Spent a good four hours in there with my gibson les paul, cranking up vintage amps - almost like an hour on each. They weren't as deafeningly loud as i'd thought - my ears weren't ringing. Here's what i tried and what i thought of them:
1963 Vox AC30/6 Copper Panel
Well, this is the amp i originally went in to try. Looked nice, in excellent condition for a nearly 50 year old amp. One problem, though - It sounded appauling. Muddy, boxy, muffled... I think there must've been something very wrong with it. It had almost no clean headroom, breaking up like crazy with the volume only about a quarter of the way up - if it had also sounded good it may have been a nice AC for recording if you want dirty tones because it wasn't very loud. The problem was once it got distorted it had a weird dissonant harmonic undertone that just made the overdriven tones sound like a complete mess. The shop owner said afterwards he'd get his tech to check it over, but he suspects it's just because the amp doesn't like humbuckers. In any case, he diverted my attention to...
circa 1966-67 Vox AC30/6 grey panel/Block logo
...This little gem. Wow - now that's more like it. This scruffy old thing, re-tolexed, with a selmer grillecloth, the back plate with the serial number missing long gone, broken top vents and a completely de-activated trem channel, looks like it's been through the wars. and it probably has - deservingly so. It looked terrible, but it's not how it looks that counts. This one has gotta be the best AC i've ever played! the normal channel was thick and chunky, very clean but when you really dig in and wail on the guitar it responds even at lower volumes with a very satisfying bit of creamy saturation. Crank it up to about half-way and it rocks with incredible authenticity - the more you turn it up, the harder it rocks. The brilliant channel on the other hand was much cleaner, brighter and more cutting. Superb presence. It had a lot more headroom, and needed to be cranked up to about halfway to get an amazingly clear crunch tone - i think i've found "my" tone in this amp. Crank this channel up all the way and it has an amazing "sceamin' blues" lead tone.
circa '63 Selmer Zodiac Twin 50 MkI
An early selmer amp - the guy thought i ought to try this as a cheaper alternative to the AC30. Two channels - One with a simple volume and tone setup, another with a volume, tone, and a bunch of push-button tone settings they called "truvoice". The first, simpler channel was a very full, thick clean sound, it had a lot of headroom and needed to be cranked awfully loud to get any dirt. The 2nd channel with the buttons was odd - on the "rotary control" setting it used the tone control. The other settings were just filters - i think the idea was to push down multiple buttons to get the tone, but they didn't really work too well when put into practice and there was nothing particularly usable that you could get out of these settings - on the standard setting with the tone control it was pretty good though - a little less headroom and a bit brighter. It sounded more like a tweed fender than a vox, though.
Sound City Concord (196? - maybe '67?)
This was the last amp i tried - again, another cheaper alternative to the AC30. This amp had slider controls like a mixing console channel strip, where up is down, and down is up. It was obnoxiously, ear-splittingly bright unless you turned the treble down to about 3 or 4 (out of 12!). then it was still very very bright and crisp - pretty good actually. Very clean, very loud, and when cranked up all the way, had a little bit of a grind to the tone but still very much a clean tone. It reminded me of the early pete townshend tones, except i was using a les paul - this thing must be horrendously bright with single coils. I loved the sound that i got out of it, but it's more the kind of sound i'd play with than it is the kind of sound i'd actually use. Unless i was in a '60s style band and particularly looking for full on jangle-pop tones. Apparently, this amp used to belong to the guy who played guitar for Take That
The shop owner recommended that i go back and try some marshalls - He's very helpful, recommending things that i should try not to try to get me to buy them all, but because he wants to make sure i've tried enough stuff before i make a decision. There are very few guitar shops like that left in this country - I recommend that everyone makes the most of them while they still can. He has some lovely guitars in there too - I have my eye on a somewhat modded gibson nonreverse firebird hanging high up on the wall, too.