History of the Roland JC-120 Amp

“I’d rather chew glass than play through a solid state amp.” This from a hardcore guitarist who was clearly committed to his tube amplifier.

When I was first touring, the state of the art of a sound system was not like it is today. Those systems were more of a sound reinforcement system, that is to say, they tried to get the vocals on top of the backline. And the backline generally had to have enough power to punch through all the stage noise.

I bought a Roland JC-120 way back then. Likely 1975 I think. Whenever it was first introduced. Sold it some years later.

Big brute. Two 12-inch speakers. 120 Watts of solid state power.

It was loud. And clean. No such thing as edge-of-breakup tone on this amp.

The band I played in back then was pretty successful but alas existed before the Internet. Which means it was pretty invisible today. I can’t find any shots of the rig I used back then. It would have looked something like this:

I do remember that I only had a few pedals on that tour. An MXR Distortion+, an MXR Flanger, a Cry Baby wah. I think we tuned to the piano as we also toured with a horn section. I guess I was primarily focused on playing clean with this amp.

Sweetwater posted a story on the history of the JC-120 which you can find over here.

The unique character of the amp, aside from its clean tone, was the built in chorus. Roland used the chorus circuit from that amp to launch the first chorus pedal and the first BOSS pedal ever made, the CE-1 Chorus Ensemble. That was in 1976. Here is what that chorus pedal looked like:

If you have $1,500 or so to spend, you can find these pedals used on Reverb. A vintage Roland JC-120 can be found for much less money. Not as portable though.

Reunited

What one thing has travelled with you for most of your life? For me it is a guitar.

I don’t remember all of the details around when I first brought the guitar home. Steve Kirman, of Steve’s Music in Montreal, sold me the guitar. I was young. It was my first big purchase and my first good acoustic guitar.

When I retired, downsized and began travelling in 2018, I left that guitar with my oldest son. Our travels were interrupted by the pandemic and we are no longer travelling as much. Now that we have a new place in Canada, my guitar could come back home.

I named the guitar “Elizabeth”. Not sure why. It just seemed to be a thing back then, naming guitars.

I checked the serial number to date the guitar and here is what I found:

With the serial number 97313, the guitar was built in 1974 — 48 years ago. I was 16 years old as I purchased it just before my 17th birthday. It is one of the very few possessions that has been with me throughout my life.

It has a few bumps and dings. One year I had left it in the trunk of my car. There was so much heat that the glue holding the bridge gave way. A bit of an expensive repair back then.

The Guild D40 is still in production. As I appear to be for the moment.

I took it out of the case and strummed a few chords. Still sounds great after all those years. And it brought back so many memories. Welcome home old friend.

New Guitar Days are the Best Days

Too many guitars? Impossible. That’s like saying too many pieces of art. There is always room for one more.

Well, no, I do not need any more guitars. Except the one that is getting picked up today.

I am blessed with a wonderful collection of guitars that I have built up over almost 50 years of playing. And I hope to continue playing for many more years.

I will be serving in Florida for a few months at the end of this year and I do not want to use any of my existing guitars. For better or worse they are either too valuable or too cherished for out of country gigs.

I’m picking up a PRS S2 Vela. It is not a student level guitar nor a premium high-end guitar. Something in the middle. A good value for the money type of guitar of which there are many choices in that price band.

If it gets damaged or stolen, I won’t be too upset as it would be easily replaced.

I may keep it or I might sell it once I get back to Canada.

My first offset guitar and certainly a unique tone stack. Looking forward to playing it later today.

What The Cool Kids Play

Fender. A brand that dominates the global guitar marketplace. That market for guitars is estimated to be somewhere around $4 Billion. Fender is a private company so it is a bit of a mystery in terms of their financial performance. But they have been around since 1946. They own and license the following brands: Fender, Squier, Gretsch, Jackson, EVH, Charvel, Bigsby, Guild, Sunn Amps, SWR, Tacoma, Kaman and Presonus.

Andy Mooney has been the CEO of Fender since 2015. He came from Disney Consumer Products.

Servco Pacific is the majority owner of Fender.

Which is really a bit odd.

Servco’s business areas include automotive distribution, automotive retail and, er, guitars. The company is headquartered in Hawaii (which must be nice) and became involved with Fender as a dealer of its products in the 1950s.

