Hands-On Review:Peavey's Chrome Warrior
Peavey JSX Joe Satriani amp and Triple XXX 412 cab
By Eric Kirkland
Joe Satriani is one of the most commercially successful instrumental guitarists in history. He is also one of music's most respected axmen for his brilliant application of theory, high-energy style and ability to perform exceedingly intricate passages. As you might imagine, the complexity of his compositions is mirrored only by the depth and diversity of his guitar tones.
Unfortunately for Joe, reproducing his studio tones onstage has proved frustrating, requiring an extensive backline of amps. Further complicating the matter is that not all his amps mesh properly in a live setting. In for review this month is the logical solution to Joe's quest for consistent live tone: the new three-channel Peavey JSX Joe Satriani Signature Head. This chrome-clad genie is capable of conveying Satch's subtle studio textures and morphing to meet his extreme onstage demands.
With its bright-metal face, the JSX looks like the shiny brother of Satriani's metallic superhero guitar, "Chrome Boy." The amp's exterior is a functional and cosmetic mix of black vinyl, perforated grilles and that chopper-esque chrome front panels. A quartet of EL-34 tubes creates 120 watts of gut-punching power, and four 12AX7s drive the dynamic preamp. For rounder tone and more robust low end, 6L6s can be used; bias test points are provided on the rear of the amp.
Each of the JSX's three channels has controls for treble, mid, bass and volume. Additionally, the Crunch and Ultra channels have their own gain knobs and Fat switches, as well as a noise gate. Although the amp is exceptionally quiet for a high-gain device, this last feature provides an extra measure of noise management without affecting tone. Controls for resonance and presence let you fine tune the power section, while a master volume presides over the amp's final output level. For channel switching, you have the option of using a frontside short-throw toggle or the included footswitch, which also lets you access the effect loop, which is situated on the head's back end and features send and return signal controls. The backside, in addition to the loop and bias test points, has dual speaker outputs, a line out with a level knob and a cord wrap.
Joe currently favors the Triple XXX 412 cab as a mate to the JSX. The cab is loaded with a set of Sheffield speakers whose tone is somewhere between Vintage 30s and 70s. Peavey is presently working with Satriani on a JSX cabinet that the company promises will be "a significant technological advancement in cabinet design." The cabinet is scheduled to be unveiled at this summer's NAMM show.
I tested the JSX with a number of guitars, including my EMG-driven "Mongrel" Charvel, Fender Strat and DiMarzio-loaded Les Paul Custom. With the Charvel plugged into the amp's high-gain input, the Clean channel produced the elasticity, soft clipping and compression of a Peavey Classic 50 while it displayed the open headroom and top-end punch of an old Hiwatt. My Strat's passive single-coils tapped into even more of this bold tone and revealed the channel's stringy qualities. I can even go as far to say that I've never experienced an EL-34–derived clean sound with this level of balance.
Diving into the Crunch mode, the JSX leaned heavily toward the British ideal of distortion. My Les Paul Custom barked with a tight and modern crunch full of sustain and bass. Kicking in the Fat switch expanded the girth and added gooey harmonics to the mix. Achieving truly old-school bite and sting was only a matter of switching to the low-gain input.
The Ultra channel is aptly named, as it produces some of the best high-gain sounds I've heard from a Peavey amplifier. It's overflowing with gain and sustain, and it blasts out pinch harmonics like a steam whistle while retaining startling definition at full-up levels. I was able to let an open E ring clearly in the low register while creating distinct lead lines on top. Furthermore, the EQ for all three channels is unusually sensitive, making it ideal for some dramatically out-of-this-world tone shaping. This amp is capable of so much tone, it's scary.
The Bottom Line
The JSX Joe Satriani Signature Head expands smartly on everything we love about the Classic, 5150 and Ultra Series amps. The amp is forgiving of inexperienced players yet infinitely rewarding for experienced hands. While I would like to see a reduced power option on the amp, Peavey will provide that in its new JSX 212 combo. Even without this feature, I'm betting the JSX becomes one of Peavey's most popular amplifiers. It's certainly convinced me.
PRO: Versatility, defined super-gain, impressive clean
CON: No reduced power option (available in JSX 212 combo)
LIST PRICE: $1,499.00
MANUFACTURER: Peavey Electronics Corporation, 711 A St., Meridian, MS 39301; (601) 483- 5365