Fender is taking Jackson Guitars into a whole new era with the the launch of USA-made guitars. The first will be the Soloist SL3, crafted in Corona, California and a homecoming for the legendary hard rock and metal brand that was founded in the West Coast state. One that could see Jackson diversifying its appeal with a new generation of players.
The project has been a huge undertaking for Fender, integrating Jackson production into a factory that's previously focused on Fender USA guitar production, including its famous Custom Shop and Acoustasonic lines. Jackson icon and designer of the original Soloist. Senior Master Builder Mike Shannon was also heavily involved in the design process of the launch guitar.
"I think the challenge of Jackson is terms of Corona is this will be the first time that they've made neck-through-body guitars," Fender CEO Any Mooney tells us of the Jackson guitars now being built in the Californian factory. "Because it's always been bolt-on [production] for 75 years, or from when we opened Corona. So we're confident we can do that; we've done all the work to ensure that we can build the guitars at quality and at scale.
The SL3 is an ideal beginning for Jackson's new US chapter; its S/S/H pickup configuration offering huge tonal scope, alongside finish options that balance contemporary appeal with classic Jackson heritage.
"I almost don't even like the term metal anymore," says Mooney." Because even metal is are much broader genre than it was. So I think even with Jackson, we're going to want to work with younger, current generation players. And increasingly, there's some great women virtuoso players in that category that we'd like to work with."
One of those players is Alyssa Day, guitarist with Mindscar whose solo debut is in the works. Alongside musicians Vixen, A Day To Remember's Kevin Skaff, Suicide Silence's Mark Heylmun, Bring Me The Horizon's Lee Malia, Yas Nomura and The Black Dahlia Murder's Brandon Ellis, she's one of the showcase endorsees who will be using the SL3.
Day is full of praise for the debut model of the new US-made line. "First of all there's a Floyd Rose on here – that's my trem of choice," she explains. "The Seymour Duncan pickups are phenomenal – the JB is one of my favourite bridge pickups of all time. We have jumbo stainless steel frets – that's a must. The inlays are gorgeous."
The SL3 arrives with the tagline 'fast as f**k' and Day certainly feels it lives up to it. "Oh yeah – for sure," she agrees, but is quick to point out there's much more to the SL3. "It is indeed fast as f**k, I can attest to the voracity of this claim but I will say these are not just one-dimensional shred machines. They're very dynamic instruments with the five-way switch. You're not limited by the physical features in terms of speed but they are very, very fast.
"Even when you look at it and first examine it, you can tell them put in so much love and attention to detail to this guitar," adds Day. It's an incredible work of art – it's the perfect medium for someone like me to express themselves."
The American Series Jackson Soloist SL3's specs read as the ultimate evolution of a flagship model. It features the traditional Speed Neck profile associated with Mike Shannon's iconic design, and the added comfort of rolled ebony fingerboard edges. It's radius that starts at 12” at the nut and flattens to 16” at the 12th fret to promote to offer ease of bending and fretting in general as players move up.
The 24 jumbo stainless steel fret neck also features Luminlay side dots for great low light visibility like the previous Misha Mansoor Juggernaut Jackson signature guitars. The classic Jackson mother of pearl shark fin inlays also feature, along with Gotoh locking tuners.
A quick access truss rod adjustment to makes neck adjustments easier on-the-fly. The SL3 features a Floyd Rose 1500 locking tremolo and maple neck-through construction and is available four finishes; Riviera Blue, Platinum Pearl, Black Gloss and Slime Green Satin.
The pickups here offer session player-level versatility that should be able to take you from jazz to blues and into the belly of the beast of extreme metal chug. A Seymour Duncan JB TB-4 bridge pickup is matched with a Seymour Duncan Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 RWRP Single-Coil middle pickup and Seymour Duncan Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 Single-Coil neck pickup.
The SL3 is priced at $2,599 (Blue, Black, White), $2499.99 (Green) USD, £2449.00 GBP, €2899.00 EUR, $4,699 (Blue, Black, White) $4499.00 (Green) AUD, ¥440,000 JPY.
