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Over the past thirty years, the Roland JC-120 has made a lasting impression on the guitar community with its pristine clean tones, impressive versatility, and lush stereo chorus. But how does this solid-state amp compare to its tube-driven competitors?
Admittedly, I was skeptical about the Jazz Chorus at first, being much more partial to valve amps. But as soon as I plugged into this guy, I became a believer. Never had I heard my guitar signal so pure and clear; a Tele practically sparkles through a JC-120. My Fender Hot Rod Deville sounded muddy by comparison.
It doesn’t end with the clean tones, though. One of the reasons why the Jazz Chorus is so beloved by guitarists is its versatility.
The amp features two channels: one clean, with a bright switch and three-band EQ, and one for effects, with a three-band EQ, bright switch and onboard distortion, reverb, and chorus/vibrato. Both channels have high and low gain inputs, enabling you to plug two instruments into one channel. The back of the amp has a stereo line out and foot switch outputs, and newer models also have an effects loop.
Even without any pedals, the Jazz Chorus has a huge tonal variety, but you’re still better off with a pedal or two in your rig. The onboard chorus, based on the lovely Boss CE-1, is shimmering and gorgeous, but the reverb and “distortion” (if you can call it that) sound digital, flat, and lifeless. Aside from the bright switch, which creates a nice bluesy crunch, the best way to color the sound of the JC-120 is with stompboxes. Effects sound as clear and clean through this amp as your guitar signal, making it a favorite for shoegazers like myself.
Unfortunately, the JC-120 does get a little finicky with distortion pedals. Some dirt boxes (Big Muffs and Proco Rats, for example) sound great, but you may have some trouble dialing in more transparent overdrives. I guarantee that your Tubescreamer won’t sound as crisp and organic as it would through an AC-30. Finding a natural-sounding distortion is, unfortunately, one of the downsides of solid-state vs. tube.
Another downside is the infamous JC hiss. Jazz Choruses, particularly older ones, have a tendency to produce a slight hissing sound. This really only becomes an issue when you have a ton of pedals in your rig, and can usually be resolved by using the effects loop. If it still bothers you at gigging levels, a noise gate may be in order.
[rating: 3.5] – Build Quality: 3.5
[rating: 4.5] – Tone: 4.5
[rating: 4] – Versatility: 4
[rating: 4.5] – Features: 4.5
[rating: overall] – 4.1
It has its flaws, but the Roland JC-120 certainly lives up to its legendary status. Shimmering cleans and smooth vintage chorus make this amp great, but its impressive affinity for effects pedals makes it essential for those players with stompbox-heavy rigs.
- You can find the Roland JC-120’s specs and pricing here.
- If you’re looking for a smaller, more affordable version of the JC, check out Roland’s Cube series for a practice amp with Jazz Chorus tone.