Review: Todd Sharp JOAT 20RT

March 4, 2016

Prior to establishing Nashville Amplifier Service in 1994, Todd Sharp had a distinguished playing career as a first-call sideman (with Delbert McClinton, Rod Stewart, Hall & Oates, Christine McVie, and many others), a solo artist, and a Top 10 songwriter. The JOAT 20RT is his first production model as an amp builder, though, and it’s a doozy of a way to enter the market. Short for “Jack of all tone,” the amp is an original design producing 20 watts from a pair of EL84s in fixed bias—unlike the cathode-biased, so-called “class A” topology of the usual Vox-inspired template—with tube tremolo and a complex three-knob, two-tank reverb circuit driven by a third EL84.

The JOAT has no conventional tone controls. Instead, a 5-position Attitude switch governs different bias networks on the U.S.-made, NOS 6AU6 pentode preamp tube to set voicing and aggression; a 6-position Low Cut selects the value of coupling cap between that tube and the next stage; a 6-position Hi Cut filter tames the high end at the output; and a 2-way Bite switch enhances upper-range muscle. Under the hood, Mallory and SoZo signal caps, carbon-comp resistors, beefy Ohmite power resistors, and F&T filter caps populate a hand-wired board. Military-grade 2-watt PEC potentiometers, Mercury Magnetics and Magnetic Components transformers, and other top-notch parts round out the build. There isn’t space here to cover the intricacies of the circuit, but suffice it to say it’s an impressive and well-thought-out creation. One downside to all this, to my mind, is that it’s a big head, at 25" x 10.5" x 11.5". Not a problem for a Nashville ace with cartage, but it could put off your average pub-and-club gigger a little, and this chassis would actually allow for savings of a couple of inches each way.

Tested through its own open-back 2x12 cab with Celestion Alnico Blue speakers, using a Stratocaster, a Telecaster, and a Les Paul, the JOAT 20RT revealed voices as bold and trenchant as its design implied. Also, forgetting the Volume knob for now, those three rotary switches enabled a lot of sonic variety, although I quickly narrowed my favorites down to six or eight combinations—and great ones they were. From ultra-clean sparkly fairy dust to chunkier twang on either of the Fenders to meaty, singing blues—with even more sting from the Les Paul—to juicy, articulate humbucker-driven classic rock, the JOAT 20RT acquitted itself mightily at every twist and turn. The reverb was lush and versatile, the trem richly hypnotic, and along with that extra dimension we often attribute to top-flight vintage or boutique amps, it was stouter sounding all around than its cathode-biased EL84 brethren. The JOAT is a loud 20-watter too, especially through this efficient cab, so you’ll probably want to bring along a good attenuator if you need to drive it hard in smaller rooms. Sure it’s an expensive amp, but the JOAT 20RT is one of the better EL84-based designs I’ve played in years, and it receives an Editors’ Pick Award.

SPECIFICATIONS

JOAT 20RT

CONTACT toddsharpamps.com
PRICE Head $3,849; 2x12 cab $1,449

CHANNELS 1
CONTROLS Volume, Bite switch, Attitude switch, Low Cut switch, Hi Cut switch; (reverb) Drive, Tone, Level (with pull-switch for bright); (tremolo) Speed, Depth
POWER 20 watts
TUBES One 6AU6 and three 12AX7 pre-amp tubes, EL84 reverb driver, two EL84 output tubes, 5Y3 rectifier
EXTRAS Two-button footswitch for reverb and tremolo, main and extension speaker outs w/4/8/16Ω switch
SPEAKERS Two 12" Celestion Alnico Blue
WEIGHT 38 lbs (head); 44lbs (cab)
BUILT USA
KUDOS An impressive original design. Well built. Juicy, rich tone with surprising versatility.
CONCERNS Head is unusually large for its type.

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