Todd Sharp JOAT 20 Amplifier

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by scmavl, Apr 21, 2018.

  1. scmavl

    scmavl Enjoyer Silver Supporting Member

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    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.

     
  2. MattC

    MattC Member

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    Fantastic review. I’ve been intrigued by these amps ever since I saw Todd play a gig here in Cleveland (his original home town) a couple years ago. Someday I will take the plunge.
     
  3. dpark89

    dpark89 Member

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    That looks awesome! Would love to check one out in person some day. Since you also own a JK, how does it compare?
     
  4. scmavl

    scmavl Enjoyer Silver Supporting Member

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    They're really only alike in that neither sound like anything else. My Kelley is a Reverb head from 1980 and its beauty is in its simplicity. Even when changing guitars rarely do I change the Kelley's EQ, maybe just nudging the treble a hair one way or the other. The Kelley has a more hifi and "acoustic" clean tone than the Sharp, and can get MUCH brighter if needed. The Sharp has more thickness, even on the lowest Attitude setting. They're very different cleans, both excellent. But the Kelley will absolutely roar once you get it over 6. The Sharp gets nowhere near that gain level. But what it can do from 5-10 on the volume knob (and adjusting other settings) is what the Kelley does between 5-6. The Sharp has more nuances and many sweet spots, once you dial them in. The Kelley just keeps giving up the goods when you twist the volume knob. The reverbs are similar in that way, too. The Kelley goes from none, to a little, to a lot, to an outer space amount... and you're only at 5. The Sharp has so many more subtleties, and you can still get gobs of reverb but you can do so much more with it. Again, horses for courses, both are top shelf reverbs but the Sharp's is more refined. I'll just say I'm not selling either. Hope that helps!
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2018
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  5. manimal

    manimal Member

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    Amazing looking amp and very thorough description and review! Top notch builder and customer service huh!!
    And I have to ask, what’s up with that p90 guitar in the pic?!?!?! Wow!!!
     
  6. dpark89

    dpark89 Member

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    Thanks for the detailed answer! I find myself more drawn to amps with unique voicings and sounds like the JOAT is right up my alley.

    I generally prefer simple amps (also have a Jim Kelley Reverb Head, but a Suhr Reissue), but this one looks intriguing with the unique ways you can sculpt the sound. Very cool indeed! :aok
     
  7. scmavl

    scmavl Enjoyer Silver Supporting Member

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    Ha, thanks. Yes, the build level is really top notch and machine precise, while still looking handmade. The guitar is a Frank Brothers Arcade model. It's a recent acquisition and just blowing me away. It's got an arched top and back, although it's hard to see in the pic. Well thought out and unique design that's comfortable, easy to play, and most of all sounds great. Here a closer look at it.

     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2018
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  8. scmavl

    scmavl Enjoyer Silver Supporting Member

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    After I answered your question, I gave both amps a quick A/B. Vastly different, both fun, both great. If you have the space and the coin, I'm sure your Kelley would like a friend. ;)
     
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  9. GAT

    GAT Gold Supporting Member

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    Since JOAT doesn't have a master volume, how loud is it at ZZ Top La Grange volumes, which I consider medium dirt?
     
  10. scmavl

    scmavl Enjoyer Silver Supporting Member

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    The JOAT has a really great taper on the volume. With single coils it's clean at noon on the volume (with Attitude on the lowest setting). At that point it's loud, but not unbearably so. I can have it at 10 o'clock and not make my wife mad when she's in the next room (not the case with the Kelley). But to answer your question, turning the Attitude and Bite all the way up and using hot-ish pickups, you can do LaGrange at 11 o'clock, which is "won't bother the wife if she's on another floor" volume. Lower than club volume. Hope that helps, Gil!
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2018
  11. dpark89

    dpark89 Member

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    Wow. I just read up more about the amp and the overall design and approach, and color me impressed!

    Is the reverb and tremolo both footswitchable? I was looking to add a grab and go combo and the JOAT combo looks sweet. But I do wish it had reverb and the weight is more than I was hoping for a grab and go combo.

    I’ve been giving the Swart AST Pro some serious thoughts as I really dug it while I had one and it ticks all the boxes for me. But I’m very intrigued by the JOAT.
     
  12. GAT

    GAT Gold Supporting Member

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    So, does it have a master then?
     
  13. manimal

    manimal Member

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    Just checked out the page, what a different and crazy yet classic and smart design! Beautiful!
     
  14. scmavl

    scmavl Enjoyer Silver Supporting Member

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    My mistake, I meant the VOLUME knob. Edited. ;)
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2018
  15. J D Miley

    J D Miley Supporting Member

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    Hey any of you JOAT 20 RT owners give me a shout. I ordered a JOAT 20 & Cab, I am getting it to hopefully ween myself off my 1996 Matchless C30 , Been looking for something similar but less Midrangy . . a slightly thicker fatter tone . I was actually just about to go for one of the newer DR MAZ MK II as those have been re-voiced and improved a lot. Then i got wind of the Todd Harp amps.
     
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  16. Blueswede

    Blueswede Gold Supporting Member

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    Just placed an order for the 20 watt combo.....now the waiting begins.....
     
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  17. Colamander

    Colamander Member

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    If you don’t mind me asking - what’s the rough price for a head/cab?
     
  18. J D Miley

    J D Miley Supporting Member

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    You just missed out on his 15% sale . He had through July 7th. Todd was very nice to deal with. Patiently answered all my dumb questions .
     
  19. Blueswede

    Blueswede Gold Supporting Member

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    Yes...the sale is what pushed me to go ahead and place the order.
     
  20. davidespinosa

    davidespinosa Supporting Member

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