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Jet City Amplification JCA20H-BES Friedman Mods Amp Review

Jet City Amplification JCA20H-BES Friedman Mods Amp Review

What happens when an already-impressive (and affordable) head with Soldano circuitry goes on the workbench of legendary amp guru Dave Friedman and gets one of his Brown Eye mods?

Download Example 1
Saturation On
Download Example 2
Saturation Off
Clips recorded through an Orange PPC 4x12 cabinet, with a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom
Seattle’s Jet City Amplification turned quite a few heads by making the amplifier design acumen and wisdom of co-founder Mike Soldano available in amps that players without boutique budgets can afford. With the JCA20H-BES, Jet City takes that concept a step further—teaming with noted amplifier technician, builder and mod master Dave Friedman of Rack Systems to modify an existing amp in the Jet City Line, the 20-watt JCA 20H.

Easy Improvements to Embrace
The stock JCA20H is an easy amp to navigate and use. But players won’t experience any appreciable difficulty working with the modifications on the JCA20H-BES. Apart from the added optional Saturation switch, the controls are exactly the same as the ones offered on the stock model—Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble, Volume, and Presence.

Friedman’s modifications expand the capacity of this control set—and the amp’s voice—significantly. The mod is based on Friedman’s Brown Eye 100-watt head (see Premier Guitar, Sep. 2010), which adds considerable gain potential, increases clarity and lends smoother response. The Saturation switch—located between the input jack and the preamp gain control—helps boost gain, midrange and volume even further.

Having worked with Friedman’s Brown Eye, I was really hoping that the JCA20H-BES would, at its core, exhibit the amazing qualities of Friedman’s amp melded with the color and natural overdrive of a smaller wattage output section. It did all those things well. But I was also excited about how much it retained the character that made the stock JCA20H amplifier such a killer little head.

Mids, Highs and Clarity
With the JCA20H running through a Marshall Silver Jubilee 2x12 with two Celestion G12H30 speakers and a 1978 Ibanez Iceman with Seymour Duncan ’59 humbuckers, the sound was glorious. Every note in every chord was audible, thick and balanced across each string, with all of the sponginess and natural feel that I loved in Friedman’s Brown Eye amplifier. The signature smoothness and modern edge of the stock JCA20H also remained intact, albeit with a little more subtlety in the mids. The two voices together resulted in a fantastic cascade of detailed overdrive—part modded-Marshall and part vintage British crunch.

One of the best traits of the JCA20H was the capacity ability to clean up and retain definition through use of a guitar’s volume knob. That capability is improved with the addition of the Brown Eye mod. Reducing the Iceman’s bridge pickup output not only cleaned up the signal, but made it easier for me to really hear the amp’s altered voicing. The midrange was slightly more scooped. And as a result, the highs from the JCA20H-BES rang out a little better. But more simply, it just cut more—making it an even more versatile little amplifier than the already rangey stock JCA20H.

The addition of the Saturation switch is where the amp takes the most drastic turns. And the tone can change so dramatically that it’s almost like switching to a separate channel. Getting a totally clean tone with this mode was close to impossible. Even a 2009 Fender American Telecaster with the bridge volume rolled off had a southern-fried blues edge to the tone with the Saturation switch engaged.

And while there was no loss of definition, there was a noticeable presence in the midrange and even more gain. I experienced a considerable boost in volume too, which made me think that the Saturation switch would be a killer solo boost option if it were footswitchable.

The Verdict
Friedman’s Brown Eye mod really opens up and expands the voice of the already impressive JCA20H—transforming it from a simple, low-watt, high-gain tool to a more versatile, detailed, and overdrive-breathing beast. Players that prefer the convenience of channel switching will probably want to look elsewhere, such as Jet City’s JCA50H or JCA100H heads. But with the very useful Saturation switch, the JCA20H-BES is capable of two very different personalities. Both Friedman and Soldano have hit home runs in the past. With the JCA20H-BES they’ve figured out a way for more of us to afford a taste of what they do so well.
Buy if...
you’re a fan modern British voicing, but don’t need a 100 watts worth.
Skip if...
you need a higher-powered amplifier with channel switching.

Street $549.99 - Jet City Amplification -