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This article was originally published in issue #4
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Jesse Hoff is the man behind Lazy J, a range of handmade amps that has taken the top end of the professional market by storm in just a few years. Jesse learned his electronics in the USA and Germany but he and his workshop are based in Guildford, Surrey, in the UK from were, with almost no publicity and absolutely no hype, he has garnered a list of users that would make even the biggest brands stand in awe. No lesser beings than Jeff Beck, Joe Walsh, Pete Townsend, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher and Joe Bonamassa have all taken delivery of Lazy J amps. Well, actually, I have taken delivery of Joe Bonamassa's amp, because the amp we have on review here is his very own one and he has kindly allowed it to come to us first, before he has even seen or played through it. Joe, if you read this, a big big thank you from the team at GI!
What we have here is a 6L6 equipped, 80 Watt, 2x12, extremely loud and proud, point to point hand wired, hand built combo. Jesse usually puts a tremolo and a reverb in these, but Joe already has one like that, so he ordered this one as plain vanilla, because he is going to be using them both side by side, one with a touch of spring reverb, this one without.
You can hear the heritage of this amp from the moment you fire it up. Jesse is very into vintage Fender amps. Vintage Fenders do sound great, but only if they are incredibly well maintained, and only if they are working, and it does tend to be a little up to them when they want to be nice and work, or take a night off. Which means you might need a spare. And if both amps have been talking, that one might fancy a night off too! It can all get very tiresome and boring very quickly, unless you are someone like Jesse, who knows these old beasts like the back of his soldering iron and can tweak and improve and replace and keep running a whole family of vintage Fenders. Which is what he did for himself, and then for friends, and then for a growing number of pro players, until he got to the point where it seemed it might be a good idea to build his own hand built range of amps, using the best components money can buy, put together in such a way that they will be utterly reliable. And, while he was at it, there were just a few improvements that could be made to that vintage circuitry....
One of those improvements was being able to switch the 80 watts down to 50. This doesn't mean that the amp will sound particularly quieter, it just means that it will work harder quicker, with less headroom and start crunching up at more modest volumes. Another nice touch is the pot labelled 'ground' that makes the amp more touch sensitive. Real players like Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Beck and Joe Walsh are all about dynamics within their playing, and this knob is for these sort of players. If you have no idea what I am talking about, then you don't deserve to own a Lazy J, and should be made to pass an audition to buy one. I joke, but part of me is being serious, because it's not until you play through a point to point wired amp that you realise how mediocre most amps that companies sell to us are. Point to point, by the way, means Jesse has taken every wire and component, and hand soldered it, like they used to do when Hendrix was burning Strats and Clapton was reading the Beano. Nowadays it's all printed circuit boards and Chinese valves to save labour, cost, and to give consistency.
While we're on the subject of cost, this amp is unashamedly expensive and in case anyone is thinking of quibbling, look at it this way. Most guitarists would pay extra for a hand finished custom guitar, but a lot of inexperienced players forget that your guitar is only half the story. You should take just as much care with your amp. Which is why we need true craftsmen like Jesse. Jesse takes pride in his work and cares about you as a player, no matter if you're Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa, or someone who just plays for fun at home. That's part of what you're paying for.
How does it sound? Well, the video gives the answer there and it does it with as close as we could possibly get to Joe's own guitar. Yes, we borrowed a genuine 1959 Les Paul - then our Editor decided to base a large chunk of this issue to exploring the myths surrounding that fabled guitar. I did better as I got to use the beautiful Les Paul to get in the ball park for some of Joe's tones, and I also pushed the front of the amp (as Joe does ) with my vintage ts808 tube screamer as well as a very cool Lazy J Cruiser overdrive pedal, which again was built and designed by Jesse because he was disappointed with the Klon Centaur.
Just for a balanced comparison, I also plugged in my white custom shop Strat and the G&L anniversary ASAT, which is also reviewed in this issue, so you can hear how the amp responds to a few guitars.
The J80 is equipped with two 12 inch Tayden drivers, made in Great Yarmouth in the UK, which give a nice depth across the whole frequency range. The amp also has the traditional normal and bright inputs, both with a high and low bias. The bright channel volume knob is a pull pot, which when pulled, gives you more bark and push, which sounded really cool with the Les Paul. The bass knob also is pull pot, and when engaged, gives a tighter more 'blackface' bottom end. Think of it as a resonance switch.
This amp is as good as it gets. If I was to be picky, I personally like effects loops in my amps, but this amp was made for Joe Bonamassa and he just wants it old school and as it is. And if a plain 80 Watt combo isn't quite what you're after? Well, Jesse also offers a Lazy J 20 which we're now itching to review and a bunch of customising options.
I hope the tone comes across in the footage, it certainly was a buzz playing a 59 Les Paul through a Lazy J. Sometimes life can be kind. Obviously man hugs and thank yous go to the very big hearted Joe Bonamassa, the very lucky Phil Harris for the loan of his cheap Les Paul, and to Jesse for making a beautiful product.
PS.......hey Jesse, we are going to have to come to some arrangement on an amp, and that Cruiser pedal!!
And the score? Despite the price, we think this is not only a fabulous amp but is also good value for money given the hours of painstaking work that goes into making one.