The Vox Mark III, Mark VI and Mini XII Reissue Guitars (1998 - 2001)
The "Behind the Scenes" Story


North Coast Music, the operator of the Vox Showroom historical web site, has always had a very special relationship with Vox. Not only has North Coast Music been the largest independent Vox dealer in the United States for most of the years it has been in existence, North Coast Music has been a supplier and consultant to Vox as well.

North Coast Music has produced thousands of Vox AC-15 and AC-30 rigid stands for Korg USA over the past twenty years. The two pin plastic corners Vox installed on the AC-15TB, AC15TBX, AC-30TB and AC-30TBX were produced by North Coast Music from the original injection mold. Vox consulted with North Coast Music over the design of the MRB circuit in the Cambridge 30 amp. North Coast Music was instrumental in the naming of the 60 watt, 1x12" bass combo amp introduced by Vox in 1999 as the "T-60."

Perhaps the biggest project involving Vox and North Coast Music was the development of the retro style Vox guitars produced between 1998 and 2001. I was an eye witness to the development of these guitars.

North Coast Music was started in the Minneapolis. MN area by John Hawkins in 1991. John had set up an account that year with Rose Morris, then the UK manufacturer of Vox, to direct import Vox AC-30 amps to the US. About a year into this arrangement, Rose Morris presented John with a unique business opportunity. Rose Morris told John that they had decided to liquidate a large lot of amps and repair parts in preparation for the sale of the Vox brand to Korg. Combined with a new advertising effort, this shipment of amps and replacement parts helped to launch North Coast Music as the preeminent Vox dealer in the US.

It wasn't long before Korg was introducing their own Vox products to the US marketplace. John Hawkins and North Coast Music were ready to offer sales support. John soon became close friends with Mitch Colby and Randy Whitney, the employees of Korg assigned to operate the US sales unit of Vox.

John Hawkins and Randy Whitney discussed the possibility of North Coast Music producing reissue Vox guitars as early as 1993. This was a daunting task for Hawkins as he had no previous experience with guitar manufacturing.

John approached a local Minneapolis area cabinet maker, John Stanton, for assistance in producing two teardrop body blanks for developmental purposes. Necks for these prototypes were made by Gulab Gidwani at Exotic Woods.


Randy Whitney

Getting the details right was important to Hawkins, so he developed custom tooling for the vintage style guitar hardware that needed to be produced. A mold to vacuum form square corner pickup covers, similar to that used for the 60s era Vox guitars, had to be created. Hawkins developed metal stamping dies to produce rectangular switch plates and pickup bezels to match the new pickup covers. Yet another stamping die was produced to cut stainless steel pick guards for the "Brian Jones" style teardrop model. Hawkins also had knurled knobs similar to those found on vintage Vox guitars custom fabricated in the Minneapolis area.


Having accumulated two bodies, two necks and the all custom made hardware necessary, John Hawkins retained the services of master luthier Mark Vetsch of Anoka, MN to assemble two "Brian Jones" style prototype Vox Mk III guitars. These guitars are being held by a customer visiting Vetsch's shop in the photograph at right.

One of the guitars was equipped with Seymour Duncan single coil pickups, the other was equipped with single coil Gotoh pickups.

John personally delivered the prototype Mk III guitars to the Vox booth at the 1995 NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Winter Trade Show in Anaheim, CA. Randy Whitney and Mitch Colby from Vox were quite impressed by John's first efforts. They asked if John would allow Vox to keep the guitars in their demo room for the duration of the trade show. Vox wanted to show them to key Vox dealers during the show to gauge interest.

One of these prototypes was purchased by Korg, the second remains the property of North Coast Music.



John Hawkins in the Vox Booth at NAMM
After returning home from the 1995 NAMM show, John started the development of reissue Vox Mk VI "Phantom" models. John Stanton again provided the body blanks for the prototypes.

The bodies were painted by a industrial painting firm called "Finishing Touch" of Wyoming, MN. One was painted light blue, the other sea foam green. John again turned to Mark Vetsch to complete and adjust the prototype Phantom guitars.

A genuine Bigsby vibrato and a five position rotary pickup selector were included in the design of the Phantom prototypes.

John showed the reissue Mk VI guitars to Vox at the 1996 Winter NAMM show. Additional

prototypes were presented to Vox at the 1997 Winter NAMM show, including a teardrop bass and a Vox Mini XII (Mando) guitar.

