Jet City JCA20H
Jet City Amplification, jetcityamplification.com
Originally published in Guitar World, January 2010
Jet City Amplification and Mike Soldano can be very proud of this stellar amplifier, with its organic and detailed sounds.
Mike Soldano is a legend in the amp community for both his amps’ exotic tones and their impeccable craftsmanship. Soldano’s SLO-100, in particular, is considered one of history’s most revered and influential high-gain amp designs.
Now Soldano is part of Jet City Amplification, a new venture that is putting the amp designer’s prowess to work in a new range of heads and combos. Among the offerings is Jet City’s 20-watt, single-channel JCA20H head, an all-tube amp that performs like one of Soldano’s boutique creations but sells for a street price of about $300. The JCA20H head accomplishes those goals, thanks to extremely clever design choices and top-shelf Chinese manufacturing. The JCA20H won’t satisfy every players EQ and gain needs with extraneous switches and buttons, but that wasn’t the point. Like all Soldanos, the JCA20H is designed with the goal of delivering excellent signal quality and musicality.
Soldano used the Crunch channel from his famed SLO-100 as the basic template for the JCA20H’s preamp, powered it with a pair of EL84s and juiced the preamp with three 12AX7 valves. Despite the amp’s price point, he didn’t skimp on the component quality. Like the SLO-100, the JCA20H’s chassis is built from 16-gauge cold-rolled steel, and audio-grade metal film resistors are used throughout the amp, while high-quality copper is employed for all internal connections. Creating a low-cost transformer that could deliver this amp’s versatile preamp tones with the authority and dynamics that Soldano is known for presented a serious challenge. But after numerous iterations, Soldano struck upon a transformer design that brings this amp’s sounds to life in ways that can be compared with boutique amplifiers.
The short signal path runs through six front panel controls: gain, bass, middle, treble, master volume and presence. A highly sensitive single input lets the guitar’s tone shine through the JCA20H, and it interfaces with pedals in such a way that the amp’s base tone and dynamics are not squashed. The Jet City head has no additional tone-shaping features or an effect loop, but I’m certain players won’t lament the cost-saving exclusions once they experience the amp’s stand-alone performance. Nor, for that matter, should they gripe about build quality. Instead of cheaper pressboard, the cabinet is crafted from durable plywood and sports a classy blue tolex front panel with white piping.
Even though the JCA20H has just one channel and a handful of simple controls, it places a wealth of tone at your fingers. At low-gain settings, with all tone controls at noon, it conjures a very Vox-like clean voice, one that is sharply defined and full of mids. When the midrange is rolled down, the JCA20H begins to approach a Blackface-style tone curve, the main difference being that its crunch occurs more in the high midrange than in the low end. Speaking of lows, the JCA20H delivers a massive bass wallop. It sounds more like a 50-watt amp and had no difficulty pushing the four Eminence speakers in my 4x12 cabinet. In fact, the bass is deeper, more intense and better defined than some 100-watt heads.
As the gain is dialed around the 12 o’clock position, the Jet City gets into “Plexi” crunch territory, and some of that famous Soldano “zing” becomes apparent in the high end. A warm humbucker lets you easily create vintage Van Halen, Aerosmith and Zeppelin tones. Even at this medium-gain setting, Soldano’s design and component choices allow pinch harmonics to jump out of the JCA20H and sing.
Turning the gain control up full will almost take you into the fabled Soldano high-gain territory, where notes ring for days and stinging overtones layer the upper registers. As with most Soldanos, the treble and presence controls become very important for balancing a guitar’s pickups and tone with the amp’s bell-like response when using high-gain settings. If players want to use this amp for modern metal applications, they will probably want to pump the front end with a distortion or overdrive pedal. However, the Jet City’s inherent clarity and audiophile-grade lows may not satisfy the hardcore lust for insane, full-spectrum crunch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Jet City Amplification and Mike Soldano can be very proud of this stellar amplifier, with its organic and detailed sounds. British-style crunch flavors dominate the preamp’s tone, Soldano’s inimitable harmonics whine like a jet engine’s spinning turbine, and the lows are extraordinarily defined at all volume levels. The JCA20H would be a bargain at $1,000. At $300, it’s a steal.
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