Award-Session JD10

Award-Session JD10

Award-Session's JD10 is not just an amp emulator. Whether you do indeed use it for direct recording or live playing through a PA system, or as a stompbox in front of a real amp to make use of its overdrive, distortion and EQ functions, Award-Session's flagship pedal has something to offer for everyone.


Left to right: Award-Session JD10mk2 and original Sessionmaster.

Primarily designed to function as a preamp, whether for direct studio recording or live performances (through a PA system), the JD10 was a God-send for many. Home-recordists in particular would sing the virtues of this little box, and gigging guitarists could tuck a JD10 away in their kit bag ready for those situations where a back up amp is needed... Or even use it in preference to an amp.

It was surely a compromise though, as a little pedal couldn't sound as good as a real amp, speaker and mic combination...

Could it?

If you approach the controls of a JD10 as if it were an amp, trusting your ears rather than setting the controls where you think you should, it will reward you with very authentic amplifier tones. You don't need to crank everything up to 10 to get the best out of it. In fact, if you do that you'll probably be very disappointed.

* * *

The first thing you'll notice about the JD10 in comparison to most modern stompboxes is its size; it is similar in proportion to two Boss pedals placed size by side. After that, you will see that the footswitch is the only top mounted control. All of the tone-shaping controls are on the front of the pedal enclosure, well out of the way of stray feet* - the base and sides of the casing protrude to offer some protection - with the audio connections and power input on the rear panel. Considering the current trend towards miniaturization, where many companies try to use the smallest cases possible for their pedals, this is all quite unusual.
* The front-mounted controls are also more comfortable for desktop use, which is how it would often be used in a studio.
Also noteworthy is that the audio input is on the left, with the output on the right. Again, these days that is somewhat unusual but, back when the JD10 was designed no-one was that bothered and it was by no means out of the ordinary. If anything, it follows in the tradition set out by the likes of Sola Sound/Colorsound and even the early Boss pedals.

The original JD10 pedals featured just a single input and output, whereas on later versions Award-Session added a buffered clean output (labelled as a tuner output) and later on a balanced XLR output was added (duplicating the main output). These additions meant that the easy access battery door*** of the original had to make way. Instead, if you wanted to use a battery to power your JD10, battery changes involved removing the four screws which hold the casing together.
*** I don't know how early on in production the battery door was added; I have seen original JD10s with and without it - I suspect it would have been added pretty soon after initial release in response to requests from customers.

The rear panel of a JD10mk2 - featuring the additional tuner and XLR outputs.

Never wanting to miss a marketing opportunity(!), Award-Session devised trademarked names for each element of the JD10. These include FlexiDrive distortion, G12T speaker simulation, Super-T Classic EQ and TrueTone bypass.

Looking at the controls from left to right, the first section is comprised of the FlexiDrive gain (Depth) control, which is followed by a push-switch to select 'Classic' or 'Rock' modes then, to the right of that is a second push-switch which engages the G12T speaker simulation.
'Classic' mode takes you from crystal clear clean tones up to medium gain (think classic rock levels of gain), whereas 'Rock' mode engages a gain boost circuit which picks up from where 'Classic' finishes and extends far beyond sensible levels of drive to insane amounts of distortion.

The FlexiDrive circuitry allows everything from clean to more gain than anyone
should ever need. Are you brave enough to hit the 'Rock' button?

The next section finds the treble, middle and bass controls that make up the Super-T Classic EQ; a passive EQ network inspired by that found in vintage amplifier designs but modified to allow for much more midrange boost. Being a passive EQ network, it is very powerful and highly interactive.

The final control on the front panel, on the far right, is the master level to set your overall volume. Lastly, the footswitch on top activates the pedal. Award-Session use a TrueTone bypass circuit: this is not true bypass (mechanical bypass) but it is a high quality buffered bypass, which Award-Session say is suitable for driving cables up to 100m long without any loss - which is something to remember for your next stadium gig!

Sessionmaster Compact JD10

While all versions of the JD10 were based on designs inspired by 'American 4x10" combos of the 50s and 60s' (Award-Session mention no names!), the original JD10 has a distinct British-ness about it.

jd10_original While I wouldn't say the JD10 can exactly mimic any trademark amplifier sounds, it can approximate certain traits of amps such as a Vox AC30TB or a Bluesbreaker quite well, but it's perhaps better to think of the JD10 as having its own unique voice. Or you could just think of it as an extension of your existing amp. That said, if you were to imagine a blend of Vox and early Marshall with a bit of Fender Bassman thrown in to the mix, you'd certainly be in the general sonic area for the overdrive that is produced.

