The Vox Berkeley II Solid State Amp Head - Model V1081



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Thomas Organ introduced three generations of the Berkeley amp head in the three year period between 1966 and 1968.

Vox Berkeley Amplifier Head - V1081
The solid state V1081 Vox Berkeley was first
offered in the July 10, 1966 US Vox price list. It made additional appearances in the November 15, 1966 and June 25, 1967 US Vox price lists. It was replaced by the V1083 Vox Berkeley III amp head in 1968.

From Tube to Solid State
The commercial success of the Beatles in 1964 caused a flood of demand for Vox products in the US market. Rather than set up shop in the states, Jennings Musical Industries (JMI), the UK manufacturer of Vox, decided that it would be best to choose an established US firm to distribute their amplifiers in America. The Thomas Organ Company, based in Sepulveda CA, was chosen to be this American distributor in September, 1964.

One of the amp models Thomas imported to the US from JMI was the AC-10 
Super Reverb Twin, or "SRT". The AC-10 SRT was an all tube 10 watt, single channel amp head combined
with a 2x10" speaker cabinet mounted to a tubular swivel trolley. Thomas Organ changed the name of the amp for the US market from "AC-10 SRT" to simply "Berkeley." This JMI version of the Berkeley amp was featured in the Thomas 1965 "Vox - King of the Beat" catalog, shown at right.

For about a year, Thomas Organ continued to import Vox amplifiers from JMI in the UK. The high costs of shipping, import duties and delays in production at JMI became a constant source of irritation to the management of Thomas. These problems caused Thomas to approach JMI and propose a new arrangement. Thomas wished to secure a license from JMI to manufacture Vox products for the U.S. market in their own extensive facilities in California. This license was granted to Thomas by JMI in the latter part of 1965. From that point forward, Thomas started to design and produce their own Vox amp designs in the U.S. and shipments from JMI to Thomas Organ all but ceased.

Thomas Organ did not feel compelled to use the original circuits designed by JMI for their new US amp line. Yet, the first U.S. made Berkeley (model V-8) was an all tube design, sort of a cross between the JMI AC-10SRT and AC-15. It upped the output to 17 watts RMS and included an improved reverb circuit with a two spring Accutronics delay line. In my opinion, the V-8 Berkeley was the one of the finest amps ever designed by Thomas Organ.

However, Thomas Organ was not content producing tube amplifiers. To the organ engineers at Thomas Organ, tube guitar amplifier circuits must have seemed archaic. Transistorized circuits were cheaper to produce, generated no heat, required less maintenance and in theory offered a longer service life. I don't believe that Thomas Organ understood that it was the unique tube circuits designed by Dick Denney at JMI that gave Vox amps their special tone. Transistors just wouldn't recreate that sound, but transistorization was the direction Thomas was heading. Thomas Organ introduced several low powered Vox tube amp models in early 1966, but these would only buy them time to develop and produce an all solid state Vox line up.

The V1081 "Solid State" Berkeley Arrives
The V1081 Vox Berkeley head was one of those new solid state Vox designs from Thomas. It was introduced at the Chicago NAMM show in the summer of 1966. For a while, Thomas offered both the V-8 "Tube" Berkeley and the V1081 "Solid State" Berkeley as they sold off their stock of the tube model. The chassis for the V1081 Berkeley was also fitted into a 1x10" combo amp Thomas called the V1031 "Cambridge Reverb."

Like it's predecessors, the AC-10SRT and V-8 Berkeley, the solid state V1081 Berkeley was a single channel amp with volume, treble and bass controls along with tremolo speed, tremolo depth and reverb.

V1081 Berkeley II amps produced from introduction in 1966 through mid 1967 had plywood head cabinets. Later production of the V1081 head cabinet switched from plywood to particle board.

You Get A Little More
Thomas Organ designed their new solid state amps with additional features to lead you to believe that you would "get a little more" value out of the U.S. Vox amps than from the UK Vox counterparts.

The Berkeley II was no exception to this Thomas Organ marketing strategy. The Berkeley II offered 18 watts RMS while the V-8 tube Berkeley had 17 and the JMI AC-10SRT just 10. A third input jack was added to the control panel of the Berkeley II but the AC-10SRT only had two. While both the Berkeley II and the AC-10SRT amps had treble and bass tone controls, the Berkeley II also added a foot switchable "MRB" mid-range boost circuit. Unlike the three frequency selectable MRB circuit on the larger Thomas Vox amplifiers, the V1081 Berkeley offered only one frequency.

The Berkeley II also featured a three button foot switch to control reverb, tremolo and MRB while the JMI AC-10SRT foot switch had a single button to actuate the tremolo.


