1966 Vox Tempest XII
The original British Vox company is best known for building ground breaking amplifiers made popular by The Beatles and many other “Invasion” bands of that era as well as later artists such as Queen and Tom Petty to name a few. It is not surprising that in 1961 they started building guitars in England.
The earliest British Vox guitars I have had over the years, like the Stroller and Clubman, were rather primitive student models. In 1962 they brought out the Phantom with it’s five sided body which were popular with The Hollies, Dave Clark Five and of course “Fang” of Paul Revere and the Raiders fame. In fact, I was thought they looked so cool that I considered purchasing one at the time, but the one I tried wasn’t set up properly and purchased a Hofner instead. In 1963 Vox brought out the Mark series with teardrop or lute shaped bodies made popular by Brian Jones. It seems that during this period some guitars were produced entirely in England, some had English bodies and Italian necks and others were built entirely in Italy by the EKO company. In 1964 English production ceased and all guitars were being produced in Italy.
This Tempest XII was built by the EKO company for VOX in or around 1966. By that time VOX was taken over by a large corporation named Royston group who had reciprocal trade agreements with Thomas Organ of California. It seems that during that period guitars were considered cool and electronic organs were not (Hammond B3s being the notable exception) and these organ guys couldn’t keep their hands off the more exciting and glamorous guitar business. Who else could possibly have conceived this unlikely instrument?
I have this vision of a bunch of home organ guys in suits with skinny ties and crew cuts sitting around this conference table saying something like, “Let’s see, 12-string guitars are really popular. Three pick up guitars with whammy bars are the most popular. Let’s combine the two and throw in a string damper for good measure! We’ll really show those guys in Fullerton a thing or two!” No one wanted to listen to the long haired dude with the flowered shirt who tried to point out that if 12 string guitars are difficult to tune, and if whammy bars frequently put your guitar out of tune, then this guitar will NEVER be in tune! In fact they probably fired the guy or worse yet transferred him to the home organ division! At least this is the way I imagine it happening. If you have the real story please let me know.
Well the Tempest XII really does sound and play very well. The traditional Vox neck and pickups are proven entities that actually work quite well with the 12 string format. As it turns out fears about tuning issues are remarkably unfounded. I have just been playing the Tempest along with a Los Straitjackets CD and gave the whammy bar a pretty good work out. Used in moderation it stays in tune fairly well with more issues on the wound strings. The string dampening unit is pretty useless even for surf music. (I feel the same about the damper on the Fender Jaguar.) As a teen I remember reading an article by Carl Wilson where he encouraged aspiring surf guitarists to turn up the reverb and dampen the strings. I imagine that if I owned a reverb I would have stood a good chance of electrocuting myself as I had no idea what he was talking about but was sure it involved water and electricity!
In any event, while the Tempest XII may not have been one of Vox’s greatest sales hits it is certainly a quality instrument of surprising functionality.