Roland Jazz Chorus, the most iconic solid state guitar amplifier ever
The Roland Jazz Chorus amplifier was released in 1975 and very quickly became an integral piece in many artists guitar tones. Before this amp, chorus did not exist as a standalone effect. The iconic tone of this amp’s chorus circuit was put into a pedal, which was the CE1 Chorus Ensemble which was the first ever Boss pedal. The list of artists and hit songs that the Jazz Chorus has contributed its tone to is endless.
I personally love these amplifiers. When someone plugs into one instore and the chorus is turned on, they instantly know the sound. Several of the Jazz Chorus amps I have sold have gone to customers that specifically wanted a valve amp, but after having a play through one they realize that the Jazz Chorus is an exception to the traditionalist who will only ever play through a tubes.
We asked a few questions to Roland about the Jazz Chorus and the team.
How did the idea come about to start developing the Jazz Chorus in a time that was dominated by valve amplifiers?
Roland always try to look to the future rather than the past, and the development of the JC-120 was no different. We wanted to create an amplifier using a solid-state platform that was great sounding but also stable, not susceptible to changes in temperature, variability of vacuum tubes, and required less maintenance. This continues to be our philosophy to this very day!
Jazz Chorus range 1977 Roland catalogue
Having the word “Jazz” in the name, was this amp initially aimed towards Jazz musicians?
The Jazz Chorus may have initially been aimed towards jazz players due to its clear, strident cleans, but of course it has come to be loved by many players in almost every genre, for example Metallica, Andy Summers, Robert Smith and many more.
What have been the standout moments in the development, production and history of the Jazz Chorus amplifiers?
The original JC-120 obviously was a landmark moment, both due to its own merits as an iconic amplifier but also its role in inspiring the first standalone chorus pedal, the CE-1, and from then living on in the CE-2 compact chorus, and so on.
The modern JC-40 is a new milestone in JC amps – with true stereo inputs as well as stereo loop, it’s the complete package for those who NEED their guitar sound in three dimensional wide stereo. It’s also equipped with modern updates like speaker emulated direct recording outputs, and with its compact size it may be the perfect grab and go for that style of player!
Jazz Chorus range 1979 Roland catalogue
Are there any development pieces or prototypes of the amp’s in the Roland Museum?
The Roland Museum houses the many different iterations and variations of the JC platform over the years, but in general the displays are finalized production units.
How did Roland manage to get the Jazz Chorus amplifier into professional hands so quickly?
The JC-120 appeared in the mid-1970s, at a time when jazz fusion was very popular. Bands like Weather Report, Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra were combining jazz with rock and synthesizers to create wildly original and adventurous new music, and the JC was the perfect amp for that movement.
Later on in the 80s, after the punk and 70s rock era, bands like Joy Division, New Order, The Cure, The Smiths and Australia’s The Birthday Party were reshaping the classic guitar/bass/drums/vocal band form into something more introverted and stripped back than the guitar music of the previous decade. Johnny Marr says it really well here: “The Roland JC-120 was a brand-new innovation [at the time]. To use a Roland amp was very unusual and exciting and a lot of people did it. I got one as soon as I could afford one. That was a big part of my sound, you know, that clean, chorus-y sound. It’s not really a surprise that your gear dictates the way you play, and so I was fortunate.”
A few questions about the R&D Team
How many people are involved in the Roland R&D?
Roland R&D is split between many teams, of course. Guitar products, synthesizers, drums and so on. It’s hard to say the exact number but we can say is that our teams are much smaller than people expect, compared to the “size” of the brand name Roland.
How are the initial concepts formulated?
New concepts can start in many ways, whether it’s looking to the current trends to fulfil a need, or whether it’s looking to past innovations which perhaps were early for their time (TR-808 being a classic example) and then reworking them for a new generation or musicians. Or even just creating a completely new type of product and market that doesn’t yet exist, just because it has potential to inspire new forms of creativity.
How many seemingly great ideas never make it to production?
Probably quite a few! Every day our engineers are dreaming up new ways to create and inspire. We wish we could make every single thing that we imagine, but of course not all ideas can be progressed to the product stage.
Is development conducted with input from artists and end users?
We do consult with our most trusted artists and user communities during development. For example, during the development of Blues Cube we enlisted luminaries like Eric Johnson and Robben Ford, and for Waza Amp we involved the great Steve Vai. As you know, Waza Amp lead the way for the release of the BOSS Katana series of amplifiers, which are now a worldwide phenomenon.
Who is the longest serving person in product development?
Roland originated the Jazz Chorus, and while we will never change that iconic branding, these days BOSS is very much synonymous with our guitar products. Most people don’t know this, but president of BOSS, Yoshi Ikegami actually worked his way up from the factory floor back when Roland/BOSS was considered a “start-up” (imagine that!), to becoming the engineer behind legendary products like the SDE-3000 delay, all the way to the very top of the company, where he is still very much involved in product development to this day. This probably makes him one of the most experienced in product development in the company, and we feel very fortunate to have him at the helm!