You ask us to review very old and strange instruments. We do it, naturally.
Colin Edge from Darlington wrote to us and said HOW ABOUT some information on the 1960s VOX PHANTOM guitars? "I have contacted several other publications, spoken to numerous people, and even written to Vox, owned by Rose-Morris now — and all to no avail." ONE TWO to the rescue, and here's guitar expert PAUL DAY's brief guide to the Phantom and related Mk. Series instruments.
The original Phantom models were launched during 1963, the styling provided by The Design Centre in London. The trapezoid body-shape was certainly very different and visually attractive (depending on personal taste of course), although it proved totally impractical for playing when seated. But then who would consider playing such a guitar sitting down? The earliest versions were the Phantom I and II, although confusingly both were fitted with three pickups, the main difference being in the method of pickup selection. Both featured the equally distinctive single-sided headstock design and were fitted with the standard Vox vibrato unit. A matching two pickup bass was also introduced and colour options were limited to black or white.
A revised Phantom soon appeared with a refined, neater headstock, improved machine heads, and new pickups based on the Fender Stratocaster type. A re-styled vibrato unit was fitted, early versions bearing an engraved Hank B. Marvin signature-logo, although there was actually very little connection with the man himself (the Shadows restricted their Vox association mainly to the amplification side). The original circuitry was retained as this offered Stratocaster-style tonal variations.
The teardrop-shaped Mk. Series soon followed, another very distinctive design (if a little derivative, being loosely based on a lute-body styling). Again, it was almost impossible to play sitting-down.
The range comprised six-string and 12-string solid guitars, plus matching bass, all designated Mk. III models. Original features included an ebony fingerboard with novel built-in string damper unit at the nut, quality machine heads, two single-coil pickups, and a padded cushion on the body back, something already found on Gretsch instruments. The improved vibrato unit was fitted on both guitars, providing some unusual effects on the 12-string plus a whole host of attendant tuning problems. Colour options were varied, as on the revised Phantom range which by 1964 had been augmented with a 12-string version.
The Mk. Series was later revamped and more logically re-designated, comprising the Mk. VI six-string (now with three pickups), the matching Mk. XII 12-string, and the Mk. IV two pickup bass. A little-known variant was the Mk. IX, naturally enough a 9-stringer, and designed to provide a 12-string sound but with fewer tuning problems! The Phantom series continued in production, with the addition of the XII Stereo complete with three 'split' pickups, three three-way selectors, and no less than 12 control knobs.
Even more variations appeared during the latter half of the 1960s, including active Special versions of both Phantom and Mk. models, and incorporating various built-in effects such as treble and bass boost, repeat and distortion. By now many Vox instruments were being made by the Italian Eko company, and designs became more outlandish. The pièce de resistance must surely have been the Starstream XII, based on the Spitfire XII but complete with every conceivable effect and even a built-in wah-wah pedal mounted behind the bridge.
However, despite such ideas (or perhaps because of them), by the 1970s the popularity of Vox instruments had dwindled considerably and production of most models ceased, relegating them to collectors-only status. But more recent adoptions by players such as Dave Wakeling and bands like ABC and Big Country (Bruce Watson's latest acquisition being an Eko-made 12-string) has rekindled interest, coinciding with a similar resurgence of popularity in America.
Today, good examples are surprisingly hard to find and prices tend to be somewhat unrealistic. Extreme examples are the 'brand new' vintage Eko-made models recently 'unearthed', now selling at around £400! However, I consider £200 to be a more sensible average maximum, and examples can still be bought for considerably less. Confusion can be caused by the various model designations, particularly regarding the teardrop Mk. Series which sometimes bore the Phantom logo on the headstock. Nonetheless, both types and their respective derivatives are all definitive 1960s instruments.
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Feature by Paul Day
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