Vintage Guitar Scene: Johnny Osmond’s Vox Guitar

This Vox guitar belongs to New Zealand expatriate Johnny Osmond. It’s an early sixties instrument from British manufacturer Jennings Musical Industries (JMI), the original owner of the Vox brand. JMI entered the guitar market in 1959 with Vox budget models based on similar guitars of the era, and manufactured by a furniture company. They then ventured into more unconventional designs, including the trapezoid-shaped Vox Phantom released in 1961. Their most recognisable guitar shape was the lute shaped Mark III, released in 1964 and commonly known as the teardrop. The prototype teardrop shaped guitar was made specifically for Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

Vox were better known for their amplifiers than guitars, with high profile British bands using Vox amps from the early sixties. JMI launched their first guitar amplifier – the Vox AC15 – in 1958, and initially the popular instrumental guitar band The Shadows used and endorsed Vox amps.  Later when sixties “British invasion” bands were seen using Vox amps, the brand achieved widespread international recognition. In particular the Beatles used Vox amps exclusively, while the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Yardbirds were also notable users.

This particular guitar is relatively rare, its provenance is somewhat unclear and its condition anything but original. However, with some background history provided by its owner Johnny Osmond, we can tell you a little about this well-loved and much-used instrument. Johnny bought the guitar in Auckland in 1979, together with a Vox AC30 amplifier for a total of NZ$400. After crawling out of the 1980s New Zealand post-punk scene Johnny relocated to Melbourne with the guitar, but without his AC30. He currently plays it through a Vox AC15, delivering classic British garage-rock sounds with sixties-inspired original group Dusty Springclean and the Pops.

Johnny’s guitar was one of two Vox guitars believed to be 1962 prototypes brought to NZ by a former JMI employee who emigrated from the UK. During the eighties the other guitar of the pair could be seen in the hands of Nino Birch of NZ indie group Beat Rhythm Fashion.

These two guitars had similarities with other Vox models available around 1962, but do not quite match any of them. To further complicate the story, Johnny’s guitar has undergone significant modifications, including removal of the original tremolo unit (“I pulled the original one off because punks didn’t need such accessories and it got in the way.”). Some time later Johnny fitted a modified right handed Jansen tremolo unit.

The original tremolo on Johnny’s guitar was similar to the “built-in balanced tremolo unit” fitted to the Vox Soundcaster released in 1962.  As the name might suggest, the Soundcaster was a copy of a Fender Stratocaster, while Johnny’s guitar looks a bit like a Strat that has been stretched diagonally. Overall this guitar most closely resembles the later model Vox Spitfire, made by Eko in Italy for Vox and released in 1966. The main difference appears to be the tremolo unit, which was a surface-mounted Bigsby-type unit on the Spitfire, rather than the built in unit originally fitted to Johnny’s guitar.

This guitar was originally pearly white, with a black painted single ply wood scratchplate.  In addition to a respray, the scratchplate has been replaced with a similar shaped laminated plastic unit. Other modifications include new Schaller machine heads and replacement of pickups with NZ custom made units. The strings are believed to be original.


About Ben Rogers 19 Articles
Ben Rogers has played guitar for a long time, and has accumulated an odd assortment of guitars over the years. He plays around Melbourne with Instrumental Asylum – a surf/spy/guitar-noir group, and also with his gypsy-jazz combo The Ben Rogers Trio.