Giving a Vox Valvetronix amp a vintage look

Okay, I know this isn’t a vintage keyboard. But who would want an ugly, modern-looking amp with all those great vintage keys?

I love my Vox AD100VT amp.  It’s got the reliability of modern electronics, and you can instantly go from playing a Blackface Fender Twin sound, to a ’59 Bassman or a vintage Vox AC30 Top Boost.  How cool is that?  But the amp is a little visually challenged, with its chrome “cheese grater” look.

Voxcheese

I prowled around the web looking for tips on how to go to a vintage look, but none of them really looked all that great because everyone took shortcuts.  (Most simply wrapped vintage grille cloth over the existing metal grille.  And on many, the workmanship looked really poor.) But I really wanted to do a complete job – and make my AD100VT look as much like a vintage AC-30 as possible.

Here’s an AC-30:

Vox ac30
Here’s my AD100VT in its new vintage garb:

voxamp

Not bad, huh?  I think it looks great with my ’65 UK Vox Continental.

connie with amp

Want your own?  Here’s what’s needed:

Vox-specific parts:

Brown Vox replica grille cloth

White UK-style piping (with the staple flange)

Gold fascia strip

Replacement gold large AC-30 VOX logo.

Replacement gold Valvetronix logo

(I got all of the above from North Coast Music)

Other items:

Flat black spray paint

Aleene’s Original tacky glue

A sheet of styrene big enough for the front of your amp, 1/16” thick.

Self-stick Velcro

Tools:

Compass or divider.

Stanley-type utility knife.

Hot glue gun.

Here’s how I did it:

Creating the new baffle

I used 1/16” (.060) styrene to make a new baffle board front. I found mine at a local Dick Blick Art Supplies store.  http://www.dickblick.com/products/white-styrene-sign-blanks/  It is strong, easy to trim.  And its thin profile is a virtue: If you use something much thicker, once you add the cloth, the piping and some Velcro to hold it in place, your new baffle may stick out farther than the front edge of the amp – which looks bad.

Remove the chrome grille.  Measure the opening.  You’ll want to allow ¼ inch for the width of the piping and cloth on the bottom and each side, and about 1/8” at the top for the fascia strip.  Mark the dimensions on the styrene sheet.

To trim the styrene, use a straightedge and just gently score along the line with the Stanley knife.  (Use a new blade.)  Score it 2-3 times until you’re about half-way through it, and simply put it on the edge of a table and snap off the excess.  (If you Google “score snap styrene,” you’ll find many hobbyist websites that give tips on using this technique.)

Measure the speaker opening in the existing baffle board.  Determine and mark the center of the circle on the Styrene.  Get a divider (or a compass on which you’ve installed a second sharp point where the pencil lead normally goes.  Poke one point into the styrene at the center point, and rotate the compass/divider 3-4 times around the circumference of the circle with a little pressure to leave a score line.  Once you’ve got a good score, remove the compass, and pull out the Stanley knife and make the score a little deeper.  Then, score a line bisecting the circle (to give you two half-moon shapes.)  Push and snap-off both halves of the circle.

If any of the cuts are slightly rough or uneven, just use a little fine sandpaper to clean them up.

You’ll need to paint the side of the styrene that will face the grille cloth a flat black, because the grille cloth is not fully opaque.  There are special spray paints for plastic. But since this will be covered anyway, it doesn’t need any extraordinary ability to adhere or withstand wear.  I just used a can of Rustoleum, applying it in several very light coats.

Adding the vintage grille cloth

I used the technique described here: http://www.duhvoodooman.com/AD30VT/spkr_grill.htm   You cut the cloth to leave about 1” of material to wrap around the back of the baffle on each side, where it will be glued, one side at a time, paying careful attention to make sure the pattern is lined up straight.  It is particularly important to cut the corners at a 45 degree angle, so the fabric doesn’t overlap and bunch up when the flaps are folded over and glued.

I used a highly-regarded craft glue, Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue.  (People have been using it for years to glue fabric to styrene lamp shades, among many other uses.)  You can find it in artist supply and craft stores.  It is cheap, and has a great advantage over many other glues:  You can move the pieces for several minutes after applying them. I found this very helpful in making sure that the Vox diamond pattern was straight.  Once it’s aligned, hold everything in place with masking tape, turn the baffle right-side-up, weigh the edges down with books, and let it sit a day to fully dry.

Adding the piping

Several days before I was planning to install it, I hung the piping from a rafter in my basement, and duct-taped a 5 lb. weight to the bottom, to stretch and straighten the piping.  I let it hang for about a day – and then removed the weight to let it contract some, if it was so inclined.  This made it easier to work with.  (At the same time, I also tried to flatten the fascia strip by weighing it down with books for several days.)

I found the best technique for applying the piping was to apply a thin line of hot glue to the staple flange, quickly place the new baffle on top of it, and press the piping against the edge of the styrene to make it flush and straight.  The good news is that this glue sets in 10-15 seconds. So, there is no need to tape the piping.  That’s the bad news, too.  You need to work really quickly.  Because of that, I never applied more than about a foot of piping at a time.  Also, because it sets so fast, there’s no time to spread it out if you get too much in one area.  So, I took the precaution of using masking tape on the piping (not the flange) and on the edge of the grille cloth, so any excess glue came off when I removed the tape.

The piping goes on three sides only:  Right, left and bottom.   It should be applied in a single strip that wraps around the bottom corners, with a rounded look.  The best way to do that is to figure out where it will hit the corner, and cut out two sections of the staple flange on either side of the corner.  (Cutting four sections in total.) I glued the flange until the point where the flange sections were removed, then wrapped the corner, and glued the flange on the other side of the bend.

If you make a mistake, a hairdryer is your friend.  I found one area where the piping was slightly pulled away from the edge of the baffle, and was able to heat it slightly, and move the piping into the proper place.  I also used the dryer to heat one area where some excess glue had gotten on the piping, so I could easily remove the glue.

Mounting the new baffle

Mount the new baffle onto the old baffle with self-stick Velcro. Since the styrene is light, you don’t need a huge amount of Velcro.  (I think I used nine 2-inch patches to mount mine).  I was also concerned that too much Velco – or using industrial strength Velcro – might make it more likely the baffle would be damaged if it ever needed to be removed.

The gold fascia strip can be cut to length with the Stanley knife, and then glued into place with the tacky glue.

Swapping the logos

North Coast Music is licensed by VOX to alter Valvetronix amps to sell them with vintage looks.  It adds vintage grille cloth and trim, but ships those amps with the original chrome nameplates.  This probably looks fine with black Thomas Vox-type cloth, but gold logos really dress-up the look with the brown cloth.

The old logos have plastic pins on the back of them that are press fit and glued into holes in the amp.  They are difficult to remove without breaking them – but that’s okay.  I removed mine by using a nylon kitchen spatula on either side, gently slipping them underneath the nameplates. Then I applied a little heat with the dryer to soften the glue on the pins, and pulled the logos out with the spatulas.

That worked fine with the Valvetronix logo.  But on the Vox logo, the center pin broke off, and remained in the hole. I ended up carefully drilling through the pin.  Install the new logos by just pressing the pins into the holes.  (I also added a little Aleene’s Tacky Glue on each pin before inserting.)

And in conclusion…

Not exactly an instant transformation – nor cheap.  But honestly, I’d rather have the cheese-grater look than have a poorly done vintage treatment.

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