REVIEW: Jet City JCA22H

Mike Soldano founded Soldano Custom Amplification in 1986 after years of notoriety as an amp modifier to the stars. His flagship model, the SLO-100, has found its way into the rigs of players as diverse as Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Silverchair’s Daniel Johns, Joe Satriani and even Eddie Van Halen, who used one for most of the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album. Soldano’s “strip everything to the essentials” design philosophy comes with a hefty price tag so Mr Soldano has teamed up with Jet City Amplification to offer a series of amps that carry through on the essence of his designs at a much lower price point than the sometimes shocking price tags found on amps like the SLO-100.

The JCA22H is basically Jet City’s killer JCA20H amp, but with a second, footswitch-accessible overdrive channel along with a tube-buffered serial effects loop. It features a pair of EL84 tubes in the power amp, partnered with a quintet of 12AX7s in the preamp (the rectifier is solid state). Controls are Crunch and Overdrive Gain, Bass, Middle and Treble, Crunch and Overdrive Master Volumes, and a global Presence control. There’s no reverb, but unlike the bone-dry JCA20H you can at least use an external effect in the loop to take care of your ambient needs. Jet City uses audio-grade metal film resistors and high-quality copper for all internal connections to maintain sonic integrity. The chassis is 16-gauge cold-rolled steel. Around the back you’ll find three speaker jacks: one 16 ohm and two 8 ohm.

I tested the JCA20H with my Marshall 1960A speaker cabinet with 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. Jet City offers its own cabs, including the JCA12S with a single 12″ Jet City Custom Eminence driver, and the JCA12S+, which takes the JCA12S and adds THD porting and an integrated Jet Direct speaker-emulated output box designed by Doug Roberts of Roberts Retrovalve.

As the JCA22H’s preamp section is based on the crunch channel of the Soldano SLO-100, there’s a huge range of gain available, from bright sparkly cleans to high-gain chunk. The circuit is great for emphasising the individual qualities of your pickups, unlike some high gain-capable amps which can mask these attributes. So single coils have bell-like clarity in clean mode and a chewy edge when run through overdrive, while humbuckers are suitably chunky, or scoopy, or smooth – whatever your particular humbucker is voiced to do, it’ll do it faithfully through this amp. The midrange is nice and clear, especially with high-output humbuckers where this can often be a problem, and the details and transients of low-output PAF-style ‘buckers are maintained too, which is great news for those who like to ride the guitar’s volume, tone and pickup controls for tonal variation.

Of course, because this is a tube amp it sounds best when you crank it! So don’t be afraid to get some serious volume going. When you do you’ll find more than just excellent hard rock tones: there are some very Metallica-esque crunches lurking under the hood too (think Black Album as well as the more organic Load tone), along with some Satch-like lead tones, especially if you’re into his The Extremist era. With the dual channels you can dial one in for a warm rhythm crunch and the other for high-gain soloing or, depending on your playing style, the other way around: raunchy rhythm tone and a cleaner, more articulate lead voicing.

The JCA22H is an extremely versatile and affordable amp which is for players who like to push their technique and celebrate the little details rather than cover them up in processing and mush. It’s a testament to the simplicity and integrity of the design that the amp responds so organically and interactively to the player, guitar and signal chain. The effects loop is bound to win over a few fans who might have been put off by the spartan nature of the JCA20H, while the switchable channels mean it’s a more versatile live amp as well.