I had put a deposit on a Lazy J20 combo way back in April ’12 and had been patiently waiting my turn for it to be built. Jesse finally got around to building it at the start of October; I picked it up later that month and I’ve been playing quite a bit with it. I had been gigging it a bit too, alternating with my Vox AC15. It has been an interesting experience and this will be my review of it.
My Lazy J 20 came with Reverb, Tremolo and the ‘VAC’ (Jesse’s power scaling feature). Additionally, it also had the push-pull for the Tone control activating a ‘mid-boost’ and a ‘Bass shift’ switch at the back, not unlike the one on my Vox AC15 Heritage’s EF86 channel but a lot more subtle. I also had a chance to demo the same J 20 combo with both the Celestion Alnico Blue and the Tayden Ace 25, and I chose to have the Tayden instead of the Celestion.
What struck me when I first laid eyes on my J20 at Jesse’s workshop (and indeed when I chanced upon another at Charlie’s Chandlers to demo) was the laquered tweed of this thing. Attracts you immediately like a 5A quilted maple top on a Les Paul. At that time, I had been looking at a Cornell Plexi to demo and possibly buy.
UnFortunately, it wasn’t available at Charlie’s Chandlers, and fortuitously, the only Lazy J 20 combo doing the rounds at various places as a demo unit, just happened to be there. I had my £70 Crafter ‘Curry Strat’ with me (loaded with the GFS lil killer set at the time), and I duly plugged in as I had heard about this little combo. Suffice it to say, it completely blew me away! I simply could not believe how amazing my beginner’s strat sounded through it. It was love. Never had anything responded to my touch so well. It was like I had discovered ‘another plane’ of guitar playing nirvana. Surely, if it can make this guitar sound that good, the sky is the limit, I reasoned. Deposit was duly placed and the wait began.
Before the order was completed, I spoke at length with Jesse about speaker choices and was able to demo the Tayden Ace 25 and Celestion Blue at a certain Phil Harris’ place to confirm my own speaker choice. I was curious about the Tayden, as although I was happy about the Celestion Blue when I demo’d it originally, when given the choice, why go for the default? When played side-by-side, the Tayden appealed to me more compared to the Celestion (by this time, I had got my ESP LTD tele with Creamery Pickups). When playing cranked, the Blue kind of sounded like it was freaking out, whereas the Tayden was taking everything in its stride, keeping everything under control. It was a smoother speaker compared to the Blue, but I determined that it had enough treble to cut through on stage. When the order was completed, I couldn’t wait to pick it up, so I drove to Jesse’s place to pick it up in person which was pretty cool.
When I first got it, I ended up playing live with the channels jumped with my guitar going in to the Normal channel. It played fantastically well, if only that there was no ‘clean’ to speak of when playing like this. When clean was needed, I managed to back off the volume to play with a dirty clean rather than ‘clean-clean’. I used the VAC to modulate the power levels (and hence volume) initially, so I found the trick of plugging in to the Bright channel and using the volume of the Normal channel to ‘clean-up’ the sound resulted in a thin sound with volume levels too low to use on stage. But I sort of accepted the situation, ’cause who the hell gets a Tweed Deluxe to play clean?!
Anyhow, I began experimenting with a few things. First, I substituted a 5751 tube to the 12AX7 preamp tube. This seemed to calm the amp down a little bit when playing with the channels jumped-it was just that little bit smoother when playing cranked and more controllable. Checking with Jesse, I was informed that the amp can take 6V6 power tubes (and the associated 5Y3 rectifier tube). I got myself a pair of RI Tung-Sol 6V6s and a Sylvania-Hytron 5Y3 GT. This lowered the headroom a little bit and now the amp sounded like a ‘true’ Tweed Deluxe, however due to the presence of 5751 tube in the preamp, it wasn’t like one step forward and two steps backwards. I noticed that the amp got bassier (aka full bass), and the mids were less detailed compared to when it ran the stock spec 6L6s. However, the stock 6L6s had a fizziness associated with them which I didn’t like as I played more and more with this amp.
Now, with the 6V6s I was able to run full power (on stage) with the VAC and do the trick of plugging in to the Bright channel and using the volume of the Normal channel to tighten everything up (typical setting would be: Bright channel=3; Normal channel=~11; Tone=12). What I got then is one of the greatest clean sound ever. When I got to this point, I sat there wondering, who says a Tweed Deluxe can’t do clean? This was an amazing clean tone that will stay clean! Simply superb. And, it worked great with my drive pedals. OK, I can hear the purists crying sacrilege! It doesn’t matter, if getting to that clean sound means I have to sacrifice the natural drive of a Tweed Deluxe, it doesn’t bother me. Plus, when I put a drive pedal in front, it still sounds like a Tweed Deluxe! So, overall I was pretty happy.
After a few months, I longed for that 6L6 sound, for that beautifully detailed mid-range and the tight bass. This time, I got myself a pair of the famous Svetlana ‘Winged C’ 6L6s and a GZ34 tube. All this time, the 5751 was always in the amp. Now combined with these new 6L6s, this amp sounded less like a typical Tweed Deluxe, and more like a Lazy J. Tight bass, beautiful sparkle in the top end and the clincher: that fantastically detailed mid range. The clean sound now is absolutely captivating. The drive sounds when playing with the channels jumped, is, oh so creamy! It is fantastic, that there are two very different voices to this amp depending on the 6V6 or the 6L6 power tubes and both very usable in a live environment, whichever takes my fancy on the day and both having unique and very desirable sounds in this amp. It was also very enlightening to notice this change when I’ve heard that the circuit is more important in the tone of an amp than power tubes per se. The Lazy J is an incredible amp and I’m quite proud to own one!