Anthrax's Scott Ian has been playing Jackson since 1982 and he's delighted to see this new chapter and the commitment to the brand that it represents
"The fact that fender is so much confidence in the brand, the fact that this is happening; a full-on American production series in a 40-year old brand. It's amazing. Most brands would be put out to pasture but it feels like the brand is bigger than ever. It's nice to feel like I'm part of the whole thing."
Jon Romanowski is Vice President of Category Management and is a key figure in the two-year Jackson USA project that has created this launch. An impressive achievement considering the uncertainty the world was thrown into during covid. We wanted to get his thoughts of how Jackson is going to reach out to new players with the new series, while celebrating its past.
"Product aside I think the best way to do it is through artists," he tells MusicRadar when we meet ahead of the launch. "Our artist relations team is really amazing. We've got amazing legacy artists – folks that started certain genres, while really looking over the horizon for the next big thing. By blending those two things, I think that allows us to refer to the future and celebrate parts of the legacy that are important. How do we do that? Well, the feedback that comes from those folks allows us to balance those things.
"Luminlay side dots are an example. They were a big ask from artists, and it started with emerging artists. Younger artists like Misha Mansoor from Periphery was one of the first people. So we knew about these things but when artists consistently start asking for them we know it's an important thing. And with Floyd Rose locking tremolos that's sort of a throwback thing, and side dots are more of a modern thing. We also have the truss rod adjustment [wheel]. And that came about from talking to a log of these artist's techs who said, 'You guys have got to find a way of making this thing easier – I unscrew this truss rod cover and I lose the screws.'
"Then there's the shape of the guitar itself," adds Romanowski. "It hasn't changed in 40 years but some of the elements are more refined, improved and consistent. That's another way we are able to reflect the legacy but also optimise with some of the technical elements that are available today."
It's this balance that could make these the finest production guitars Jackson has ever put out. And as Romanowski points out, the key factor of today's Jacksons is consistency of standards in manufacturing.
"A lot of folks will point to the '80s the golden era of these guitars; I've got a bunch of these guitars and more than half of them would not pass the QC today," he reveals. "So believe me, massive leaps and bounds have occurred in the last 40 years."
Some of the new generation of electric guitar players are unencumbered by the hard rock and metal lineage of Jackson guitars – even John Mayer has played a Soloist onstage – but there's no danger of that going away.
"Our goal is to arm and equip the next generation artists that are writing that next 40 years of metal, punk and shred," says Jackson & Gretsch Marketing Director Martin Powell tells us. "It's working directly with the artists that are all across the world writing this music, and working with them to get product in their hands that helps their craft."
For some younger players, Jackson's more affordable X Series will be the gateway instruments. But who does Powell see the higher end American instruments appealing to?
"Across the board, starting at $299 up to a $20,000 Custom Shop, there are price prints where you can step into a Jackson," he points out to begin. "So I think at the end of the day, for the end consumer, it becomes what's important to you – is it the pickups? Is it the hardware? And I think for the consumer that's buying an American series, American manufacturing is important. The fact that these guitars are built in Southern California, where everything started for the brand.
"And this is our next generation. This is our first step into it. I think players are going to want to be a part of that; to say that you're part of the first American production models we've really ever had as a company.
"There's something about American guitars. We make incredible make guitars in Japan and Korea. But there's something – you always come back to it. I think walking around the factory, the fact that someone like Mike Shannon, who was literally employee number three at Jackson, the fact he's had such key part of designing these guitars. It's the spirit of Jackson in a guitar."
And though this benchmark Soloist model is the ideal start, Andy Mooney confirms it is just the beginning of Jackson USA's plans.
"Over time, if you're familiar with all of the body styles that we have in the Jackson line, you'll see it you'll see them all come out of the Corona facility. The Rhoads, the Kellys – all of those platforms will be available in the future."
- Find out more at Jackson Guitars.