They were part of the investor group that bought Fender back from CBS back in 1985. From literally a two-car garage operation in 1919 to a multi-billion dollar business in 2022, Servco is one of those businesses that few know and owns arguably one of the most recognizable brands in the music industry.

Anyway, all that to say this: Fender seems to be the guitar for the new bands coming up. At Coachella this year, most of the lineups were playing Fender.

And offset guitars, like the Jazzmaster pictured above, seemed especially prominent.

Way back when I first started, Gibson and Fender were the brands to own.

You remember Gibson guitars, right?

Classic Rock Solos

My touring rig pictured above. Yes. I used to go around with a massive 4×12 Mesa Boogie monster. Nothing quite like the feel of all that sound smashing against the body at high volume.

My bandmates might disagree though. That rig was so, so loud.

I generally spend a few hours a day on guitar. Over the past few years I was spending that time on prepping for performance which included learning parts and memorizing parts.

That part of my playing is temporarily on hold which provides an opportunity to have some fun learning, or re-learning, classic rock guitar solos.

I’ve built a list of 50 classic rock guitar solos and I am working through them one by one.

Curious to know where I started?

It is the song that cannot be played. Especially in guitar shops. However, it is a great classic rock solo and it was one of the first I learned when the song was released in 1971.

I love this live performance of the song as it was an amazing tribute to the original:

The tough part about learning solos like the one in Stairway to Heaven way back in the 70s? I had to figure it out by ear. I made a copy of the song on cassette tape and had to manually hit play and reverse to pick out the notes. Back then, I had it fairly close. But when I went to relearn it this week, I did miss a few notes here and there.

Fast forward to today and it is so easy, relatively speaking, to learn these songs. There are numerous note-by-note transcriptions like this one:

There are literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of video walkthroughs like this one:

Sean was kind enough to include a half-speed version:

And a backing track for whenever you get the fingering and the speed down:

Granted, I use the YouTube player feature to slow things down. Shift plus comma to reduce playback speed, Shift plus period to speed things up. And YouTube is kind enough to maintain pitch when changing playback speed. Perfect for musicians.

I can’t imagine the amount of time it used to take me to learn parts before the web. One benefit, I suppose, is that I really learned how to listen to music and pick out the notes which, more often than not, were buried in with all of the musical elements.

How is it going with this solo?

Pretty good. I hadn’t played it for over 40 years or so. A few of the riffs had never left my fingers.

Surprising that was.

Wired

Wires and connectors. The fundamental elements to connect the pedals together. Often overlooked in terms of the overall cost of building out a new pedalboard.

I worked with Bruno at Tone Design. He was so helpful and he spent several hours with me over the month or so that it took to build out the pedalboard. If you are doing a major pedalboard build I would highly recommend Tone Design.

We looked over what would be needed for the board and the pedals and then I ordered the following items:

  • 30 SPS5 1/4 TS Black Connectors
  • 25 SP500 1/4 TS Right Angle Black Connectors
  • 8 Lightbulb 1/4 TRS Black Connectors
  • 4 Minicake 1/4 TRS Right Angle Black Connectors
  • 50 feet of Mogami 2319 Cable – for TS Connectors
  • 20 feet of Mogami 2528 Cable – for TRS Connectors
  • 84 inches of Dual Lock 250/400 Black

The cost to wire up the pedalboard? $620.63

It wasn’t the only cost. I needed the tools to do all of the soldering. Here is a photo of my soldering workstation with the wires and connectors ready to go:

To make all of the cables for the pedalboard took me a week. Yes. One full week to solder and build the cables.

I needed the following tools to make it happen:

  • Klein 5-inch Lightweight Flush Cutter
  • Eclipse 30-20 AWG Wire Stripper
  • Irwin 10-20 AWG Wire Stripper
  • Weller Bench Top Smoke Absorber
  • Weller Soldering Station
  • Solder
  • Vise

Those tools cost me $376.27 and there would not have been a practical way to do a job this large without them.

Let’s add things up shall we?

Pedals: $6,187.96

Pedalboard and Looper: $1,955.03

Wires, Connectors, Tools: $996.90

Total for this pedalboard build: $9,139.89

Easy enough to think about pedals as a secondary component of the electric guitar sound, particularly in Praise and Worship. Until you start building out pedalboards. And then it hits you. Pedalboards can easily cost more money than a high-end guitar.

