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Lazy J goes to church!

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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.

My Lazy J in it’s natural environment where it gets gigged at least twice a month.


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!

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Microbiologist, guitarist and motor sport aficionado.

11 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Hi there., I have been in e-mail chats with Jesse and just about to treat myself to a J20, (40th Birthday present) but am concerned about the lack of clean headroom – as I want to use the j20 as my main gigging amp (Small to medium sized pub gigs, playing funk/blues).

    I asked Jesse about the J20H – but he claims it has not got the same “3d magic” that the standard 20 has.

    So I read your blog above with great interest, How loud can the stock amp with 6L6’s go with a “clean-ish” sound?

    Reply

    • Hi, great 40th present!

      With the J20, it responds very much like a typical tweed deluxe, so if you know how to work a tweed deluxe to get your sounds in a live situation, you will be absolutely fine. The volume controls on the normal and bright channels are interactive in helping to ‘clean up’ your tone so, if you plug in to bright channel and keep the volume low and work the normal channel’s volume up to 11-12 you can get a very clear clean tone that doesn’t break up easily (unless you really push it with a really hot signal). You can vary this to suit to get your ‘base’ tone and take it from there, adding pedals to get more drive out of it. Also, the tone control adds some gain to the signal, so if you back it off a touch you can get it to clean it up there too.

      The great thing about this is, it gives you a lot of room for creativity. The downside (if you can call it that!), is that it cannot be all things to all situations: you get a great clean sound that doesn’t break up, then you got to use pedals to get the drive. If you set the amp up so you use the amp’s own response to get that tweed drive sound, then your clean will be at the edge of break up, then you’ve got to play with a bit of finesse (and work the volume controls on the guitar), to get a clean sound–this is fine because the amp is very responsive to pick attack and volume controls, so it doesn’t let you down there. In a gig situation, the headroom at your disposal varies according to the where in the spectrum of clean–to–drive you spend your time in. You set the amp up according to that and go from there, either using the amp’s own response for your drive sounds or just set it up as clean as possible and use pedals to augment that.

      A large part of the answer for headroom in the J20 depends on the pickups in your guitar. For instance, with my strat and tele I find that I don’t need to do the trick of playing with the volume of the unused channel to get a good clean as the pickups are relatively lower output (with the strat being the easiest to dial in a clean sound for). With my LP, I had to back off the guitar volume to half way to get a comparable clean tone with the same settings in the amp (this is also good because I can set a volume for clean rhythm and drive sounds on the guitar itself switching from neck to bridge p’up).

      Loudness depends on the sensitivity of the speaker as much as the amp’s headroom, the Blue is louder than the Tayden–not a whole lot on paper but the Blue (15W) is being pushed more by 20W compared to the Tayden (25W) so it feels a lot louder than the spec sheet seems to suggest (1dB difference). My J20 with Tayden, I reckon you can comfortably gig with 100-150 people with a moderately heavy drummer. I mostly run mine mic’d though on the odd occasion when I have run it on its own, it has performed well.

      If all of this seems hard work, above all I bought this amp purely for personal pleasure (gift to myself!) and the gigging duties are very much a secondary purpose for it so I don’t consider it a negative, if it doesn’t do what many channel switching amps do, but then again if that was my aim, I wouldn’t have bought this! However, it has been a great journey of discovery for me, using this amp in a live situation and making it work to get the sounds I need.

      I’ll leave you with a couple of vids I have of this amp:


      ^This one shows the amp set for max clean headroom (with this setting only my LP could get it to break up and that too when the guitar volume is full on)


      ^in this vid, I’m running the amp only at half power with the 6V6 valves! The amp is set so all my drive is from the amp alone (excuse the crap FX). IIRC I was running with the channels jumped. There must have been more than 200 odd people there.

      Reply

      • Forgot about the J20H comment, I haven’t played a J20H personally so I don’t have a way to evaluate it, but I’d imagine a head version thru a LazyJ cab should sound similar to a J20 combo…not sure where Jesse was coming from there! 🙂

      • Hi, on your 6L6 vs 6v6 sound clip do you remember the amp settings? That’s plenty clean for me

      • Hi there, I think I went into the bright channel with volume between 3-5 and used the other channel’s volume to clean up (between 10-12). It’s a classic technique of getting a clean sound with these amps. If you use a jump lead to connect these two channels together you end up using one channel to drive the other=more overdrive but unconnected, you can clean up the tone. Hope this helps.

