The Vox Saturn IV

The Vox Saturn IV
1968 Vox Saturn IV bass. Photo: Rick Malkin. Instrument courtesy of Sean Smith.

In the mid 1960s, England’s Vox company was in the right place at the right time. Buoyed by frontline British Invasion endorsers such as the Beatles and American bands such as Paul Revere & the Raiders, the instrument/amplifier maker signed deals with almost every popular band. Even one-hit-wonders such as Music Machine (“Talk Talk”) brandished Vox guitars.

Through most of the ’60s, Vox made instruments in the U.K. and in Italy; those made in the U.K. were mostly sold there, rarely crossing the Atlantic. Those made in Italy (first by Crucinelli, then beginning in ’66 by Eko) were mostly exported to the U.S.  and included the Phantom, the famed “teardrop-shaped” instruments, and unusual items like the model V251 Guitar Organ and V257 Mando-Guitar. By 1968, Vox’s influence in the market was beginning to wane, and it responded by offering instruments with more traditional shapes.

Coincidentally, ’68 was the only year the V281 Saturn IV seen here appeared in a Vox catalog. A hollowbody short-scale bass with a bolt-on neck and a silhouette that referenced the Gibson ES-175 or ES-125C (with two f-holes and a Florentine cutaway), the Saturn IV had Vox’s paddle-shaped headstock atop a super-slim laminated bolt-on maple neck with binding and a 21-fret rosewood fingerboard (with zero fret) measuring 13/8” wide at the nut. The neck joined the body at the 15th fret on the bass side, 18th fret on the treble side. The body measured 20” long, 12” wide on the upper bout, 16” on the lower bout, and 111/16” deep; overall length of the instrument was 461/2” and it had single-ply binding front and back, as well as bound f-holes. The single-coil pickup had non-adjustable polepieces. And though this example is missing its three-ply (white/black/white) pickguard, its Tone knob, and the silver insert on its Volume knob, its bridge still has the snap-on cover. Underneath it are four multi-grooved/radiused bridge saddles, which could  be individually intonated.

The pearl-dot markers on the fretboard are two sizes; on the third, fifth, seventh, and ninth frets they’re 5/16” in diameter, while beyond the 12th they’re 3/16”. Another curiosity is a snap-on vinyl pad measuring 111/2” diameter on the back of the body. Also on back is a neckplate that plays host to a serial number, Vox crest logo, and a sticker bearing the model name.

A diagram in the ’68 Vox catalog touted the brand’s Double T neck support. (BELOW) 1968 Vox Saturn IV bass.

Other single-pickup Voxes sported the same body style, including the Saturn guitar and the Apollo guitar and bass. All were available in sunburst or cherry finishes.

Even on short-scale basses, a hollow body can infer neck-heavy ergonomics. However, Vox enthusiast Jim Rhoads describes the balance of this particular bass as “…not too bad, since it has the smaller headstock and smaller tuners, which were also used on the (Bill) Wyman bass and some others. The Sidewinder IV, Constellation IV, Astro IV, and a few other basses used huge ‘elephant-button’ tuners on huge headstocks, which made them really neck-heavy.”

To say that the Vox instrument lineup in the ’60s was “diverse” is an understatement. This Saturn IV is just one of many examples of where the company was trying to be everything to every player.

Special thanks to Jim Rhoads.

This article originally appeared in VG May 2010 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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