Jet City Amplification JCA100H Head
Jet City Amplification, jetcityamplification.com
The JCA100H's touch-sensitive punch, Brit-style midrange thrust and healthy low-end presence culminate in distinctive tones.
Jet City Amplification's JCA20H head wowed me when I reviewed it for the January 2010 issue. Built in China and designed by famed amp builder Mike Soldano, that single-channel 20-watt head delivers lively clean tones and a searing overdrive signature that was clearly inspired by Soldano’s legendary SLO-100 amp.
Jet City’s supercharged follow-up is the new JCA100H, a two-channel 100-watt heavyweight that soars with an entirely unique voice. Where the JCA20H performs like a bargain-priced baby SLO-100, the high-power JCA100H revs with a raunchier, British-style voice and a wider range of gain, while still being capable of roaring with the SLO-100’s turbine-like swirl of harmonic overdrive.
Jet City Amps are built for real-world performance, rather than bedroom tweaking. So while they are not chock-full of circuit-complicating features, their purpose-built, short signal paths tap into some of the purest and most responsive tube tones in this price range. Don’t think that the low price and Chinese-build equates to lesser parts and quality. Soldano spent a great deal of time specifying custom-wound transformers, a 16-gauge cold-rolled steel chassis, flawless traces and a heavy-duty circuit board. Two pairs of 6L6s generate this Jet’s high-flying 100 watts, and five 12AX7s handle the preamp’s gain and equalization needs.
The Normal and Overdrive channels share the bass, middle, treble and presence controls, but each benefits from its own gain and master attenuators. Because the interactive EQ controls are useable through their entire range and both channels deliver a similar tonality, the sharing of EQ controls isn’t a shortcoming. However, stomping the supplied footswitch is the only way to switch between channels—there’s no front-panel feature for channel switching. Still, this amp is intended for live performance and studio work, not low-volume bull sessions, so the design rationale is justified. The effect loop is tube-buffered to maximize its clarity and natural tone with either pedals or rack gear.
As with all of Soldano’s designs, the input is very sensitive to differences in voltage and impedance. This equates to an amplifier that unveils each guitar’s tonal and dynamic characteristics. Using a custom Jackson Soloist with medium-output humbuckers in the Normal channel resulted in high-octane, edgy clean tones. Expectedly, my high-powered, EMG-equipped ESP drove the Normal channel further into a thick overdrive, no matter where I set the channel’s gain level. I didn’t completely unlock the Jet City’s bristling, treble-rich cleans until I used guitars with true, low-output single-coils or P90 pickups. Guitarists who are accustomed to compressed input stages may not like how the JCA100H illuminates differences in guitar wood, hardware and pickups, but others will find the amp’s transparency inspiring. I played for hours in this one channel, reveling in how the amp’s gain and volume responded to my touch and attack.
The Overdrive channel quickly saturates with all pickups, regardless of gain settings. But as a credit to the amp’s design and clarity, each guitar’s natural tone shines through in every note. Sustain is more than ample and, like the Normal channel, mostly controlled by the player’s touch. Fans of the SLO-100’s upper-midrange brilliance and scintillating treble will recognize this channel’s performance, even though the JCA100H’s 6L6s produce noticeably more robust low mids and odd-order harmonics. Although its clarity and lack of thick bass aren’t necessarily ideal for contemporary metal tones, any other genre of player will probably appreciate this classic style of high-gain.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Jet City's JCA100H is more than just a high-powered version of the company’s other amps. Its touch-sensitive punch, Brit-style midrange thrust and healthy low-end presence culminate in distinctive tones. And with two channels available at the touch of a toe, players can instantly switch from tantalizing clean/crunch settings to a respectable version of the mighty SLO-100’s high gain.
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