Roland JC-40 Jazz Chorus

  • By Fletcher Stewart @tonereport
  • September 18, 2015

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.

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  1. Tim

    I am also a bit disappointed to see that there are no external speaker outs for external cabs. I know there is a line out but that’s not the same. If I purchased a JC 40 I would like to attach two separate small cabs with Celestion 12 inch speakers in them. Spread the cabs out wide and get a nice stereo effect.  Also round out the bottom end with 12 inch speakers. I would get the JC 40 in a heartbeat if they had external speaker Jack’s but I’m not so sure now.

  2. Brock

    @Tim: can probably easily have it modded to get external speaker jacks that bypass the internal speakers I just had that surgery done to a 2009 JC-120, and it was fast and cheap ($75 and it took 2 days).  My electrical engineer dad said it was so easy to do that he scolded me for paying someone else to do it… bah.

    Having the spread out internal speakers for use with some of my TC Electronic pedals is awesome (Delay, Phaser, Vibe).  Such a setup may or may not suit you for the built-in Chorus, as I believe that totally separates Dry and Wet signals to the different speakers.

    I will totally be getting one of these and having the same external speaker mod done!

  3. Tim

    Hey Brock,
    Thanks so much for that idea! Never thought that can be done so easily and fairly cheap.

    As far as the wet dry chorusing signal it would be interesting to hear how it would sound in the spread out speaker cabinets. Besides like you said I too have a lot of other effects like chorus, ping-pong echo, tape simulation etc… 

    In the 80s I played through a Roland JC 120 with the optional JBL speakers they had offered from the factory. It was a killer sound. Although I sold it because it was so dang heavy to lug around due to the huge magnets in the JBLs. That’s why I have such an interest in the new JC 40, nice and light to go to gigs but (hopefully) with a huge sound!  smile

    Good luck to you - keep rockin! smile

  4. HB

    Hi - I live in the Caribbean and I play a Dot (semi hollow). I need a new amp. I can source a JC 120 locally, but I am interested in the portability of the JC40. I would need to wait until the next time that I go to the USA to try a JC40. Someone told me that the JC40 would not be powerful enough to play a semi hollow so I might as well just go ahead and get the JC 120. Any advice on this?

  5. Michael

    Any comment on the noise? The JC-120 is notorious for a rather loud background hiss. I have heard conflicting reviews on the JC-40 as to whether this hiss is present or absent.

  6. Leo James

    I’m taking a serious look at this unit for effects reasons. I also use the GR-55. As
    for the spread on the stereo effect and no external speaker out, I will use a couple
    powered PA speakers.

  7. m

    “but the effect is in the spatial dry-wet interplay—not the technology creating the pitch deviation.”
    If you say so… smile

    There’s a reason that a lot of chorus fans still prefer analog chorus.  Also, it’s just plain sad to see Roland use digital chorus in a JC amp.  I’ve never heard chorus as good as that on a (pre JC-40) JC.  Even other amp makers like Fender who were akso using analog chorus and two speakers in a dry-wet co figuration couldn’t get that close.  I haven’t seen a JC-40 in person, but I highly skeptical that the chorus sounds as good if they’ve gone digital.

  8. djd

    can you tell me if the chorus is pre or post effect loop? what i saw in the manual seemed to suggest it was post return, which is puzzling. i’d hate to, for example, run a reverb in the loop and have the chorus on top of that. any feedback on this item appreciated. was just about to buy one when that issue threw me off.

  9. Frank

    Hey DJD -

    Yeah, the block diagram in the manual says that the return is pre-chorus/reverb on the amp. 

    I guess Roland assumes if you’re going to use reverb, you’d use their onboard reverb and not a pedal.  I agree that it’s a little odd because if I use a delay in the effects loop, I’d be chorusing my delays instead of making delays of my chorus.  It is kind of puzzling since it’s not much different than running my effects straight into the input.  The only thing is with the loop you can choose to run it parallel or serial but that’s not that big of a deal to me. 

    I think Roland missed a nice chance here to give the amp more functionality.  If the effects returns were post reverb/chorus than I’d have a choice of routing my pedals.  Anything I want pre-reverb/chorus could go straight into the instrument input and anything post could go into the effects loop.  Even cooler is if Roland had made a toggle switch in the back to select the effects loop pre or post.

    Considering the price of this amp ($600) it feels like Roland could have given it more functionality in this regard.

  10. Chris Boland

    Interesting review.  I’ve owned a JC120 since 1989 and I love the clean tones but it has always had a character that is very ‘digital’ and 1980s to my ears.  Lovely acoustic-electric sound as well.  Now that I’m not as young as I was the idea of a smaller, lighter version is applealing.  The second channel was always a bit redundant for me.

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