Name Plates and Escutcheons
Both the V1081 Vox Berkeley II amplifier head and V1083 Vox Berkeley II speaker enclosure featured a new, Thomas designed rectangular Vox nameplate. It featured gold hot stamped letters and was fastened to the cabinet by two molded plastic pins.

A second name plate was fastened to the lower right corner of the Berkeley II amp head. Earlier production of the V1081 wore a "Super Reverb Twin" logo, similar to the Super Twin logo installed by JMI on the AC-10SRT. This Super Twin Reverb logo was also installed on the entire production of the V-8 tube Berkeley head.

Towards the end of production in 1967, the "Super Twin Reverb" name plate was replaced with a logo that simply stated "Solid State." Thomas was obviously proud of their new solid state models and this new logo to helped to distance their new transistorized amps from the manufacturers still holding on to those "old school" tube circuit designs. Either logo was fastened to the cabinet by molded pins.


The escutcheon behind the control panel of early V1081 Berkeley II amps was made of solid aluminum. The Roman numeral "II" was not italicized, as shown at near upper left. The escutcheons of later V1081 Berkeley II amps were made of stamped aluminum and the II was in italics, as shown at near lower left.


Power Amp
The power amp circuit designs in the lower power solid state Vox amps manufactured by Thomas Organ utilized germanium output transistors. These included the 12 watt RMS Pathfinder, the 18 watt RMS Pacemaker, Cambridge and Berkeley and the 35 watt RMS Viscount and Essex.

The choice by Thomas Organ to design Vox guitar amplifiers in 1966 with germanium output power transistors seems a bit odd. Germanium transistors were sensitive devices with a fairly high failure rate. Far more dependable silicon output transistors had been developed and were commonly available by 1966. Thomas Organ certainly must have been aware of the ongoing problems caused by the failures of germanium output transistors in the Vox T.60 or "Bristol" amp.
Berkeley II Germanium Output Transistors

While no one knows for certain why the lower wattage Thomas Vox amps were designed with germanium output transistors while the larger wattage Thomas Vox amps (Royal Guardsman, Super Beatle, Westminster and Churchill) utilized silicon outputs, I have a hunch. I suspect that the designs for the 12, 18 and 35 watt RMS power amp stages used in U.S. Vox amps were adaptations of the power amp circuitry used in Thomas Organ consoles. The power amp circuit designs used in these organs could easily be several years old, developed prior to the arrival of silicon transistors. Incorporating these preexisting power amp circuits into the smaller U.S. Vox amp models would save developmental time and engineering costs for Thomas.

Thomas Organ did not install a 60 or 120 watt RMS power amplifier into their home console organs, so these higher power power amplifiers were designed exclusively for guitar amplification use.

Read more about the circuit design of the Berkeley II in the Vox V1081 Berkeley II "Under the Hood" web page.

Speaker Jacks
A "round top" Amphenol three pin XLR jack was mounted to the vinyl covered back panel of the V1081 head for speaker connection. While using what would normally be considered to be a microphone jack in this application might seem a bit unusual, Thomas Organ was simply following the English Vox tradition of providing locking
XLR speaker cables to interconnect their heads and speaker cabs.

Thomas also provided a conventional 1/4" Auxiliary Speaker jack on the rear panel of the Berkeley II.


Berkeley II Owner's Manual
Thomas Organ included a four page owner's manual with the V1081 Berkeley II amplifier. You can view this owner's manual in the Vox Showroom by clicking here.

Price
The 11/15/1966 Vox retail price sheet indicated that the Berkeley II amplifier head retailed for $225 separately or $430 with the matching speaker cabinet and trolley. Adjusted for inflation, the Berkeley II head would cost about $1635 today, the complete amp would be $3050.

The conversion of the 1966 retail price of the Berkeley II to the value of today's dollar should explain why Vox amps were financially out of reach to many.

Berkeley II Speaker Cabinets
Two versions of the Berkeley II speaker enclosure were manufactured by Thomas Organ. The 2x10" Berkeley II speaker enclosure included a swivel trolley with casters. Earler production of the cabinet featured a pair of British manufactured Celestion 10" #7424 speakers rated at 8 ohms each, wired in parallel to a 4 ohm total load.

Model V4081 was an open backed enclosure with an 4.5" x 16" oval shaped opening in the back panel. Model V4082 had a closed back. These cabinets utilized a particle board baffle and back but the sides were made of plywood.





North Coast Music manufactures many replacement and restoration
parts for the Berkeley II amp under license from Vox. These parts are
available exclusively at North Coast Music. Some are shown below.




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Photos and editorial content courtesy Gary Hahlbeck, North Coast Music


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