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Part of the charm of vintage amplifiers is their inherent simplicity—I mean, do you really need six or seven knobs to get a decent tone? While there is something to be said for versatility and control, the short answer to that question for a lot of players is that less is more.
Jaguar Amplification is no stranger to minimalist tendencies, and the company’s new HC50 dodges the doodad trap to deliver a potent, distinctly English-voiced EL34 amp that’s happy dishing immaculate clean tones and more ferocious sounds alike.
Your Tone, Sir
The HC50 has just four chickenhead knobs—master, volume, bass, and treble—two inputs, and standby and power switches on its faceplate. Jaguar added a couple goodies on the back panel—power-scaling and an impedance selector. At full power, the HC50 delivers 50 class-AB watts—enough headroom for just about any stage. At half power, there’s still plenty of volume for most stages, but it also facilitates a full-bodied, dirtier blend at a lower output level. The HC50 ships with a 12" Celestion Creamback, which is has ample breathing room in the girthy open-back cabinet.
Like the rest of the Jaguar family, the HC50 has Brit blood in its circuits. Long a staple of English amplification, two EL34s drive the power section. Three 12AX7s power the preamp, and there’s also a GZ34 rectifier. All tubes are matched JJs. There’s something distinctly British about the Jaguar aesthetic too—white piping and fawn-hued vinyl take cues from the Vox wardrobe and are a cool contrast to the sparkled blonde grille. And with a cabinet crafted from a 16-ply birch wood frame, this Jaguar is rugged enough to take out on the town too.
Clarity and Crunch
If you’re a high-gain nut or feel lost without the latest thousand-amps-in-one digital gadget, the Jaguar HC50 is probably not for you. But almost any other type of player is bound to love the HC50s clean tones—they’re some of the most spectacular and lovely EL34-driven cleans I’ve ever encountered. Many folks don’t associate British circuits with clean tones, and rightfully so—many Marshalls of yesteryear sound great with dimed-out gain but turn lifeless when you back off the volume. Save for a few high-wattage Marshalls, Voxes, and Hiwatts, this tends to be the rule rather than the exception.
But as my experience with the HC50 and conversations with Jaguar’s Henry Clift made clear, the company made tackling the British cleans conundrum a priority in designing this amp. Clift says the genesis of this amplifier was, in part, a clamor from players asking for a better platform for effects pedals. Given that, I was surprised to see a master-volume based circuit, which, if you’re not careful, can generate harmonic mush when you have a lot of stompboxes in the mix.
The ability to elude this problem so effectively is one of the real strengths of the HC50, however. Starting my test with a humbucker-equipped Epiphone Genesis, I set up the HC50 at full power and dialed master and volume to high noon. At these levels, the humbuckers generated a light crunch with great harmonic clarity and separation. The Jaguar displayed excellent touch sensitivity with the hotter bridge pickup, delivering extra bite in response to a harder approach. It’s a sensation you’ll probably bask in, but that touch sensitivity and capacity for detail can leave you feeling a little vulnerable if your playing is less than precise—you’ll hear every subtle nuance of your pick gliding across the strings.
Gain remains fairly sedate until you hit about 3 o’clock. Thereafter, you get a very English, Kinks-like crunch. Maxing the volume produces a more distorted and harmonically rich crunch, but again, you have to think in classic rock terms here. There’s no blocky compression or hyper saturation, just dirty, gritty muscle for chords and crisp, gleaming sustain for single-note solos.
Throwing a handful of pedals in front of the HC50, I found the Jaguar capable of communicating, in detail, the essence of nearly every effect I threw its way. An Ibanez TS9 was a great asset for lead work, allowing for more drive and silkier sustain. Heavier distortion from a Sovtek Big Muff found steady footing in the HC50’s clean gain structure, too. While some crunchier amps swallow a Muff’s harmonic nuances, the Jaguar broadcasts its gnashing character without a hint of burping or clipping. With a Telecaster in hand, this clean-twang-meets-Muff wall-of-fuzz mix is a perfect shoegazing cocktail. Just throw in your favorite reverb, shake, and serve.
Curious about the Jag’s compatibility with a closed-back cabinet, I hooked up an old ’60s Bassman 2x12 and switched the impedance to 4 Ω. While I could generate more cutting tones with this setup, the amp displayed less of the ethereal bloom you get with an open back. For more hard-rock attitude from the HC50, a closed-back cab is a great place to start. Still, for all the Angus Young-style attitude I got from the closed-back setup, I did miss the airier quality of the Celestion Creamback and the open cab. I can’t imagine many owners attracted to the versatility of this recipe will stray far from that combination.
This sweet little Jaguar is a solid choice for old-school Brit tone hounds and the plug-and-play crowd. You can run your guitar straight into the HC50 and find a vibrant, lively tone without a single pedal in the mix. But the Jaguar is just as alive with your pedal collection out front—I couldn’t find an effect that it didn’t take to like a fish to water. With the capacity to deliver both operatic sustain and a classy mod jangle, you’ll be hard-pressed to top this Jaguar’s potential without shelling out for a vintage classic.
Watch our video demo: