Tested by Terry Buddingh Last year, when Joe Satriani approached Peavey’s Instrument Amp Product Manager Bill Xavier with some ideas for a new amp, he was immediately put in touch with James Brown. Not the “Godfather of Soul,” but, rather, Peavey’s Instrument Amplifier Engineering Manager, who developed the JSX while Satriani was on the G3 tour with Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen. Satriani tested the prototypes onstage and reported his findings back to Brown, who continued to refine the amp’s tone with various circuit tweaks and mods.
The JSX is solidly built, with a tough road-warrior look. The durable front-panel toggle switches are extra husky, and the chrome-plated solid-brass knobs give the amp a heavy duty look and feel. With its ruggedly cool vibe, the JSX looks hip on any stage, and its tough exterior should help it survive the rowdiest roadhouse rumbles. Satriani digs chrome, so Peavey created a contoured, two-piece, chrome-plated zinc casting to surround the oval JSX logo. Together, these two pieces form an S-shaped opening that provides extra ventilation for the tubes through a perforated grille. Inside, three printed circuit boards hold the majority of the components. Every control pot is firmly secured to the chassis, and the output tube sockets are bolted to the chassis as well. The circuit boards are connected via four short ribbon cables and a few neatly tied shielded cables and wires. Techs will appreciate the spacious, service-friendly layout. For a more aggressive sound, the JSX comes equipped with EL34s, but it also readily accepts 6L6s. A small slide switch adjacent to the output tubes changes the bias to accommodate either tube type.
Even when pummeled with high-output humbuckers, the JSX’s Clean channel is absolutely uncrushable. Distortion pedals sound dynamic, detailed, and focused, and clean tones ripple with sinewy midrange definition and complexity. Possessing virtually unlimited headroom, the Clean channel can absorb the most brutal pounding, yet it still sounds lively and colorful for sweet fingerpicking or frantic tapping.
The Crunch channel provides a smooth transition from the Clean channel, offering articulate higher-gain tones that are dynamically responsive. When playing fast runs, each note punches through with its own crisply defined identity. The Fat switch works especially well with single-coil pickups, as it enhances low-end body and girth without sounding mushy or boomy. It’s also surprising how well the JSX works with both lean sounding single-coils and high-output humbuckers. Every guitar I tried sounded firm, focused, and precise.
The Ultra channel covers the high-gain solo tones especially well, offering plenty of burning sustain while remaining defined, percussive, and dynamic. There’s a punchy forward thrust that propels each note straight into the audience, and that’s the big difference between amps that sound like compressed mush and those that can effectively communicate in a concert environment. To truly be heard, every note and detail of your sound has to get off the stage and reach the audience. And that’s the essence of the JSX, which is designed to communicate with the audience, not simply flatter the player with smoothed-over schmutz.
With its cool looks, wide range of articulate tones, and affordable price, the Peavey JSX is a hard act to follow. While there’s certainly no shortage of high-gain, three-channel amps these days, the JSX separates itself from the pack by delivering the goods with an uncommonly refined sense of articulation and authority. Satriani and Brown teamed-up to produce a winner, and the JSX receives an Editors’ Pick Award.