Proudly made in Brisbane, Queensland… again.
I’ve been living in Brisbane for about 16 years now, playing in various bands during that time. My first Bris-band was in the grunge-era, so we played with a lot of fellow garage bands. I was always interested in looking at their gear and see what they were playing. Every now and then a band would be playing these old, cool looking amps called VASE.
They sounded pretty good, and certainly stood out. I also saw them pop up now and then at various pawn shops for about 300 bucks. Not being born & raised in Brisbane, I wasn’t aware that they were locally made right here in Brisbane in the 60′s. I was a bit of a Marshall snob then so didn’t really take much notice. (Actually the only reason I’ve been getting into amps lately is that my Marshall hasn’t been working for 2 years and in the interim while it’s been getting fixed, I’ve been trying out all these cool amps to compensate for my amp-lessness situation.)
Over the years, due to proudly being part of the Brisbane music scene, I’ve become more interested in these old local legends and wanted to find out more about them. VASE (Victory Audiophonic Sound Equipment) was started by Tony Troughton in the mid 50′s. Pretty soon most Brisbane bands were seen sporting a VASE and with the factory being local, they could bring them in for quick tune ups when needed.
As with most of the Aussie amps companies, the late 70′s were hard years and Tony closed up shop. For the next 40 years, VASE amps were passed around from garage band to garage band… still looking damn cool.
Jump forward to 2010 and VASE is now back better than ever thanks to a guy called Harry Lloyd-Willliams. That’s right, for the first time since 1978, you can now buy a brand new VASE Trendsetter.
Harry has METICULOUSLY brought these amps back to life… no expense spared. The look exactly like the originals. I don’t mean sort of look like them… EXACTLY. Here’s an example of the attention to detail. See the vinyl/tolex covering? Looks pretty standard right? Most people would be happy with any sort of black, 60′s type vinyl, yes? Not Harry. He tracked down the original manufacturer of the vinyl, and asked if the had any of the old VASE pattern vinyl in stock. ‘No… we haven’t made that for 30 years.’ Harry then asked to speak to the person who had been working at the company the longest. An older gent answered the phone. Harry asked him if he remembered the vinyl that they used to make for VASE back in the 60′s… ‘Yep. But we haven’t made that stuff for over 30 years…. though I think we still have the pattern rollers here somewhere though.’ Bingo. Harry got the manufacturer to make a new batch of vinyl, and so the covering on these amps is exactly the same as the 60′s version. And now you can get the amps in different custom colours, like this schmick looking blue model. I’ve also seen white versions and they look amazing.
So how do they sound? Well, the memories of those gritty, sometimes, nasty, sometimes downright awful garage bands I heard playing these amps in the 90′s were still fresh in my mind, so I wasn’t exactly expecting… umm… ’boutique’ tube sounds to come out of the speakers. I picked a Tele off the wall at Tym’s, as I’m playing single coils more often than not these days. I tried out Channel 2 first, as it contained the tremolo/vibrato.
I turned to volume to about 4 and was surprised at the volume of the amp and warmth of the sound. It was definitely 60′s sounding, very authentic and clear as a bell. The tremolo was really thick and syrupy and what I loved was when you dialed back the speed, the sound changed gradually… not instantly like most digital tremolo pedals. It sounded like a helicopter slowing down it’s blades… whumpwhumpwhump. That’s real tube tremolo there, folks. This amp was made to play Ennio Morricone licks. Time to test out Channel 1.
I plugged into the low input and cranked the volume to about 4. Holy crap. This thing sounded like an overdriven old school Marshall… it had howling feedback and heaps of delicious warm crunch. Tim had been in the back of the shop and poked his head around the door “f*ck that’s loud!” Yes… yes it was.
I switched to a Les Paul and started riffing away happily. I was really impressed with this channel. The cabinet, due to it’s smaller size and 3 x 12 layout doesn’t have the same spread as a Marshall 4×12 cab, more like a bigger sounding 2×12. Actually, kind of in between I guess you’d say. This head through a Marshall quad would sound spectacular.
I don’t know if the originals sounded this good, but who cares. This amp kicks ass.
VASE amps are being sold through Tym Guitars in Brisbane, so if you’re in town, check them out. And while you’re there, perve on Tim’s vintage VASE collection in the front window. For more info, check out VASE’s website here.