A source for good quality guitar necks remained an unresolved issue for Hawkins. He remembered that JMI addressed a similar problem in the 1960's by subcontracting with Eko, an established Italian guitar manufacurer. Eko not only built completed guitars for Vox, they also produced a significant number of individual necks that were sold to Vox for supplemental production. Guitar necks made by Eko found their way onto Vox guitars produced by JMI in the UK and by Crucianelli in Italy.  

John made a trip to Canada in September 1997 to visit Guitabec of LaPatrie, Quebec. Guitabec was the woodworking division of Lasido, the Canadian manufacturer of the Godin, Seagull, Richmond, Norman, Art & Lutherie, Simon and Patrick and Lapatrie brands. During this visit, Guitabec agreed to produce all of the six string necks for the reissue Vox guitars. Guitabec has always had a great reputation for quality, so Hawkins was pleased to have them as a vendor for the Vox guitar project.

John continued the day to day business of North Coast Music throughout the development of the guitar project. Several years earlier, John had welcomed his friend, Gary Hahlbeck, to participate in the operations at North Coast Music. Gary's contributions included the production all of the Vox reproduction cabinetry offered by North Coast, Vox amplifier repair, vendor sources and a system for inventory management and organization. Additionally, John and Gary shared the expenses to purchase the original injection molds for the Vox two pin corner and the US version of the Vox handle.

As it grew increasingly likely that Vox would be placing an order for Vox guitars, John decided to divest himself of the North Coast Music retail operation. It was sold to Gary Hahlbeck in October 1997. John set up a new corporation named "Tone X, Inc." to manage the production of the Vox guitars.

At one point, Randy Whitney reported that Vox also considered having Cort, a Korean guitar manufacturer, build the Phantom and Teardrop reissue guitars. This idea was dropped when Cort could not offer the correct vintage style hardware needed to accurately recreate the instruments.


John Hawkins was invited to the 1998 NAMM Winter Show to sit down with the Japanese executives of Korg and strike a deal. The result of this meeting was the issuance of a purchase order to Hawkins for three hundred Vox guitars. The initial order included an assortment of six string Mk III (teardrop), twelve string Mk XII (teardrop), Mk VI (Phantom) guitars and Mini XII (Mando) guitars.

The Mk III with Bigsby was offered in black, red and ocean green. The fixed bridge Mk III was only offered in white. The Mark VI came in sparkle black, red, white and and blue. The Mini XII would only be available in sunburst. The plans to introduce the Vox Mk XII twelve string guitar were scrapped.

The guitars were introduced to the public in the 1998-1999 Vox catalog. Shipments commenced in the summer of 1998. Almost 700 guitars were produced between 1998 and 2000 and shipped to Vox dealers around the world.

 
(L-R) Yoshio Matsuba and Seiki Kato, Korg Japan, John Hawkins and
Norio Iwasaki, Korg Japan discuss the Vox guitar order - January 1998


Final Assembly of the MkIII Custom Guitar - 1998


John Hawkins provided the Vox Showroom with this list of vendors that produced parts or services for the production of the reissue Vox Mk III, Mk VI and Mini XII guitars. Notice how many of the vendors were based in Minnesota.

Tonesmith Guitars
Corcoran MN
Glued-up poplar body blanks, plastic pick guards,
wiring harnesses, final assembly
Custom Woodworking
St Francis MN
Routing of bodies
Finishing Touch
Wyoming MN
Body finishing
Guitabec
LaPatrie QB
Guitar necks
Golden Touch Screen Printers
Zimmermann MN
Graphics on head stocks and pick gaurds
Affordable Metal Finishing
Ramsey MN
Polishing of stainless steel Mk III pick guards
Erickson Automatics
East Bethel MN
Truss rod adjustment lug, control knobs
Prototech
Isanti MN
Molded plastic parts such as pickup covers
HSI Metal Stamping
Buffalo MN
Stamped steel pickup surrounds, switch plates,
bridge plates, stainless steel Mk III pick guards
SS Sound Company
Japan
Gotoh pickups, tuners, input jacks
and three position pickup switches
Schaller
Germany
Roller bridges
PaxPhil
Korea
Chrome hardware
Bigsby
Kalamazoo MI
Bigsby tail pieces
Mouser Electronics
Mansfield TX
Rotary switches, potentiometers, tone caps
Modern Case
Bessemer MI
"Ultralite" guitar cases (earlier production)
TKL Cases
Oilville VA
Hard shell guitar cases (later production)


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Photos and editorial content courtesy Gary Hahlbeck, North Coast Music


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