mainstream, especially after Leo Fender launched his first electric guitar in 1952.

With this newfound instrument, Jennings came out with his own version of an electric guitar amplifier.

Two years later in 1958, Jennings renamed his company Jennings Musical Industries (or JMI for short) and launched his amplifier.

This new amplifier was the Vox AC-15 and competed heavily with the Fender Twin guitar amplifier from the United States.

Though the AC-15 was popular, the Fender Twin was louder and more powerful.

Jennings thought to name his amp “vox” because it is the Latin word for “voice.”

The British music scene at the time fell in love with this local music company and requested a more powerful amp to compete with Fender.

As a result, JMI put out the AC-30: named this way because it supposedly had twice the power of the AC-15.

The AC-30 became the face of the Vox company; the most iconic of their products to this day.

From there, Vox has become one of the most iconic music companies in the world.

A Quick List of Vox Products

The most popular product made by Vox is their Ac-30 amplifier.

One famous user of this iconic amp is Brain May of Queen, known for having a wall of AC-30 amps on stage.

But there are a number of products also offered by Vox that are arguably just as famous.

British musicians used these products almost exclusively until the Beatles popularized their use in the States in the 1960s.

As the sound of rock and roll changed and developed through the 1960s, so did the products.

For instance, the wah-wah pedal is another iconic Vox product that came out in this era.

The most famous user of pedals like this at this time was Jimi Hendrix, equipped with a Fender Stratocaster through a Vox wah-wah pedal.

The wah-wah sound dominated the ’60s thanks in part to Hendrix, Cream, the Yardbirds, and the Beatles.

Vox also released a series of electric guitars modeled after the successful American guitars from Fender (which were not yet available in the UK at the time.)

These guitars had a solid body and a bolt-on neck, exactly like Fender instruments.

Vox continued to manufacture organs — Jennings’s first product all those years earlier.

Vox organs often have the iconic reverse colour to them: the traditional white keys are black, and traditional black keys are white.

These instruments, like I mentioned, helped electrify the British Invasion.

As a result, British rock music became global mainstream.

After decades of American dominance in the music scene with jazz and blues, the 1960s were a cultural pushback from the UK.

From this era came the new sounds of British rock and punk.

Bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, the Kinks, and many more heavily influenced the style of the time.

The Vox Mando-Guitar (AKA Octave 12)

In 1964, Vox released what was essentially a mando-guitar.

The instrument has twelve strings and is tuned like a guitar but one octave up and in pairs: EEAADDGGBBEE.

This is unlike a 12-string guitar where some of the string pairs are tuned an octave up and some are the same tuning as their paired string.

The result is simply a fuller sound in the same range rather than a broader sound with the octave.

The strings tuned in exact pairs make this instrument even more similar to a mando-guitar than a typical 12-string guitar or even 12 string mando-guitar.

This instrument by Vox also went by the name of an Octave Twelve due to its twelve strings and higher-pitched tuning.

It was an electric instrument made to plug into the Vox AC-30.

Unfortunately, the octave 12 was not a commercial success since there was no real demand for an instrument like it at that time.

Vox did advertise that George Harrison featured the instrument in certain Beatles recordings, though!

The introduction of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” features a Vox Octave Twelve — the predecessor of the modern mando-guitar.

Check out the songs intro (and the whole song) here:

That said, Vox released a re-issue of their Octave Twelve in 1999 to a world and market more interested in such an instrument.

Back in the sixties, Vox was ahead of its time by releasing the Octave Twelve.

Fast forward thirty years and Vox put out the Mini XII Model, bringing their quirky product of the sixties into the modern era.

The functionality of the mini model is very similar to the original model from the sixties.

But what does this mean? What are the properties of these Vox instruments? Let’s discuss.

Vox Electric Instrument Pickups (& What They Used for the Mando-Guitar)

A pickup is what an electric instrument uses to amplify its sound.

They are essentially magnets that sit under the strings; as the strings vibrate over them, they “pick up” the sound.

The sound then transfers by signal through the pickups to an amplifier.

Different sorts of pickups get different sorts of sounds: some brighter and some warmer, etc.

As I’ve mentioned, Vox instruments are based heavily on US Fender instruments from the United States.

That said, Fender mainly uses single coil electric guitar pickups, even to this day.

In their influence, and due to the success of Fender, Vox followed suit.

Single coil pickups mean that there is only one wire that coils around the pickup rather than many.

