Award-winning Nashville amp maker and guitarist Todd Sharp has streamlined his JOAT 20RT by removing the original amp’s complex reverb circuit, and compacting it all into a grab ’n’ go 1x12 combo that lands at a somewhat more accessible price. Sharp is just getting the model into production post-Summer NAMM, and sent us a prototype for testing, albeit one that’s true to the final design ethos. The combo retains the sonic core of the flagship design, however, and the full-bore build quality—exemplified in meticulously hand-wired construction, using top-flight components—to the end of delivering the same juicy, rich tone and sublime touch sensitivity that players like Keith Urban, Vince Gill, and John Oates have praised in Sharp’s work. As with the previous JOAT models (which include a 20-, 30-, and 45-watter) the front end of this amp is based around a little-seen 6AU6 pentode preamp tube (and an NOS GE example at that), pumped into a circuit that eschews conventional tone controls for a series of multi-position switches that reconfigure voicing capacitors and the like. A Bite switch determines high-mid edge, Attitude adjusts the 6AU6’s gain and body, and Low Cut and High Cut do just as they say. Inputs 1 and 2 are tailored toward single-coils and humbuckers respectively, although you can certainly mix by type to achieve other desired sonic ends. The bias-modulating tremolo circuit has Speed and Depth knobs, and, as a bonus on this combo edition, there’s an HR switch (for “headroom”) that limits the driver-tube current to about half power to enable faster breakup from the amp.
As is already understood by many players who have compared the differences between reverb and non-reverb versions of what is ostensibly the same amp otherwise (consider the blackface Fender Deluxe versus the Deluxe Reverb, or Dr. Z’s Maz 18 Reverb and the Non-Reverb version), removing reverb from a circuit does more than just turning the effect’s level control to “0”—it can sometimes change the entire performance of the amp. Sharp tells us he set out merely to remove reverb from his original head design, but found he “needed to massage the circuit to speak appropriately to a 1x12 combo,” achieved by adding another 12AU7 preamp tube stage between the phase inverter and output tubes. The combo cab itself is hefty and classily attired, and the speaker in this one is a custom-made, 30-watt Alnico, although other speakers are available. At 21.5” x 25” x 11” it might be a tad cumbersome for a 1x12 combo, but I’m willing to bet many players will make the effort.
Tested with a Gibson Les Paul and a Novo Serus S (a Strat-style guitar with single-coils), and a selection of overdrive pedals, the JOAT 20 Combo proved a bold, toothsome, and addictively playable “little” amp. The fact is, this thing sounds big for a dual-EL84 design, with firm lows and a thick, plumby midrange that really gets into your blood after just a few minutes of playing. All the platitudes dished upon the 20RT head in its GP review in early 2016 (visit guitarplayer.com to see it) apply again here, with the reminder that the voicing switches combine for astounding versatility, all resulting in a world-class player’s amp that’s as good a sonic platform as just about any you could hope to find at this size. It’s not cheap, but it’s built to withstand the rigors of the road, and to sound superb in the process, while also being appealingly original in a world populated by plenty of clones and copies of classic Fender 1x12 combos.
PRICE. $2,795-$2,995 direct, depending on speaker. $2,995 as reviewed with Custom Alnico speaker
CONTROLS Volume, Bite switch, HR switch, Attitude switch, Low Cut switch, Hi Cut switch, (tremolo) Speed and Depth
POWER 20 watts
TUBES One 6AU6, two 12AX7s, and one 12AU7, two EL84 output tubes, 5AR4 rectifier
EXTRAS Footswitch for tremolo, Main and Ext speaker outs with 4/8/16Ω switch. Amplifier Phase switch, 120/240 mains selector
SPEAKER Custom-made Alnico 12” (as reviewed)
WEIGHT 48 lbs
KUDOS A creative and original design with tons of veracity in both tone and touch sensitivity.
CONCERNS The cabinet dimensions make it slightly awkward to carry.