Kent-based maker Jon Case is known for his stylised, modern designs that have the endearing quality of appearing new yet strangely familiar.
Previously, we've featured the J1, an offset reimagined version of the Les Paul that has subsequently found favour with Brit pickup maker Tim Mills, who, let's face it, knows a thing or two about guitars and how they should sound.
Is there a mythical 'crossroads' for guitar makers, we wonder as we run our hands over this J2 for the first time. Jon's instruments have always been impeccably crafted, with an ultra-clean design - no doubt the experience of his previous graphic designer profession coming into play. But what seems to have happened over the past few years is that his craft has been doused in vibe and class.
"Modernistic flourishes abound, from the stylised f-holes, through to the short but efficient back-angled headstock"
Previous J2s have been single-cuts, and the offset design meant the upper shoulder looked, perhaps, a little large. But this double-cut version has, to our eyes, a much more classic appearance and feel.
Like many independent makers, Jon's semi vision is smaller than the iconic ES-335 - approximately 14.25 inches wide - but it's a little larger than, for example, the Gibson ES-339 or ES-390.
Depth is more akin to an ES-335: 1.75 inches at the cleanly grained ivoroid-bound edge, although the top and back are less arched - partly due to the construction method. Gibson's tops and backs are contoured to shape in huge presses; Jon uses thinner laminations, over hand-carved formers, pulled to shape in a vacuum press.
Modernistic flourishes abound, from the stylised f-holes, through to the short but efficient back-angled headstock and the wave inlays with matching fingerboard end; it might not attract the blinkered traditionalist, but it certainly hangs together very well.
Classed as a 'comfy C' profile, the neck is shaped beautifully with plenty of depth - 21mm at the 1st fret and 23.3mm at the 12th. The shoulders are especially well carved, seeming to give our hand the impression that the neck is smaller than it actually is.
The ebony fingerboard's edge binding is nicely rounded, the big frets impeccably domed and polished, likewise the bone nut. And even under a magnifying lupe we can't find any gaps or filler around those classy inlays. In fact, we can't fault this build in any way.
Unlike some makers, who want to re-invent the tonal wheel, Jon sticks to the classic semi set-up with dual Bare Knuckle 'buckers and the standard Gibson-like 'vintage' wiring, the output jack placed on a metal 'football' plate on the guitar's side.
Feel & Sounds
With a lovely, light but purposeful weight, the J2 is perfectly balanced when played seated and fits the player well - unlike an ES-335, that in this position can not only feel unbalanced but also rather big.
"This isn't an ES-335 clone, and its slightly thicker voice, especially into a crunchy amp, reveals that touch-sensitive, juicy tone"
The mahogany centre-block is definitely going to play its part sound-wise, but acoustically it has good volume with that slightly honky push that seems to be a part of the tune-o-matic/stud tailpiece setup.
What is immediately obvious is not only the instrument's stability in terms of tuning but also its very precise intonation - ideal if you're using more complex chord voicings higher up the fingerboard.
With a little more poke than you might expect, especially on the hot bridge pickup, the J2 sounds slightly darker than any of our reference semis, but that produces some thick, warm voices, especially with a little volume roll-off.
It's a little less snappy than the archetypal ES-335, and certainly an original '68 that we had to compare with, but with a slightly different amp EQ it's not far off. But this isn't an ES-335 clone, and its slightly thicker voice, especially into a crunchy amp, reveals that touch-sensitive, juicy tone that is older-style Robben Ford, or smooth-as-you- like Larry Carlton.
It's perfectly capable of some classic rock raunch, too, especially from the bridge pickup, while almost Kossoff-like wailing leads ooze from the neck pickup.
Coil-splits might help to broaden the palette, but additional specs such as these are easy with this multi-option build. As it is, it's an astonishingly good, woody, resonant thinline semi.
A UK build isn't always the first choice when we consider that high-end luxury purchase. But we have a good number of world-class makers that really do challenge more desirable USA brands. Jon Case is one of them.
Yes, £3,500 is a considerable outlay, but for a semi-custom build of this quality, made by one man, not in a factory, it's not over-priced. If off-the- shelf doesn't do it for you, Jon Case can help.