Used as a stompbox in front of an amplifier and with careful balancing of the EQ controls, the JD10 can sound fairly transparent - especially in its lower gain range - where it will dirty up your amp without changing the voicing too much. This trait can be useful in many situations: perhaps you want a cranked up overdriven sound at home but aren't able to turn your amp up loud enough at home to achieve that (without annoying your neighbours), or you want to add a 'drive channel' to a single channel amp for more felxibility. The JD10 is perfect for such situations, providing natural overdrive or distortion to compliment your base tone.

The Classic mode of the JD10 is without any doubt its shining light. For on the edge overdrive to retro crunch (think Vox or early Marshall levels of distortion), this version of the JD10 is simply superb. It reacts so dynamically to pick attack, transitioning from clean to dirty and back again in a very pleasing, tube amp-like fashion - perfect for blues or classic rock tones.

I hate to resort to using the T-word there and I apologise for doing so, but it's the easiest way to convey in words just how responsive it is. This is what Award-Session mean when they talk about FlexiDrive.

Switching to Rock mode engages a massive distortion boost and a jump in volume in relation to the Classic mode. I recommend turning the gain almost all the way down before switching to Rock mode and then dialling in the amount of distortion you need from there. I think you'll be surprised at just how low on the dial you will set it - it very quickly gets over-saturated and compressed, and less natural or musical.

Whereas the JD10 Sessionmaster's Classic mode is something special, it loses much of its magic in Rock mode to the point where it almost becomes just another distortion pedal. That doesn't necessarily mean it is bad, just that the Classic mode is so good (and incidentally has enough distortion on tap for most uses).

Going back to the Classic mode, I haven't found many pedals that are better for low-to-mid gain, dynamic overdrive. Actually, it's all a matter of taste of course, but I can't think of a single pedal right now that I'd want to replace my original JD10 with.

The Sessionmaster Compact JD10: classic rock in a box.

JD10mkII - Direct Recording Guitar Amp Emulator

The JD10mk2 - with revised circuitry and additional tuner and XLR outputs.

The revised version of the JD10 is a very different animal; tweaks to the circuit mean it has transformed and developed an American accent. Tweed, anyone?

While it somehow manages to sound more aggressive or modern than the original version, the JD10mk2 is arguably closer to the original 'American 4x10" combos of the 50s and 60s' design concept. The circuit revisions were in part implemented to create a version of the JD10 that would work better when used as a dirt pedal in front of an amplifier (some users felt the original could be a little too bright with certain amps).

Unfortunately, the Classic mode suffers slightly in comparison to the original JD10. Still more than capable of a nice vintage overdrive, the gorgeously smooth clean-to-dirty transition of the earlier JD10 has been compromised. The transition is a little grittier and harder to control. Although, truth be told, it is not unlike the response from a tweed amp so for that reason it's difficult - and maybe even a little harsh - to criticise the Mk2 in this regard.

Whereas the original JD10 had a strong top end (it's not harsh, but has a chime and presence), the Mk2 lacks the same clarity and allows for more in the way of high frequency attenuation - it can even sound dark. Instead, there is a strong, throaty midrange reminiscent of tweed Fenders. This can be dialled out but fine adjustment of the mid control is required; it goes from heavily scooped through flat and on to boosted midrange in the first quarter of the control's range. It's not really a problem and isn't difficult to use: just trust your ears and set the controls where they sound right.

The Rock mode of the Mk2 is much more successful than that of its predecessor; it still over-saturates if you turn the gain up too high, but is comfortably capable of challenging an EHX Big Muff if you want a high gain, fuzzy distortion. With the 3-band EQ network you can scoop out the mids if you desire for that fuzz tone, dial them in for a big sound that won't disappear in a mix, or beef them up for a gnarly, aggressive, exploding tweed amp style of drive.

The Mk2's overdrive/distortion has a loose, raggedness about it which may not work well for all styles of playing. Palm mutes on the low strings for example lack the tightness and definition of the original JD10, instead sharing qualities with the way some fuzzes may sound a little splatty.

