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Top Gear: Todd Sharp JOAT combo

By Chris Gill

Ask guitarists to describe what they think an amp called the “Jack of All Tone” (which is what JOAT stands for) would be like, and most would probably imagine some kind of digital modeling product or a more traditional tube amp with four to six individual channels, a modular design and a control panel that makes an SSL 4000G+ 80-channel console look austere in comparison. The Todd Sharp JOAT combo, however, is none of the above. In fact, with only six control knobs and two toggle switches (in addition to the requisite power and standby switches) on its front panel and no additional controls on its rear panel, the JOAT combo seems outrageously stripped down, although there’s much more to this amp than meets the eye.

This first impression is further supported by its single-channel configuration and lack of conventional tone stack, master volume and individual gain controls. Furthermore, two of its six control knobs are devoted to Tremolo Speed and Depth. So why is this amp called the “Jack of All Tone”? The answer lies in that last word, which is singular rather than the expected plural.

The Todd Sharp JOAT combo features a 20-watt amplifier with a pair of EL84 tubes driving the output stage, a 5AR4 tube rectifier and 6AU6, two 12AX7s and a 12AU7 handling various duties for the preamp stage and tremolo. The cabinet houses a single custom-spec alnico 12-inch speaker, and a 1/4-inch speaker output jack and 4/8/16-ohm switch allows use of various extension cabinets.

Todd Sharp’s JOAT circuit is unlike any other amp on the market, and he designed it to enhance the guitar’s inherent tone and dynamics. The separate inputs are individually designed to complement single coil or humbucking pickups and provide more consistency when swapping guitars. The Bite switch lets users tweak the compression and attack, with the center “off” position providing the most compression and the down and up positions increasing attack speed and dynamic range. The HR (headroom) switch toggles between full or half (12 watts) power.

The High Cut and Low Cut knobs function similar to low-pass and high-pass filters on a recording console or studio EQ, consistently keeping the guitar’s crucial natural midrange tones full and unadulterated. The Attitude control offers five different “character” settings that mostly provide increasing amounts of gain while also sculpting midrange in subtle, musical ways.

The JOAT combo delivers incredibly satisfying detail both in terms of tone and dynamics. I have two Strats that sound almost identical through most amps, but with the JOAT combo their individual differences and strengths (and weaknesses) were apparent in ways I never noticed before. The amp’s overall tone is rich and full-bodied with a 3D/hi-fi shimmer (in the best imaginable way), and the amp encourages expressive, nuanced playing but in a forgiving manner that will inspire players to let loose rather than obsess over mistakes. While the JOAT may not deliver the multitude of tones that guitarists think they want, it provides the Tone (with a capital “t”) that a player truly needs.

For more on Todd Sharp Amplifiers, stop by toddsharpamps.com.

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