By contrast, humbucker pickups are examples of pickups that have more wires that coil around it.

The difference in sound is significant. Both pickups have great sounds but tailor to different kinds of music.

Single coils produce a more clear, clean, and thin sound: some say they mimic the sound of a human voice.

Humbucker pickups, on the other hand, have a thicker, meatier, and heavier sound to them.

They’re often on Les Paul instruments and show up more in distorted heavy music.

This is why you often see Fender instruments in more bluesy rock and roll music, and Les Paul instruments in metal.

I’ve seen both instruments used for jazz music, but it seems that the lower end of humbucker pickups is more common in jazz.

By mimicking the single-coil pickups used in Fender instruments, Vox also managed to get a famously crystal clear sound.

The easiest way to tell apart these pickups is simply by the way they look.

Single coil pickups often are not as wide as humbuckers; humbuckers also have a shiny metal plated look to them.

So which pickups are better? Which do Vox use?

Taking a quick look at electric Vox instruments, it’s easy to see that they use single coil pickups.

This, plus the clear sound they get, is what Vox is known for.

Likewise, the Vox Octave Twelve uses single coil pickups.

Here’s a table to help remember the difference between the two pickup types:

Single Coil Pickups
Humbucker (Multiple Coil) Pickups
One wire coiled around the pickup
Multiple wires coiled around the pickup
Has a clear, clean, thin, mid-driven sound
Has a thick, meaty, rich, deep bass-driven sound
Six small magnets are visible poking through the pickup directly under the six strings
Has the look of one large shiny metallic plate
Seen mostly in blues, rock & roll, country, and funk music
Seen mostly in hard rock, heavy metal, and jazz music. Sometimes also used in blues music, depending on the player.
Used in mostly Fender and Vox instruments
Used in mostly Les Paul and Gibson instruments

As usual, pickup preference typically comes down to what the player wants with no clear better or worse set up.

Depending on the style of music someone plays and the sound they tend to go after, this will govern which electric instrument they will go after.

Returning to the topic of the mando-guitar, it’s an instrument commonly used in rock and folk music.

Given the instrument’s use in these genres, a single coil pickup on the Vox Octave Twelve makes sense.

Properties of the Vox Mando-Guitar

Because the Vox mando-guitar is largely modelled after successful Fender instruments, many Vox properties follow the style of Fender.

Of course, since the Vox Octave Twelve only existed for a brief period from 1964-1968 and the Mini 12 from 1998 – 2001 (never being very successful) it did not use the mando-guitar bodies we know of today.

If you read my article about mando-guitar bodies, you’ll know that the Octave Twelve has neither the F nor A-style bodies.

Also, like I mentioned, the Vox Octave Twelve has single-coil pickups.

Just like Fender, Vox appealed to the clear sound preferred by rock & roll players of the sixties.

Also like Fender, Vox used similar woods in the manufacturing of their Octave Twelve.

That said, an outline of the different woods used in instrument manufacturing is also available to look over in my mando-guitar body article.

The Vox Octave Twelve used an alder wood body, a maple wood neck, and a rosewood fretboard — this exactly mimics the woods used in guitars manufactured by Fender in the 1960s.

Each of these woods brings out a warmer, richer sound that accentuates the mid-range of the instrument.

The only type of wood that has a brighter high end to it is maple.

Aside from that, alder and rosewood have a warmer midrange to them, much like the Fender Stratocaster.

In fact, aesthetically, the Vox Octave Twelve of the 1960s uses a paint job similar to the Fender Stratocaster of the time as well.

Most of the properties of the instrument closely resemble Fender’s guitars.

Conclusion

The Vox Octave Twelve was not a commercial success.

Though Vox is a popular company, their Octave Twelve did not go as far as they hoped.

Because they existed for such a brief period, the Vox Octave Twelve is a rare instrument to find.

As a result, any of them listed for sale often have a high price tag!

It’s worth mentioning that these instruments are quite quirky and were likely the first guitar-mandolin hybrid instruments ever to exist!

They’re often considered collectors pieces todays.

If you’re interested in purchasing one check out listings for them here.

Keep in mind you likely won’t find bargain deals on the Octave 12 because it’s no longer manufactured.

That said, the rarity of these instruments may mean their value will increase over time!

Even though they did not take off the way Vox expected, I still think they are cool instruments!

Would you be interested in trying out an Octave 12 from Vox or have you already?

Let me know in the comments!

Happy playing!

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