  2. Samsen

    Thank you for taking the time to reply, very informative, and the vids are a great help, what beautiful natural compression on those clean tones.

    It is also good to know that I can play around with the valves – as you have, so I can adapt for whatever live, home situation I may need

    Bring on my 40th – is all I can say.

    Kind regards
    James

    Reply

    • Some new info has come to light about the J20H that I wasn’t aware of when I wrote this blog and with regards to James’ query about J20H sounding very different to the J20. I assumed that a J20H is just a head version of the J20 and therefore naturally skeptical that it could sound different to a J20. But recently a member of the LazyJ facebook group posted a question about this to which Jesse has replied and cleared up the confusion surrounding the J20H.

      It turns out J20H is a high headroom version of J20 and I imagine both can be ordered in a ‘head’ format. I quote Jesse:

      “the J20H is a higher powered version of the J20.
      It uses the same circuit, but different transformers.
      The result is that the J20H is slightly more powerful, with a quicker attack that helps the helps it cut through better in a louder band.

      However, this comes at a price…the J20 has this beautiful, harmonically rich midrange.
      Harmonics just ooze out of it.
      This gives the sound a very complex character.
      These harmonics are reduced in the J20H in favor of the fundamental. So you get this punchier response, almost slightly toward black face…
      Most people prefer the J20…including Joe Walsh, who got to try them both, and bought the J20.
      Both amps are in the same ballpark, but my personal desert island amp would be a J20.

      SRV style players like the J20H…”

      So, there you go! Sounds like an interesting variant of the J20, would love to try one! I would rather have the classic J20 though, as having that natural breakup is more precious IMO.

      Reply

  3. Thanks James, glad it was helpful. I’d really recommend the 5751 preamp tube swap to really open up the possibilities with this amp. IMHO, it really made the amp a lot more versatile for my purposes. If however, getting a raging tweed drive is more important to you than exploring the more cleaner side of things, keep the stock 12AX7.

    All the best! 🙂

    Reply

  4. Hi there!

    Thanks for this amazing review. I’ve had my j20 with blue for a month now and am slowly getting to know it. The drive and clean sounds are sublime, but like you said, careful management is essential to get those at the same time 🙂

    At first, I found the amp to lack bass compared to my blackface 16w brunetti amp. When fully cranked it sounded a bit thin and just a bit boxy. Now i have discovered jumpering the channels to add the bass from the normal channel to the bright channel and that thickens things up alot, but as you said, there is hardly any clean clean left. So I now just rehearse with both my amps at the same time, j20 for mids and blackface for bottom end, but at home it’s j20 solo.

    What I was wondering though, are the svetlana 6l6’s that much better than the stock tubes in there? I would imagine jesse would have tried out all sorts of tubes before settling for the ones he put in there for a reason? I’m curious about the 5751. Might have to get one…

    Kind regards

    Reply

  5. Hi Guys, had my J20 for a month now, wow was it worth the wait!

    Nic I am surprised by your comments on lack of bass, do you have the bass cut set to off?(little toggle switch by the pre amp valves) i am using a bright tele into bright channel, and have plenty of bottom end, more than a twin or a Cornford 2×12.

    I have found using A/b switch works really well to getting a successful clean and louder drive sound.
    Ideal for gigs, set up as follows:
    Tone @ 9
    Output A goes into bright channel/low input, bright channel volume on 3
    Output B goes into a gain pedal (Providence stampede or Rothwell hellbender) then into Normal channel/high input, Normal channel volume on 9

    You don’t have to have the gain pedal in the mix, but i find it gives me more control of the break up i want.

    hope the suggestions help

    Reply

  6. James,

    That must be one hell of a bassy tele then 🙂 But ash tele’s tend to have a big bottom end. I found out that it’s mostly my guitar’s fault, it’s a korina bodied tele with p90’s, so it’s all mids really. But still, I’m considering getting a 1×15 extension cab for more bass, as I still could use a bit more. I must say though my blue has begun to get broken in a bit, and I do notice it in the low end aswell.

    Bass cut wasn’t engaged!

    Regards

    Reply

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