The Solid State of Stereo Lusciousness
To celebrate forty years of Roland’s pioneering, panoramic, stereo-chorused classic, the Japanese gear gods bestow upon us the Jazz Chorus experience in a lighter, more manageable format. In my own perception, Roland’s JC-120 has always been a bit of a cult phenomenon—an industry insider’s secret sonic weapon. Let’s take a peek into the varied past of the Jazz Chorus.
Bob Mould of Husker Du obscured his vision of hardcore by patching his MXR Distortion+ into Roland JC-120s for a menacing modulated fever-dream. The Cult’s Billy Duffy has been garnishing his Marshall grind with the swirling top end slew of the classic combo since the early ‘80s. Remember The Talking Heads in its prime—with Byrne and Belew using JCs as blank canvases for their pallets of effects? What would those early Cure albums sound like without the glassy grey and silver solid-state sting? The solemn intro to Metallica’s “One” rings a big black bell as well. It’s curious. For such an iconic amp, the JC series is seldom seen onstage these days, but I thing that is all about to change . . .
For one, there is simply no better tone tool for creating a wide, airy stereo image without the aid of pedals, messy cable routing and two amps. The JC-40 maintains that room-filling spread without the bulk, expense and volume pokiness of its older bigger brother. When I first got a chance to unbox, my kid was asleep, so I was delighted to see a headphone jack on the rear panel. I jacked in—killing the two ten-inch speakers—and immediately switched on the fixed chorus. I think an hour went by before I was able to find my way out of that classic Roland Dimensional Space Chorus. It was as if each of the separate onboard power amps had hooked their barbs into the left and right hemispheres of my brain. It was a private world of pure stereo lusciousness that only got more vast and limitless when I added my Eventide H9 Max to the stereo effects loop. My hopes were confirmed. The stereo imaging from those complex spatial micro-pitch algorithms and ping-pong delays became holographic—as if my mind’s eyes were wearing 3D glasses.
Open-Ended Effects Routing—An Amp For All Occasions
I don’t know if there is another lightweight portable combo that sports a continual stereo signal path from inputs, to effects loop and speaker outputs. The JC-40 certainly has the market cornered with these specs. As ever, this JC makes for a great pedal platform. Of course—being a solid state amp—there is no forgiving voltage sag or squidgy warm breakup to cushion the blow of harder distortions and raspy fuzz pedals, but those in the know will tweak the responsive tone-stack and bright switch to flatter the input source perfectly.
The wide, flat frequency response reveals all kinds of crazy frequencies in fuzz pedals and keeps them from flubbing out like they can in tube amps. In fact, the two custom-designed 10-inch silver-capped speakers sound uncharacteristically huge and detailed. They seem to be more like a hi-fi system—unlike many bandwidth limited, nasally guitar speakers. I plugged in my Moog synthesizer to test the depth of sonic range and was delighted with the results—especially with a touch of the digital plate emulating reverb and some true stereo pitch vibrato. Keeping the same settings, I plugged the guitar back in and enjoyed the dreamy ripples of sound.
What We Like: The JC-40 is lightweight, huge sounding, plenty loud enough for gigging and a great vessel for complex effects chains and mess-less stereo routing. There isn’t a better home practice piece for stereo effects junkies who gig with two amps and want to maintain the spread without the cable spaghetti dread in more intimate scenarios. The revamped onboard distortion is way more usable than the brittle ceramic plate grating grit of the older models and the chorus is as deep and lush as it ever was. It is digital this time around, but the effect is in the spatial dry-wet interplay—not the technology creating the pitch deviation. Plus, I can’t stop playing Seventeen Seconds-era Cure songs through this thing. The Jazz Chorus is the amp for that sound.
Concerns: I must admit, that I was initially disappointed to see the cabinet made of composite material instead of hardwood or pine. However, I talked to Roland and the cab materials weren’t selected to hit a price-point at all. They are part of the technical and tonal overall design. It feels solid and sounds huge, so I am happy with that.