For years, jazz guitarists like John and Bucky Pizzarelli and Sheryl Bailey have relied on JazzKat amplifiers to reinforce the swift lines and complex chords they play on their electric archtop guitars, and no less a stickler for sound than the late Les Paul swore by the JazzKat he used at a weekly gig at the Iridium, a jazz club in New York. But these workhorse amps are designed with maximum versatility in mind. I checked out the TomKat, a ten-inch combo, and found it to be a resonant contender when it comes to steel-string amplification.
The TomKat is a whole lot of amp in a small and lightweight package. It measures 15 inches by 15 by nine and is only 16 pounds. Overall the amp seems rugged and roadworthy, though its handle feels a little insubstantial, as do the mini toggle switches for the Master Phase and Tweeter controls and for switching the assignment of the built-in effects between the two channels. Each of the channels includes a gain control and five-band EQ. Channel 1 has a standard quarter-inch instrument input, while Channel 2’s input will accept either a quarter-inch plug or an XLR. This means you can plug a guitar into Channel 1 and a microphone into Channel 2, making the amp a mini PA system. Channel 1 has a cool feature: a single 12AX7 tube that can be switched on or off, giving the user the benefit of getting both a solid-state and tube sounds in one convenient package. The amp doesn’t include a footswitch for switching between the channels, or a jack for connecting an aftermarket accessory, but plenty of players will not miss this feature.
I tested the TomKat using both a Martin OM-28E and a Gibson Historic ES-335. With the EQ controls set flat, I plugged the Martin into Channel 1 and straight away was impressed by the amp’s warmth and power. At 200 watts RMS, it’s more than robust enough to fill a medium-size club and cut through drums and bass for ensemble playing, and it’s relatively noiseless to boot. The EQ controls have fairly wide sweeps, and the tweeter can be switched to Hi, Low, or Off, meaning that the amp can be easily optimized for any guitar electronics system.
Though tube amps are associated with electric guitar more than acoustic, engaging the 12AX7 lends character and sponginess to an acoustic’s sound, and the Drive control allows for varying levels of tube sound. The amp’s 16 digital effects—covering different reverb and chorus types, adjustable only in terms of level—are the least impressive aspects of its sound. They’re for the most part pedestrian, and the 16-position rotary switch precludes a clear labeling of the effects on the control panel. Luckily, for those players who like to get deep into signal processing, the amp has an effects loop.
Keeping the tube on, I plugged in the ES-335. An old blackface Fender Princeton the TomKat is not, but the amp does bring out the woodiness in this semi-hollow guitar, and it pairs nicely with a Boss overdrive pedal. It’s rare to get satisfying sounds from two instruments as dissimilar as an OM and a thinline electric from the same amp.
JazzKat’s TomKat has long been a favorite of jazz guitarists, but now that the cat’s out of the bag, it should earn its devotees in the steel-string world, especially those who also play electric. And, being so small yet so powerful, it’s a gigging player’s dream.
- 200 watts RMS
- Two input channels with five-band EQs
- One 12AX7 tube with Drive control (Channel 1) external speaker out
- Headphone jack
- Ten-inch Eminence speaker and one-inch dome tweeter
- 120/140 volts
- Effects loop
- 1.5 lbs. 6.25 x 4 x 1.75 inches
- $1,499 list/$1,099 street
- Made in USA