|JHS 3 SERIES FAMILY
I am a big fan of Josh and his Kansas City based pedal company, JHS. His gadgets utilize high quality construction that rivals other boutique manufacturers and his YouTube videos are famous for A-B comparisons and demonstrations of vintage effects.
Most electronic commodities (resisters, capacitors, components) come from Asian manufacturing sources but as much as possible the JHS pedals are made in the USA by a small group of dedicated builders. In a world of robotic construction JHS builds pedals using real humans. Josh has even collaborated with Boss on a unique distortion model that includes a classic JHS distortion effect.
JHS is at the forefront of progressive boutique pedal builders. Their products literally speak for themselves.
What's so special about the "3 Series" from JHS?
All seven of the included models have the same controls (three knobs, one toggle switch and a Footswitch on-off, they're all painted the same color, there are no pictures of octopus or futuristic female warriors on any of the packaging.
Perhaps most important is the price, all seven of the models are priced at $99 each. That is a long way from the $199-$449+ prices charged by other boutique builders. The "street" price of the 3 Series is quite a bit below the boutique prices JHS sells other pedals for.
Is the 3-Series less quality? What corners were cut to hit this price point? Lets take a look.
The 3-Series is comprised of seven different pedal models, three are distortion, one chorus, one delay, one compressor and one reverb.
These pedals all use the same cast aluminum enclosure which is painted with a matte finish in white. It's a solid metal box that evokes the feel of an MXR product from the 70's, quality feel in your hand. The 3-Series pedals are ready for artistic players to grab a brush and some acrylic paint in a variety of colors, and personalize your S-3 with artwork like no other. That white matte finish is just begging for original art.
The control layout is the same on every pedal with all the components feeling strong and solid, no flappy or wobbly pots. The toggle switch has a positive feel, the Footswitch rivals my most expensive Fulltone pedals delivering quiet positive switching you can depend on.
All of the pedals have a standard 9-volt external supply input jack that conforms to the industry standard polarity (inner/minus, outer/positive). JHS lists the current draw in milliamperes for each of the pedals but none are over 100ma which means any one these S-3 pedals can run on some of the lowest power DC power supply outlets available.
The input jack is on the right side, the output jack is on the left side, they all process audio in mono, just like your guitar output.
I bought the three distortion pedals first so I'll start there.
Distortion, Fuzz and Overdrive are the names assigned to the 3-Series effects meant to muck up your harmonics and beyond. With these three pedals you can go from pushed clean to crunch to deep buzz.
For my testing I used a variety of amplifiers by Marshall, EVH and Boogie.
All distortion pedals react differently depending on what amplifier you plug them into. Is the speaker cabinet open or closed back, is the amp clean or dirty sounding on its own and even the order of the pedals can dramatically affect the tonal response of almost every pedal. This is perhaps even more important with distortion effects that rely on vintage circuit designs, those that use germanium transistors come to mind with their specialized polarity requirements. With all that said I tried these JHS pedals with a variety of amps and speakers to find the best setup.
1. JHS 3-SERIES OVERDRIVE (12ma current consumption)
I expected this pedal to do the Tube Screamer effect pretty well (and it does) but it goes beyond the limitations of the typical TS-style effect. The JHS 3-Series Overdrive has more of everything available if you want it. More grind, more boost, more output level and more controls than my vintage Maxon Tube Screamer has. You can use the 3-S Overdrive to push another distortion farther into mayhem or use the Overdrive by itself to replicate a crunchy overdriven amp.
I really liked the 3-S Overdrive connected to either of my Marshall Origin amplifiers. These amps don't have the buzzy inbuilt distortion effect found in many Marshall models. The 3-S Overdrive gave my Origin combo the crunch the stock model is missing. Using the Origin head into a 4x12 Marshall cabinet filled with Celestion V30 speakers sounded great and it provided me with the missing crunch I was wishing for.
2. JHS 3-SERIES FUZZ (9ma current consumption)
The 3-S Fuzz pedal can deliver a bunch of buzzy sustain and depending on the amplifier/speaker setup it can be annoying or awesome. This pedal was amazing through a Marshall 4x12 speaker cabinet. If you have somewhere to crank it up loud then get ready for some serious Black Sabbath tones. This pedal needs room to breathe, you can't plug this into an IR or direct box and expect pleasing tones. This pedal thrives on interacting with the high-impedance input on a tube guitar amp and pushing things to the limits.
The 3-S Fuzz is a bit more specialized and limited than the Overdrive model but if classic 1969 Fuzz is what you crave and your funds are limited then the JHS 3-S has plenty to offer for a bargain price.
3. JHS 3-SERIES DISTORTION (9ma current consumption)
This pedal lives up to it's name, it's a box of distortion tones. This pedal sounded really good with a clean Marshall head into a 4x12 speaker cabinet. The tone of my older TSL100 in clean mode is really fat and a great blues tone but I detest the inbuilt distortion effects in this head. The JHS 3-S Distortion pedal provided my old TSL with a great singing distortion effect. Power chords sounded fat and there were lots of sonic colors on tap, from mild to wild.
