JCA20H Half-Stack review by Jet City Amplification

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  • Sound: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 10
  • Features: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 9.3 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.2 (11 votes)
Jet City Amplification: JCA20H Half-Stack

Price paid: $ 350

Purchased from: American Musical Supply

Sound — 9
I play one of two instruments through this amp: a 2009 Fender Standard Stratocaster HSS and an Ibanez AS73B (an ES-355 copy). Musically, I'm all over the place: clean and twangy country, dirty blues, toneless pop music, Hendrix and Clapton, 80s metal, modern metal... Pretty much everything drop C# and above. This amp really sings with lower-gain stuff. With the gain knob just under 3, it's just on the edge of breaking up, and your pick attack decides how clean or crunchy the sound is. Around 5 or 6 (I can't decide which works better) it's good for a "Purple Haze" sort of sound. But once you start heading up into the 8 and 9 (the highest the JCA20's knobs go) range, that's borderline metal. Now, I'm not a big metal player, so it's probably not perfect for it, but it passes with the right EQ and a bump of the presence knob. Speaking of which, that deserves its own paragraph. The knob labeled "Presence" is a top-end boost. At 0, you have what I suppose is the "normal" tone of the amp, which is ever-so-slightly muffled. There's no major change in the sound until you start to hit 4 or 5. At that point, the amp sounds normal to me. From there, the highs start to come out more, and I usually leave it at 7.5 or 8 to get my metal tones. Above 8, however, you need to be careful. The amp starts to literally screech when you pick (fingers or otherwise), and at full-blown 9 every other sound is overshadowed by the obnoxious, shrill sound of... I would say it reminded me of a dying cat. It's very unpleasant. Test it out, if you want, but keep the volume low. Now, as I said above, it "passes" for metal with a treble bump, slight mid scoop, and presence at around 7. I would not recommend this as a metal amp, however, since you'll have to stick at least one pedal in front of it to get the sound you're probably looking for. What it is very good for is something that you would use a Marshall for. My understanding is that this amp was based on the Soldano Astroverb, which is itself based of a hotrodded Marshall that Soldano loved. There isn't a crazy amount of clean headroom, and while I don't gig, I wouldn't be surprised of your "clean" tone with this had some dirt in it once you really cranked it. The JCA20H is "excellent" for a Hendrix or Slash type of sound. To reiterate: do not buy this amp for any -core or heavy metal, you will no doubt be disappointed unless you just want a speaker you can plug your distortion pedals into. On the other hand, it's great for mid-gain rock, which is what I was looking for (hence the 9 rating here instead of something lower).

Overall Impression — 10
I play a lot of dirty clean and mid-gain music, which is what this amp was built for. It's a bit on the British side of the spectrum, but you can center it more with the right EQ, so it's quite versatile in that respect. I've been playing for a year, and bought this once I was sick of my Spider IV 15, after spending several hours at various shops testing other tube amps. As I said, I'm slightly disappointed in the Switch from metal to plastic switches, but it's nothing to cry over. They're just switches, and they work just as well for turning the amp on. In terms of love/hate, there's nothing I dislike about this amp. It has enough gain out of the box for my tastes, and like most tube amps, is responsive enough to my guitar's volume and my pick attack that I don't miss the second channel. If it were to get stolen (say, at college), I would strongly consider selling a guitar to buy it again; at this point, I've found "my sound" in this amp. Originally when I went amp shopping in person, I compared the Jet City to a Vox Lil' Night Train, an Egnater Tweaker, and a Blackstar HT5. The Night Train sounded very, very muffled compared to this thing. The Tweaker was nice, but had a lot of options that I would never use. The Blackstar was too small, and the ISF knob seemed to just be a sort of top boost/mid scoop over top of a Night Train like "British" sound. The Jet City sounded the best to my ears over that assortment.

Reliability & Durability — 10
As I said above, I don't gig. No band. Just me and my amp. However, it seems very reliable. While I was moving it to my basement after unpacking it, I bumped the head into a wall and was scared for a moment. Then I noticed that the wall was dented a bit, and I gave a sigh of relief. While you should take of care of your gear, that doesn't mean the JCA20H isn't a solid piece of equipment. There's a pretty thick metal grill in the back so it doesn't overheat, but it's not chickenwire by any means. Definitely a durable amp all around, including the plastic buttons I dislike. While they're not as satisfying as their metal counterparts, they also don't feel cheap at all; the plastic is thick (the blue light is not nearly as in-your-face behind the power switch) and you can just slap them on or off without a problem. Despite the fact that it's made in China, it does not feel cheap at all. Low-end Squiers suck. Low-end Epiphones suck. A Jet City is, in a way a low-end Soldano, but I would not have been surprised if they had been on their own. It doesn't feel like a toy, and nothing's mis-measured or flimsy. I have heard several discussions on the UG forums that amp techs are impressed with the build quality after learning that it's Chinese. In no way should you hold that against this amp, because it hasn't affected the construction at all.

Features — 8
I purchased one of the newer JCA20H+112S ministacks about three weeks ago, and have played with it enough to feel confident writing this review. It's got the plastic power/standby switches instead of metal ones, which means it's one of the newer runs (Jet City never actually said when they switched over, so I can't give an exact date). I was actually kind of disappointed in that respect: they're not nearly as satisfying to turn on (until you strum, but that's something different), and the brilliant blue light that everybody loves is, for some reason, hidden behind the power switch. Other than that, it's your everyday JCA20. Made in China, three 12AX7 preamp tubes, two EL84 power amp tubes are under the hood. From left to right, the amp's front features an input, a few knobs that change how the amp sounds (preamp/gain, three-band equalizer, master volume, and presence [a treble boost]), and then the two switches. Single-channel, no effects loop, and while you can purchase modified versions from Jet City that add those things, I did not. So far, I don't miss any of them, either.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I like this amp. Only thing I dislike about it is that it only has 1 channel. I may buy it and get a distortion pedal for the heavy stuff. Maybe an Electro Harmonix Metal Muff.
    I just bought this amp for $225. I don't know where you guys are getting these prices. But you're getting raped. As far as the versatility of the amp. It's perfect for everything rock/ blues IMO. I don't play alot of blues. And I'm sure it's nothing like an old blackface or whatever blues guys like. But it you know how to EQ an amp. This thing will get you there. I changed out the preamp tubes and put in some of mine I had laying around. I can get everything from old priest, mountain, rush, etc outta this thing without a pedal. Heavier than that it's time to break out the SD-1 with this amp I've trimmed my pedals to 3. Malekko Ekko 616, Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble and my Boss SD-1. Amazing clarity in busy passages with all effects on, controlled feedback was wonderful. Playing through my Greenback loaded Carvin Legacy 412 top cab. Grindy AIC drop tuned guitars. A few EQ tweaks and it's Brown Sound. This amp is great. Sensitivity and clarity. Though the stock preamp tubes weren't good. I'm finding the EL-84's in it to be all right. I think they're Shuguang's. Sound alright copping some Ripper by Judas Priest. Even better playing Diary of a Madman. Plenty of detail with ALL effects on and a busy delay.