Adrian Belew is widely recognized as one of the world’s most innovative and creative guitarists. He is perhaps best known for his longtime membership in King Crimson, a group he worked with for nearly 30 years. Throughout his long career, Adrian has also released many solo albums that blend Beatles-inspired pop/rock with more experimental fare. “Beat Box Guitar,” from the 2004 album Side One, was nominated for a GRAMMY award for Best Instrumental Rock Performance. Adrian is also noted for his extensive contributions as a session and touring musician, most famously with Talking Heads, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Nine Inch Nails.
I first heard a JC-120 at a casual party in L.A. in 1977. Someone was playing some chords and noodling around—not very well in fact—but the sound mesmerized me. I had never heard an amp sound so pristine and beautiful. There was a shimmering clarity to every note. Then the player turned on the actual stereo chorusing. Wow! What an incredible sound. I nearly fell off my chair! I sat there speechless until I finally asked if I could play through it. Within the first two notes I played I was madly in love with the JC-120.
To me, the stereo chorusing and vibrato were the single most beautiful guitar sounds I’d ever heard an amp produce. And I loved the way it looked: cool, modern, and unique. I was in L.A. at the time rehearsing with Frank Zappa, my first big break in the music business. I told Frank about the amp, and the next day one showed up for us to investigate. Frank liked it enough to advance me the money to buy my first JC-120. I still have it comfortably ensconced in my studio. I still love it and still record with it. Oh, and speaking of recording with it, here’s a short list of some of the records I made with my first JC-120:
- Sheik Yerbouti with Frank Zappa
- Lodger with David Bowie
- Remain in Light with Talking Heads
- Discipline with King Crimson
And that list goes on and on…
In 1979, I made my first trip to Japan as guitarist for David Bowie’s Stage tour. I was given the opportunity to visit one of Roland’s research and development facilities. And there I met the founder of Roland, Mr. Kakehashi, an incredible inventor and a sweet dear man who liked to laugh. The next year, I went back to Japan with Talking Heads, and the year after that with King Crimson. Mr. Kakehashi came to all my shows, and he and I became good friends. At a King Crimson concert in Tokyo, he noticed my tendency to create wild feedback with the JC-120.
I would go back to the JC-120 and wave the guitar in front of it in different ways and it would make a crazy oscillating sound. This was caused by overloading the chorus effect with an Electro Harmonix Big Muff and EQ, then manipulating the chorus parameters. He loved that part of the show and afterwards he asked me, “Is it expensive to do that sound?” I said, “Cheap, if you already have a Roland Jazz Chorus amp”. He laughed and thought that was great. Whenever I saw him from then on he would remind me by imitating someone swinging a guitar around.
When I think of how much Mr. K’s ideas changed modern music (and indeed my music), I am truly amazed. The Roland Jazz Chorus JC-120 has made a huge mark on the music of the last four decades and continues to do so today. There is simply nothing else like it. In my opinion, it has to be considered in the pantheon of the top three amplifiers of all time.
— Adrian Belew