The trend for lower power guitar amps and combos has been around a while but as well as quieter, guitarists also want smaller. Players need to walk into a gig with guitar in one hand and an amp in the other: an amp that’s loud enough to contend with the drummer and bass player and with a decent reverb and effects loop. The clean channel needs to display some headroom for those funk rhythms or country leads and the lead channel need to soar when asked. They want features sure, but they also need their chosen amplifier to look good. A touch of class, if you will. VOX may have the very thing.
The re-designed Night Train Series is certainly beefier in terms of looks but still retains a decidedly ‘retro’ air. None more so than the NT15C1 combo, which looks more like a piece of posh luggage than an amp. The rounded off edges and contrasting off-white, old-fashioned handle also bear comparison to 40’s Bakelite wireless. It’s all deliberate of course, and quite in keeping with the fact that VOX is one of our oldest (British) amplifier manufacturers, still held in high regards by guitarists worldwide. The natural break-up characteristics of the of the humble EL84 output valve fitted to its classic models has inspired generations of guitarists over the last 50 odd years and continues to do so.
As with many boutique-style combos, the Night Train NT15C1 puts out 15-watts, courtesy of two of the aforementioned EL84 output valves, boasts a class AB pre-amp driven by three 12AX7s, two (footswitchable) channels and a Celestion G12M Greenback speaker. The two channels are named Bright and Girth, with shared 3-band EQ, global reverb and a master volume. There’s a mini toggle switch for Thick on the Bright channel which fattens the clean sound and adds a bit of gain. Switching to the aptly named Girth channel and the Gain and Volume knobs allow everything from mild overdrive to all-out grind if required. VOX has upgraded the reverb and also added an effects loop for delay or any modulation pedal that’s going spare. In addition, there’s a Dark switch to add some low end to the proceedings even though VOX has housed the NT15C1 in an extra-deep (410mm) cabinet.
Presumably for prolonged valve life, VOX has opted for a ‘soft’ power up which means there’s a slight delay before the indicator light signals we’re ready to go. With a Cabronita Tele at hand, we’re treated to some cleans in the Bright channel that never get harsh or unpleasantly screechy, especially when the volume is increased. The EL84s show their colours straightaway with some lovely ‘squashed’ break up when pushed harder and when the Thick switch is deployed, we get to savour some characteristic VOX break –up, perfect for overdriven rhythm parts that don’t want to fuzz out. Channel switching is performed by the mini toggle on the control panel or with an (optional) footswitch and it’s on the Girth channel where retro gets left at the door and modern takes over. Girth offers us the option to whack the gain up for full-on rock leads, especially with a dollop of extra mid boost from the EQ. Alternatively, you could use the Girth channel as a louder version of the Bright with perhaps a little more gain whacked on for a bit of extra sustain. Versatility is the key word here, with plenty of volume in reserve if needed. Reverb is lush and clean and the classic Celestion G12M speaker is never troubled by any of the guitar tones it’s asked to reproduce, handling them all with customary ease, even when the Tele is swapped for humbucker equipped guitar, which adds another dimension again to the whole Night Train experience.
It’s true that for similar money, there’s a lot of choice out there in the lower wattage combo department. However for classy sound and looks, the VOX Night Train NT15C1 is hard to ignore.