In my experience the acoustic qualities of most Thinline Telecasters are fairly understated. This one is certainly vibrant, more so in fact than most T-type solid bodies, but it’s no ES-335. What's more I've often wondered if some 1970s Thinlines were just a convenient way of producing useable guitars from implausibly heavy northern ash. At least the natural tone of the JA-90 is bright, precise and chimey, with the lively transients and shorter sustain typical of semi-solids.
Since Jim Adkins swears by an AC30 I thought I'd start by running the JA-90 though my Vox AC10. My first impression was that these pickups are well selected for 'creative contrast'. Their output levels balance out nicely, but they actually sound quite different.
The bridge unit is throaty, midrangey and aggressive. There's just enough of that P90 honk to remind you it's no humbucker, and you get a hint of chime through the treble. In clean mode it gives a fantastic rhythm sound because chord voicings come across clearly and there's lots of tonal contrast between playing near the bridge or near the neck.
Flipping over to the neck pickup provides an excellent alternative. Where the bridge is raw and edgy, the neck sounds sweet, smooth and impressively transparent. The semi-solid character is also far more apparent here, so it's ideal for jazzy chord-melody work and mellow, bluesy licks.
Since the two pickups are so different, the in-between setting provides another distinct tone. It's slightly more compressed and mid-scooped than the individual settings, but it's ideal for rockabilly and Chet styles with a hint of Gretsch Duo Jet thrown into the gumbo.
Like all true P90s these pickups will push most valve amps into distortion with ease, and this is where the bridge pickup comes into its own. It’s a fantastic punk rhythm sound with snarling low mids and a bite in the top end. Crank things further and the JA-90 can even dish out some metal-flavoured power chords and riffs.
Distortion exaggerates the differences between the pickups, really bringing out that singing, flute-like quality that I always look for in a neck P90. It's outstanding for blues soloing, and the sound remains clear and articulate thanks to an always discernable pick edge attack, though you might need a compressor or a decent overdrive if you’re looking for effortless sustain.
P90s will do the dirty for bottleneck so I simply couldn't resist dropping down to open D for a slide around. Every pickup combination worked a treat, and moving over to bare fingers and thumbs revealed just how touch-sensitive the JA-90 can be.
I can't escape a comparison with one of my favourite production Telecasters – the Squier Tele Custom II. Although it has a bolt-on maple neck, it has that all-black look and is loaded with a pair of Duncan Designed P90s. The Squier is rougher and more immediate, but the JA-90 has greater sophistication, offers more depth and variety of tone and also plays that bit better. Praise indeed – but then again it does cost over twice the price.