Price paid: $ 500
Purchased from: The Rock Shop
Sound — 10
My signal chain at present is Guitar > TU-3 Tuner > Tubescreamer Clone > MXR 6-Band EQ > MXR Smart Gate > JCA20H + CAB. If you're plugging directly to the amp, you won't need a noise gate. I only use one because I am daisy chaining my pedals from the TU-3. With my set up, I have the master around 2 O'clock and the gain around 10 O'clock. This brings a good level of power amp saturation and enough preamp gain for a mild overdriven sound that responds very well to my tubescreamer and guitar controls. Without any overdrive or distortion pedals I can get from an easy mellow tone useful a for Led Zeppelin type sound to a Black Sabbath sounding grunt with only the volume and tone. I have a tubescreamer clone that has a bit higher gain than the classic TS. The tubescreamer really brings this amp to life and I use it as an extra channel. From the lower tones I get without the pedal I can get access to much heavier tones similar to Type O Negative. I use an MXR EQ to get the tone sounding nice and fat and would recommend an EQ pedal with most set ups. It also helps adjust volume levels to a good level when you find a nice sweet spot with the amp. I have given this a 10 for sound because it's a really nice amp on it's own or with pedals.
Overall Impression — 10
This is my first tube amp and I love my tone. I bought this before trying it for myself or hearing it live as I didn't have the chance to where I live. I had heard sound clips online and I can say there was a good deal of different tones floating around cyberspace all depending on speakers and guitars etc. I found that the amp was exactly what I wanted and at the right price. If I had to do it again, I might contemplate an Egnater Tweaker 15watt or the JCA22H, but would be very happy getting another JCA20H. The Eminence Governors in my cab sounded quite heavy on bass, I have since put a layer of 3mm fluff in the back of the cab and it made a huge difference. If you are looking at buying this amp, but are not sure if it will live up to your expectations, try to play it at your local music shop and make sure you play through either your own guitar or one like it and try different speakers. If you're a real tone junky, like me, you will prefer the head over the combo because it allows more freedom of tone. I have given this a 10 because I only made modifications to the rest of my gear based on my own personal preferences and this review is for the amp only. You won't be disappointed with this amp.
Reliability & Durability — 9
I've never gigged with it, but would imagine no one would ever gig without spare tubes. I have put a JJ 12AX7 in the V1 preamp and it gave me a bit more clarity. I don't think a retube is needed for this head, the stock tubes work fine for me. When changing the preamp tubes a re-bias isn't needed, only for the power section. I did have an issue with this head loosing total sound when I found a faulty speaker cable. I thought I had blown the output transformer as I replaced the cable and tested all other parts of my rig with a different amp and had the amp tested with a different cab, cables and guitar and still had zero volume. A few days later I tried the head again and it was working perfectly. No, this didn't happen around Easter, it's just magical. I have given this a 9 in this section as I did have a minor issue that (apparently) sorted itself. With any tube amp you have to take the bad with the good and realise that awesome tone comes with disposable components. Tubes are cheap though and fun to play around with.
Features — 9
I won't go into too much detail of the features on this amp as you can see the makers website for that. I can say that the amp is very good for bringing out the tone of your guitar. I'm using a Marshall 1922 cab with Eminence Governors. The guitar I'm using is a homebuilt strat with an alder body, maple neck and fretboard with high output humbuckers. The amp can sound quite bright with some set ups, and I found I need to dial the tone down heavily on the guitars control. However, I am using this at home and I can say that when played in a band, the brightness of this amp will be fantastic to bring the guitar to the foreground of the mix and play above a drummer and bassist. I am also using 1 meg pots which can bring out the highs in any amp/setup. The JCA20H has a presence control that helps reduce the icepick tone some players complain about, I usually dial this very low. The tone controls in general (Bass, Mid, Treble and Presence) are very smooth and while they don't have a massive range of effect, they are enough to coax a variety of rock sounds and compliment your rig. As a one channel tube amp, this is brilliant value for money and with the right twiddling of knobs and a selection of pedals you can get a good range of textures from the amp. Tube amps are a great platform for pedals. As an honest rating I have given this a 9 because while most people would want two channels and an effects loop the amp was built for medium gain rock tones and it does it very well. As if you crossed a JCM800 preamp and tone stack with a Fender power section.