Pedals on the Pedalboard

How many pedals? How much money?

Whenever I watch pedalboard tours, like this one by David Hislop, it is easy enough to answer the first question.

But what about the second question? How much does it cost to put together a pedalboard like that one? Or, for that matter, the pedalboards we often see being used by local praise and worship guitar players?

Fret no more if you have wandered by this post. I will share the pedals from my latest pedalboard build and the cost of those pedals. Where I used pedals that I already owned, I marked them as “Old” and listed the replacement cost.

All in Canadian dollars. All with taxes and shipping charges (if applicable).

Ready?

Here goes:

Those costs do not include the pedalboard, the looper/switcher, the wiring and connectors.

Can you really spend $8,000 – 10,000 on a pedalboard build?

Yup.

I’ll detail the wiring and connectors in another post but for now it is easy enough to understand the appeal of products like the Line 6 Helix Floor and the HX Stomp. You get a lot of mileage for the money with those products.

You have to be really committed to the craft to invest this heavily into the gear.

I have a fly rig with an HX stomp, tuner, overdrive, power supply and pedalboard. Even that rig is close to $1,500 all in.

Pedalboards and pedals are amazing tone machines.

They are also very expensive to build.

The Mastermind Drama

I’ve never had so much drama with a pedal purchase. But here is the story.

When we last left our discussion about the new pedalboard build, we got as far as me buying the new board which was the Creation Music Elevation V2 24×16 along with a case and AC module. Perfect. Love the board.

I wanted a new control hub for the pedalboard. A smart looper with MIDI control capabilities. It did not take long for me to narrow the choice down to the RJM Mastermind PBC/6X.

Being a Canadian does pose its challenges particularly with respect to getting guitar gear. Invariably the products are not readily available or we have to be prepared for delays or additional costs when bringing product across the border. In this case, RJM does not even sell direct. However, they did identify two dealers in Canada.

Unfortunately, I contacted the wrong one: Nice Rack.

It started innocently enough with this online form submission to the dealer in Ontario:

I understand that you act as a dealer for RJM and I would like to purchase a Mastermind PBC/6X. Could you let me know if you have product availability and if you can ship to my address?

To which I received this response:

Yes, we are RJM Music dealers and we can ship a Mastermind PBC/6X to you. The cost including shipping is $1,148.87 CAD total. To proceed with this purchase, please remit payment and provide your shipping address.

And so I proceeded with the order. I was told to expect delivery within two weeks. Simple right?

I kept expecting to receive a tracking number from this dealer and time passed. Slowly it seemed. If you are into guitars and guitar pedals, you will know what I mean. When you are waiting for new gear to arrive, it can never arrive quickly enough.

A week after I paid for the unit I received an update from this dealer.

We were just informed that RJM Music had to increase the price of the PBC/6X to $1,099.00 CAD. Unfortunately, we are required to adjust your invoice, resulting in a balance due of $113.00 ($100+HST).

My reply:

Hmmm… the order was quoted and placed on the 9th and now, on the 17th, a week later, the price has gone up AFTER I paid for it? Does that seem right to you?

Their response:

That’s the news we received yesterday, sorry. Parts are becoming more difficult to source and pricing has increased. 

My reply:

Well, I think it is inappropriate. I’ll pay it but it doesn’t seem right to me that I was quoted one price, paid for it, told that it would be here within 14 days and now, a week later, I have to pay an extra hundred. Has the unit been shipped?

At that point, we had a discussion with the dealer. They did not have a tracking number. Nor did they have an expected delivery date. They told me that they did not know when I would receive the Mastermind.

Here I was, out a grand or so, without any indication as to when I might receive the product.

I called another dealer. Not only did they have the unit in stock and ready to go, but at the original price I had been quoted. I received amazing service from them and I did more business with them which I will cover in a later post.

When we called Nice Rack to cancel the order and refund our money, there were fireworks. The person on the phone was ANGRY.

I’ve not had such a bizarre incident over a guitar pedal. Ever.

That said, I received the refund from the original dealer. And I had an awesome experience with Tone Design and I would highly recommend them if you are doing a major pedalboard build.

Let’s add up the costs so far shall we?

Creation Music pedalboard: $802.44
Mastermind PBC/6X: $1,152.59

We have spent $1,955.03 on a pedalboard build. Just the beginning though.

Next up: wiring and connectors.