While I consider the original JD10 to have a Brit-tinged, classic rock voice, being at its best in its mid-gain-crunch range, the Mk2 excels when set very clean, or for mid-to-high gain distortion. The clean settings of the Mk2 work extremely well where you may need an extra set of EQ controls, while I find myself using the mid-to-high gain region where I may want a fuzz tone.

G12T Speaker Simulation

The weakest feature of the JD10 is, in my opinion, the G12T speaker simulation. It is by no means bad, but having used various direct recording devices over the last 15-20 years, I have found much better solutions elsewhere.

The G12T feature is perfectly usable of course, but I'd say it has a very specific speaker sound that not everyone will like. For several years, my own choice for a compact, direct recording set up was a JD10 paired with a Palmer PDI-09. The PDI-09 is a small speaker simulator/DI box with 3 presets - mellow (dark), normal and bright - that doesn't really model any particular speaker, it just sounds quite generic but right.

With the way computer based recording has taken over, there is an almost endless selection of guitar amp emulators and speaker simulators to choose from - there are some very good free plugins as well as some impressive, more costly options.

While I mostly record the old-fashioned way, placing a mic or two in front of an actual speaker, I often take an extra, direct feed from the amp and process it using software such as Native Instruments Guitar Rig or Kazrog's Recabinet to provide the speaker cabinet colouration.

I use the same method with the JD10 too - leave the G12T turned off and use a plugin instead. It's a perfect combination: the excellent tones and response of the JD10 paired with superb cabinet emulation, with practically any speaker type or size I'd ever want.

Both versions of the JD10 are of excellent quality and it's such a shame that Award-Session felt compelled to end production of them. They won't get any criticism from me though as, from a business perspective I completely understand why they took that decision.

The market has changed so much since the JD10 was introduced to the point where the effect pedal market is so congested (from budget to boutique prices, with many high quality budget or lower-priced pedals now available), and guitar recording technology has advanced so far (to the point where so many people are happy to use digital modelling - whether that is a standalone unit or plugins). There is now so much competition that it became increasingly difficult to compete on various levels.

The good news is that the JD10 is still fairly common on the second hand market, and while they do occasionally fetch a high price, there are often bargains to be had. And, if you have any need for a guitar preamp, overdrive or distortion effect, or think your amp could use an extra set of EQ controls, you should at least try a JD10 at some point.

When used as a guitar effect pedal for overdrive or distortion, I really do prefer the original version. While it can at first appear like it is too bright sounding, even with the treble control rolled all the way down, you'll soon find that the EQ controls are so interactive that this brightness can be tamed - turning up the midrange for instance has the side-effect of darkening the tone somewhat. It is an exceptional pedal for classic, mid-to-high gain distortion - for anything from classic rock and blues to punk and modern guitar music.

The updated Mk2 version is still a fine pedal in its own right, but is perhaps a little more ragged in its approach to distortion making it better suited to more aggressive, fuzzy guitar playing.

If I were to conjure up the perfect overdriven tone in my mind, I am sure I could quickly get the same tone using the original JD10 Sessionmaster pedal through just about any decent amplifier. My advice is to try both versions of the JD10 to see which one you like best. However, don't be surprised if, like me, you end up keeping both of them!

The Session Master

The humble Award-Session JD10 can be traced back to the Sessionmaster rack preamp (later known as AW10). This unit is very easy to use, with a control set that all guitarists should be able to find there way around in minutes - if not seconds.


On the front panel you will find an input socket, controls for gain, EQ (individual controls for treble, middle and bass) and a master volume, plus three push-switches to boost gain, bass and mid frequencies respectively. On the rear of the unit were a power input jack and two outputs - one giving the true sound ready for connection to a power amp and speaker cabinet, the other filtered to simulate the effect of a guitar speaker for direct recording (or plugging in to a PA system).

Having used the rack-mounted preamp for recording purposes, Jerry Donahue (from the band, The Hellecasters) requested a smaller version which he could take around the world as part of his live rig. Award-Session designer Stewart Ward took the best bits from the AW10 rack preamp, refined the circuitry, then put it in a more accessible, portable stompbox format. Jerry Donahue was credited for his 'contribution' with the use of his initials in the model number, and name appearing on the early versions.