Why did The Beatles only ever use Vox amps? Here’s the inside story on the real reason why The Beatles choose to use Vox amps – and it has nothing to do with guitar tone!
Few other bands have as much lore as The Beatles. As one of the greatest and biggest bands to ever walk the planet, The Beatles are known the globe-over and influenced everyone from Oasis to Buzz Osborne. The Beatles were and remain a big deal for music fans.
But when it comes to the gear used by The Beatles, there are a few interesting stories. And we’re not just talking about their choice of guitars, either – John Lennon used Epiphone guitars, not Gibson, for instance, but this was before Gibson bought Epiphone. Back when Epiphone guitars were as expensive as Gibson models.
If you’ve been a fan of The Beatles for however long, you’ll notice that in nearly all live shots of the band they’re using Vox amps. During The Beatles’ heyday, there were plenty of amp options available, and a band like The Beatles would have had its pick of the litter, so why did The Beatles ALWAYS use Vox amps?
Why The Beatles Used Vox Amps
The reason The Beatles used Vox amps has nothing to do with tone or performance. Instead, the real reason relates to a deal made between Vox and The Beatles’ long-time producer/handler, Brian Epstein, that specified The Beatles would always be seen and photographed using Vox amps for its guitars and bass.
The deal span almost all of The Beatles’ history, from the very early days right up until the end of the line. According to the deal made by Epstein, The Beatles would get new models whenever they were available, Vox would fix any issues as they happened, but The Beatles never owned the amps – Vox effectively leased its amps to The Beatles for free.
According to Beatles lore, the band turned up to their audition with Epstein with truly awful amps. John Lennon had a beat-up Fender amp, what would be considered a practice amp nowadays, and Epstein, aware that sound was key, set about inking a deal with Vox. This was prior to Beatles mania, however. After, Fender tried hard to get The Beatles.
The Beatles also knew that The Shadows used Vox amps. The Shadows were a known influence of The Beatles. Paul and John, as well as Epstein, knew that the Vox amps could produce the sound they wanted. And with a deal in place, they’d get all the gear they needed plus maintenance for no cost to the band.
Epstein’s Deal With Vox
This agreement worked great for the band, however, as none of them – if you’ve seen the new Let it Be documentary by Peter Jackson – were what you’d call gear-heads. The Vox amps worked great, sounded good, and didn’t cost the band anymore. Epstein also likely made a fair bit of cash from the deal too, as any good manager would.
The real secret to the deal, though, was Vox’s insistence that The Beatles did not own the amps it was supplying. This was a genius move by Vox as it allowed the company to resell the amps onto Beatles fans for huge amounts of money once The Beatles had finished using them.
I mean, how much would you pay to own John Lennon’s amp? Or Paul McCartney’s? These amps are still in circulation too – although they cost A LOT of money to buy. Way too much for anyone that isn’t a billionaire and/or high-level millionaire.
As a branding exercise, it was a marketing masterpiece. Vox amps are still incredibly popular options. And The Beatles played an enormous part in this. You simply cannot buy that kind of branding. You only get it by catching a wave before it breaks. And that is just what Vox did with its deal with Epstein.
I mean, how much would you pay to own John Lennon’s amp? Or Paul McCartney’s? As a guitarist, even having the chance to play through the same amp that The Beatles used to record their albums and play live would be the experience of a lifetime. As marketing campaigns go, the Vox + Beatles deal has to be up there with the best of them.
The Switch To Fender Amps
The Beatles used Vox amps for playing live and recording for pretty much their entire career. Epstein got the deal in place early to solve any issues with gear, so the band could just get on writing songs and making records. It wasn’t until The Beatles stopped touring that they switched to other amps from different brands.
In the Let It Be video, The Beatles use Fender amps, an American Fender Bassman and Twin Reverb amps. The Beatles also used these amps to record during the Let It Be sessions. And if you listen to that album, as well as the live performance on the roof, you can hear the difference – Fender amps sound a lot different to Vox amps.
Fender had courted The Beatles for years to no avail. Epstein’s deal with Vox was apparently iron-plated. Fender sourced The Beatles a few custom guitars in 1965 – blue Strats for John and George – but it wasn’t until 1968 when The Beatles had stopped touring, that they switched over to Fender for all their amps, keyboard, and guitars.
And if you follow the dates, The Beatles were loyal to Vox right up to 1968. Brian Epstein died of an accidental drug overdose in 1967. A year later, the band moved away from Vox and started using Fender amps. As the story goes, The Beatles’ deal with Vox concluded when Epstein died. And this is why from 1968 onwards, The Beatles can be seen using Fender amps.
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