A few months ago I was perusing this section of TGP and someone mentioned Todd Sharp amps in comparison to a couple other amp manufacturers I like. I’d never heard of Todd or his amps, so I decided to educate myself. After only a few minutes of research, I was intrigued. This isn’t a guy building his “brand new take on a Vox/Marshall/Fender” using a bunch of off-the-shelf parts shoved into a Mojo cab. Everything seemed different about this amp, from the controls to the tube choices and, most importantly, the sound. So I decided to pick up the phone and call Todd.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way. They are not cheap amplifiers. But again, they’re not amps you could build yourself. The amps are very well thought out and designed, both inside and out, and make for a very different player experience. So back to calling Todd…
I ring the shop late on a Friday afternoon and Todd answers the phone. Right away, it’s a comfortable, enjoyable conversation. For those who don’t know, Todd has been a professional player for decades working for people we’ve all heard of, but we all know how to use Google if that part interests you. But that means he knows the right questions to ask and he knows how his amps perform, FIRST HAND, in a variety of situations. So his answers aren’t filled with speculation or secondhand reports from players. I decide I want to move forward with a build and ask Todd which of his three amps he recommends, based on how I’ll be using the amp (mostly for home and recording use, as I gig with a Port City Pearl 50w combo normally). He recommends his 20w model. I must admit the 30w model intrigued me, as it uses a combination of EL84 and 6V6 tubes simultaneously, but he didn’t think I really needed that (even though it’s a more expensive amp). However, he said if after receiving the 20w I felt I needed more power, he’d work something out with me to get the 30w. Impressive.
I was quoted 12-16 weeks for the head to be completed. A little less than seven weeks later, I get an email saying my amp is completed and ready for final testing. I send the balance due and within a week I’ve got a BIG box from Todd on my doorstep. Let’s talk about the size… this is a BIG head. The length is nothing abnormal but it’s pretty tall and extremely deep. I’d guess this is done to accommodate some of the things that make this head so special, like the two reverb tanks which are suspended and mounted bottom to bottom. Or the special isolated, raised platform for the 6AU6 tube to limit microphonics (Todd even includes a spare NOS tube). But let’s go back to the reverb for a minute. I heard the reverb compared to a plate or rackmount reverb while reading reviews of the amp prior to purchase, but wasn’t putting too much stock in it. WOW. Those weren’t exaggerations. With three knobs and a bright switch, you have the most adjustability of any amp reverb I’ve ever used. Tony Bruno makes my favorite amp reverb, or at least he did prior to this amp (both the UG30 and JOAT use an additional EL84 in the reverb). Using the controls I can get the plate sound I heard about, subtle and studio-like, or make it sound like I’m in a dark cave. Then up the tone/bright settings and get a metallic slap in the face for surf or just a hint of spring. It’s seriously ingenious. And the tremolo is very versatile, goes all the way to a helicopter stutter, and can be 100% switched out of the circuit when off.
As far as the overall tonal capabilities of the amp, they’re as varied as the name would suggest (JOAT = Jack Of All Tone). But these aren’t Marshalls where you just turn up the gain and get more MORE MORE. The controls all complement each other and take some time to get to know, if you want to get the best out of this amp. For instance, if I take the Attitude knob (sort of a gain/mid/aggressiveness control) from setting 1 to 5, I’m going to want to adjust the Lo Cut and Bite controls, to keep the same “feel” of the cleaner tone I was just using, otherwise it may sound like I switched amps completely. Which isn’t a bad thing, if that’s the sound you want. But without typical tone controls, the amp has to have a really great basic eq which, thankfully, it does. I remember playing an Orange Rocker 30 years ago which has only a Volume control on the clean channel. But the EQ at which Orange had it set at stock was just unusable to me, as it sounded like garbage. Plugging into this with all EQ-type knobs at zero gives you an absolutely gorgeous clean tone. Then just add to taste.
I won’t go into great(er) detail about all of the other aspects of the amp except to say there is plenty of gain available for rock n roll. Personally, the clean to mid OD sounds are where this amp just sings. It’s got a thicker sound than a Blackface amp when clean and is much more focused than my Matchless C30 when overdriven. No harshness or icepicks either. I will say that sometimes it takes me a bit to get the exact sound I’m looking for. I’ll flip the Attitude up three notches, then back off on the Lo, up the Hi a tick, take Bite up a notch, but now I need a little more Lo, wait maybe back off the Hi… THERE. So it IS “plug-n-play” but it’s also “play-n-tweak” when you want to find all it can offer and make it complement your guitar in the best way possible. Oh, and the inputs are specially tailored for single coils (#1) and humbuckers (#2). One last thing on the tone… while it’s a dual EL84 amp, this is not an amp that “sits in the Vox camp”. I told Todd after I got it that if blindly asked, I’d have absolutely no idea what kind of power tubes this amp uses. It’s really just it’s own sound. As a young Elvis once famously said when asked who his music sounded like: “I don’t sound like nobody.”
A few weeks after I received the head I decided to order a matching cab for it. I have other cabs that work just fine, so I’ll fully admit I only got the cab because the pair together look absolutely smashing. The stained cherry is really something to behold, especially in person. I got it unloaded and put in a Gold and Cream Alnico. When I told Todd this, he was a bit worried that the higher wattage speakers may be a little much for the 20w amp, but the well broken in pair work great. He recommends a pair of Blues, but I wanted to be able to use the cab with my other heads, one of which is a 60w Jim Kelley. Oh, and both the head and cab come with very nice padded covers and are shipped in custom foam cutouts in perfectly fitted boxes.
That’s about all I can think of to say about the amp. There is just a small amount of info on TGP about these, and since I’ve now spent some quality time with it I wanted to share my thoughts. There are a fair amount of YouTube videos out there, but to hear a wide variety of classic 50-60’s Fenders and Gibsons being played through them by masters, check out the Songbirds Foundation’s page: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsh5bV62lXgx3oGJ1CoUycg/videos I think it says a lot that a guitar museum that has ’59 Bursts, ’51 Teles, etc chose the JOAT 20 to be their house amp. I guess it’s now my “house amp”, too.