4. JHS 3-SERIES COMPRESSOR (8ma current consumption)
I'm not a big fan of compressor pedals. In my studio I have nine rack mount 1176 compressors and I tend to use those to control dynamics. I've tried countless different compressor pedals, many with wet-dry blend controls, some simple two knob models and more complex pieces with 7-knobs and several switches.
The JHS 3-S Compressor pedal provides a very useful compression effect for an incredible price. I started out using it on my Marshall Origin combo which has 20 watts of power and a Celestion 10" speaker in an open back enclosure. The 3-S compressor adds an interesting attack to the notes and the compression does a good job of keeping level consistent and adding sustain. I like natural tube-amp compression the best but the 3-S compressor was interesting enough to earn a place on my big studio pedal board. I don't leave it on all the time and I rarely use it with distortion effects but it adds a beauty and distinctive tone to my clean sounds whether I'm playing the Strat, Les Paul, SG or Variax guitars.
The 3-S Compressor pedal is capable of making my Les Paul Special sound like a big beautiful George Benson jazz tone. I love how consistent the level is playing single note leads through the 3-S Compressor.
5. JHS 3-SERIES CHORUS (70ma current consumption )
The JHS 3-S Chorus pedal delivers what the name implies, it's a Chorus pedal. I love chorus pedals and have about 20 in my current inventory. I don't use Chorus very much but I'm very particular about the effect when I do use it. For comparison I used an original 70's Boss CE-2. The JHS 3-S Chorus is capable of the subtle swishing of the CE-2 but it can do a much more pronounced chorus effect as well.
The three knobs and two switches provide a wide variety of Chorus effects which includes a univibe sort of effect as well as the classic heavy chorus tone made famous by artists like Alex Lifeson in Rush. If you need a chorus pedal the JHS 3-Series Chorus does not disappoint.
6. JHS 3-SERIES DELAY (71ma current consumption)
I love delay and echo pedals. The JHS 3-Series Delay is capable of fairly long echos and would be perfect for someone who just wants a tiny bit of delay to feed into a reverb before hitting the amp.
Like all the 3-Series there is only one Footswitch which turns the effect on or off, there is no tap tempo light so you must set the delay time by ear. JHS does not reveal the technology in use here but I suspect it is digital delay which is not a bad thing. I like the clarity of a digital delay and find it more useful than the distorted and sometimes muffled sounds from analog (bucket brigade) style delay pedals.
For a pedal priced at under $100 the JHS 3-S Delay is a no-brainer and a winner.
7. JHS 3-SERIES REVERB (74ma current consumption)
I saved the best for last. I'm a reverb fanatic, there are literally hundreds of ways for me to generate reverb in my studio with over 30 pedal based reverbs to choose from. I am currently experimenting with a string of eight reverb pedals on my big pedalboard (I rarely have more than one ON at a time). The JHS 3-S Reverb is getting a lot of use in my recent compositions.
The 3-S Reverb provides a nice clear reverberation effect with plenty of sustain available. An overall level control makes it easy to fit the 3-S Reverb into your songs. It's a mono pedal but comparing to other pedals in mono, nobody will know it's not a $500 Eventide or $450 Strymon creating the tones.
The 3-S Reverb sounds are big and bold, crisp and clear. They sound great with my Variax playing acoustic models. They sound great in the effects loop of my EVH 5150 II EL34 head. The 3-S Reverb compliments my Origin 20-watt combo very nicely when used in the switchable effects loop of the amp.
This pedal produces reverb effects that are indistinguishable from much higher priced models and it reveals the incredible value JHS has delivered with the 3-Series in general.
If I was touring I'd use my Kemper rack and preprogram all my effects for the show but for regular creative noodling around the studio I like effects with realtime front panel knobs that reveal their settings by how they are physically positioned. I rarely crave a preset tone, instead I like to reach for the knobs and tweak whatever I'm playing to match how I feel at any given moment.
For someone just getting into pedals, a collection of 3-Series delivers great world class effects. For a versatile pedalboard that can address a wide variety of tonal flavors buying the collection of all seven of the 3-Series pedals makes a lot of sense. I predict as the supply chain gets filled up you'll see deal prices on the pack of seven pedals, probably with short connecting cables included.
These pedals beg to be included in "deals" because they are high in performance and low in price. For wild distortion you could buy both the fuzz and distortion JHS 3 Series for less than a single distortion pedal from another boutique manufacturer.
ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS
Is the 3-Series lower quality?
No way, these pedals are premium quality all the way. Low in noise, high in performance, excellent control features, build quality is up there with the best, there is nothing low quality that I can detect.
What corners were cut for the 3-Series to hit this price point?
Some people might be critical about the minimalist paint job. I like it, there is no mistaking a 3-series for something else. The paint job may be plain but there is nothing plain about the sounds these pedals make. These enclosures are begging for original artwork by the artists using them.
As far as the controls go, they are solidly mounted and feel as good as any pedal I've got. The input and output jacks work well with all my cords. The power supply inlet is in the right spot.
These pedals tick all the boxes great effects need. This makes it tough to think of any changes that wouldn't require massive reengineering. Success in the market place will determine where the 3-Series goes in the future. It's an ambitious undertaking to create a bargain product line, I think JHS did a great job.
Good music to everyone!