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This article was originally published in issue #24
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Jet City was formed in 2009 by Mike Soldano and Douglas White with the aim of providing quality, all-tube amplifiers at an affordable price. The company prides itself on high levels of build quality and reliable, cost-effective components paired with Mike’s legendary knowledge of tone circuitry and experience. The range is made in China but designed in the USA and comprises a series of heads, combos and cabs with pedals being added to the catalogue more recently. We looked at two models from the range featuring very different specs but each purporting to represent this balance of tone and value for money.
Jet City JCA5212RC
The JCA5212RC is Jet City’s flagship two channel, 2x12 (Eminence speakered) combo, featuring a clean and crunch channel with six 12AX7 pre-amp tubes and two 6L6 power tubes, delivering 50 Watts of power. The design sticks to the ‘no-nonsense’ ethos of Soldano and Jet City’s principles, with no trick switches or pull-pots, keeping the signal path as clean and pure as possible. The chassis is pretty much bomb-proof, built from 16 gauge, cold rolled steel inside a hardwood cabinet. The hefty design means that this combo is pretty weighty but feels super solid and should live up to a hard life on the road with ease. This longevity is enhanced by the steel cage surrounding the electronics, protecting those fragile tubes that could be pretty expensive to replace given the number in use.
The 5212RC can truly be considered a two channel amp thanks to its completely independent channel set-up, each with its own EQ controls and distinct tonal options. The clean channel is taken directly from Soldano’s ‘Lucky 13’ amplifier and offers volume and three band, bass, middle and treble EQ controls. There is no gain control here, so chewier clean tones are only available by cranking the volume into the red but this gives the 5212RC a decent amount of clean headroom that matches the crunch channel really successfully and offers a great platform for pedals at higher volumes.
Channel two is the Soldano designed ‘crunch’ circuit and offers gain, bass, middle, treble and volume controls. This is a low to medium gain circuit with a lot of dynamics but would need to be boosted with a drive pedal to achieve saturated lead tones or high gain rhythm sounds. Think of US-style Blues or classic Rock tones and you’ll have an idea of the gain level available here.
Completing the front panel is a reverb level, global presence control and power/standby switches. The 5212RC also features a tube-driven spring reverb and tube-buffered serial effects loop plus a duo of 8 Ohm and single 16 Ohm speaker outputs. The only downside to the design is the lack of channel switching on the front panel of the amp, requiring the included footswitch to switch between clean and crunch channels. It’s certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing design to grace the amplifier world but it’s functional and very well put together.
Tonally the 5212RC is a versatile beast thanks to the independent EQ controls for each channel. Starting with the clean channel you can achieve a wide range of tones from glassy, chiming tones that are perfect for vintage single coils, moving to thick and warm Jazz tones with neck position humbuckers. The response is everything you’d expect from a Soldano designed circuit, with lovely dynamics teamed with an accurate representation of each guitar plugged into it and different player's own characteristics. The EQ controls are effective and interactive, offering a wide-scope of tonal shaping throughout their range. Many ‘cost-effective’ combos have a very lacklustre and clinical clean channel but the 5212 certainly doesn’t fall into this category.
Moving onto the crunch channel, you get another very dynamic and responsive offering that reacts really nicely to how you approach the guitar and volume control changes. You can go from clean to a medium gain growl with just the volume control of your guitar and effectively alter the tone by playing softly or digging in. As such, this is a very vocal sounding channel and offers a very interactive playing experience. Paired with an appropriate drive pedal the channel can get into high gain territory but certainly isn’t voiced for Metal players. Rather, it is a warm and enjoyable playing experience that offers more subtlety than ‘in your face’ brutality.
The JCA5212RC is a very well built and designed amplifier with a versatile range of tones that would pair very well with a pedal board or work well as a standalone gigging set-up. It does come into a very crowded market and while it doesn’t necessarily stand out head and shoulders above some of the competition, it certainly deserves serious attention and is a very solid performer with a great tonal heritage. This is one you need to add to your audition list.