One of the most well-known versions of the Sola Sound Tone Bender MKII is the one that was supplied, by Sola Sound (via Macari’s Musical Exchange), to Vox. According to original owners’ testimonies, Vox was already selling Sola Sound-built Tone Bender [‘MK1.5’] fuzz boxes by early 1966, but these pedals weren’t formally branded as Vox products yet.
By early 1967, Sola Sound had suspended (or at least scaled down) printing their own brand name on the Tone Bender Professional MKII, and they started branding the pedals as Vox Tone Bender Professional MKII’s instead. It’s possible (but unconfirmed) that this is connected to the Macaris’ takeover of the Jennings/Vox shop at 100 Charing Cross Road, which was also reported in early 1967.1 This transition from Sola Sound to Vox was purely a branding/business decision, however, and the Tone Bender MKII remained functionally the same.
Compared with the Sola Sound pedals from 1966, the Vox Tone Bender Professional MKII pedals were painted in silver Hammerite, and instead of Bulgin ‘chicken head’ knobs, these pedals now featured tall silver-topped knobs (similar to the current Cliff K5 knob). Those silver-topped knobs were the same style that Sola Sound would continue to use on all of their effects pedals (including the Colorsound range) until well into the 1970s.
The above statement shows Vox confirming an order of 100 Tone Benders from Sola Sound. The agreement to supply Vox with their own, formally-branded, Vox Tone Bender MKII lasted from approximately early 1967 until mid-1968, and based on the relatively high number of surviving examples, it is likely that many orders like this one were filled for Vox, and that many hundreds of Vox Tone Bender MKII’s were built.
The Tone Bender MKII was finally discontinued in 1968, but Sola Sound’s partnership with Vox did not end there. The demise of the MKII resulted in Sola Sound’s invention of the Vox Tone Bender MKIII, and the agreement for Sola Sound to manufacture fuzz boxes for Vox lasted until the late 1970s.
Early version, c. 1967
Initially, the Vox-branded Tone Bender MKII pedals were screened with the same graphics as the earlier Sola Sound units. To reflect the change in branding, however, the ‘Sola Sound’ name was crudely obscured from the face of the pedal with a black bar, and replaced with ‘Vox’. Examples of this early version of the Vox Tone Bender MKII have been sighted with triplets of either Mullard OC75 transistors, or triplets of Impex S3-1T transistors. (Photo credit: M. Seppi)
Date codes stamped on parts of surviving early Vox MKII’s like this one reveal that the known sample of surviving pedals weren’t built until after the Macaris’ takeover of the old Jennings/Vox shop on 100 Charing Cross Road, reported in 1967.
Later versions, 1967-1968
The graphics were quickly redesigned, and the ‘Vox’ logo became much more prominent on the face of the company’s flagship fuzz box. The circuitry inside the Vox Tone Bender MKII remained largely unchanged, although the choice of resistors and capacitors was gradually updated over the course of production.
Earlier examples of this version of the Vox MKII featured a triplet of Mullard OC75 transistors, while late-production examples, dating to 1968, came with Mullard OC81D transistors. Earlier examples were built with slightly larger value input & output capacitors; and the very last of the Vox MKII’s were built without an input capacitor at all.
These ways in which the circuits inside Vox Tone Bender MKII pedals evolved over the course of production are an insight into Sola Sound’s wider development of their Tone Bender design. The shift from OC75 to OC81D transistors, for example, is something that can also be observed in the MKII Tone Benders that Sola Sound were supplying to Marshall and to Rotosound, at the same time as these Vox-branded pedals.
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