Hands-On Review:Peavey JSX Guitar Amplifier
Peavey JSX Guitar Amplifier
"Everything I've ever wanted in an amplifier head." - Joe SatrianiBy Dmitri Wojnarowski
It all started with a phone call. Guitar hero Joe Satriani was looking for someone to build him an amplifier. Not just any amplifier, but one built to his personal sonic specifications that included all the functions he'd ever wanted in an amp head. The result of that phone call and his collaboration with Peavey is the JSX, a completely modern all-tube amp that blows the doors off anything this side of the high-end, custom order market.
Head in the clouds?
In case you've been living under a rock for the last month, I'll give you a little background on the situation. As stated, Satriani wanted an amplifier that had all the sounds and controls he needed, so he decided to give Peavey a phone call. Not actually knowing anyone at Peavey, he simply dialed information and asked for the Peavey corporate phone number. He then called Peavey HQ down in Meridian, Mississippi, explained that he was a guitarist and his name was Joe Satriani, and asked if they had an artist relations department. Peavey decided to hook Joe up with Bill Xavier, which was a highly serendipitous move for both Joe and Peavey. It so happens that once upon a time, way before he ever worked at Peavey, Bill had spent time at the master's knee as a guitar student. Joe didn't even know Bill worked there, but was certainly glad to have a familiar face to deal with during the JSX's development.
Bill called in Peavey's gang of engineers to tackle the task, which took place during last year's G3 tour, featuring Joe, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen. Being able to actually hear the amp live every night made development more exciting and faster, with the results being true to real performance experience. It basically took four prototypes to arrive at the magnificent finished product introduced at this year's NAMM show. They started with the XXX amplifier as a basic template for what the JSX would eventually become, and changed and tweaked and dialed-in channels and tones until now we have what may be the perfect amplifier ever designed to pump out fully modern, high-gain tube tones.
What Satch wants-you get
It's pretty simple really. Every guitarist on the face of the Earth wants an amplifier that helps them better achieve their signature sound, seizes every tone from their head with authority, and has some flex room for dialing in other sounds, both old and new. Joe wanted all that, but he also wanted a single tube amplifier that could nail the tones he uses for the stage and studio, effectively consolidating his touring rig and recording outfit into one unit.
The Clean channel seemed as good a place to start as any, so that's what Joe and Peavey did. Satriani was looking for some very specific things from his clean channel. It had to be able to produce accurate clean tones, but also have an effective EQ, and respond well to the different types of stomp boxes and effects that he sometimes runs in front of his signal chain. The result may be the perfect clean channel. It simply doesn't know how to break up, giving warm, tubefully organic, chimey voicings to chords with a wonderful round sound with tons of definition. Single notes have the perfect amount of sustain and tone, losing nothing in volume or dynamics. And it also seems happy when you decide to cram an effects pedal in its face. In fact, it handles effects beautifully without falling apart in the low end or sending out a shrill or brittle signal as some amps do.
Next up was the Crunch channel. Joe wanted a channel that was supportive of both lead and rhythm playing, with highly variable gain and wide EQ. It had to be great for soloing with melodic sounds, and punchy for rhythm, with a wide range of EQ and gain. Satriani nicknamed it the amber channel for its warm gain structure, response, articulation, and punch. It quickly became one of his favorites during the G3 tour, carrying a heavy load of guitar work every night.
The Ultra channel, which the engineers set up as the lead channel, has a seismic amount of gain. Miles of it. Gain so solid and strong you can build a bridge across the Mississippi with it. It's unique in a couple of areas, specific to what Joe (and most guitarists, probably) wanted. The first is that it maintains a nice, heavy chunk even when you call upon all the gain this beast can unleash. It also holds up on the dynamics end, not just raging out like so many other high-gain amps, remaining incredibly receptive to any input from playing technique or subtle trem whanging . And of course, soloing becomes a dream with thick, gorgeous tone at your disposal no matter where, or how fast, you play on the neck.
After all this, Joe only had two (somewhat) simple requests left. He had Peavey engineers move all the controls to the front of the amp and add a completely variable noise gate for the Crunch and Ultra channels. This is a phenomenally versatile feature that lets you play infrequently at high-gain settings while minimizing tube energy, and provides fantastic studio performance.
The JSX is a completely modern amp providing a wide tonal palette. While it meets Joe Satriani's demands and tastes, it's not a one-trick pony made to get his sound. It's a flexible tool you can sculpt your own sounds out of, with all the high-flying tone and responsiveness the contemporary guitarist needs.