With the launch of the GJ2 brand Grover Jackson has made his return to mainstream yet high-end guitar manufacture. In partnership with former Fender man Jon Gold, has produced a range of guitars that mirror his custom classics of yore for Charvel and Jackson - but with a twist or two.
The first two GJ2 guitars are from the Arete line: the name comes from an ancient Greek word that broadly translates into both 'excellence in all things' and 'courage in the face of adversity'. There are two price-points, Four-Star and Five-Star, and as befits Grover's Custom Shop heritage, just about every part of the spec can be altered and refined to a player's specific needs.
All of the tonewoods, pickup configurations, finishes, livery and hardware options can be chosen from an extensive list and are priced accordingly. Completing the package is a hard case resplendent in bright blue vinyl, and lined with what resembles Pokémon fur.
Among other things, the basic spec of the Five-Star range includes two GJ2 -made humbuckers and chrome hardware. On our review guitar, the options consist of the reverse headstock, a central single-coil, Infinity neck inlays and black hardware.
One thing that's also part of the basic spec is the body material used here - basswood. As with the Four-Star, the construction sees a solid sandwich of three strips of the tonewood run from the tip of the headstock to the strap pin, giving a through-neck that's flanked by solid wings.
Pickups are manufactured by GJ2 at its HQ in Laguna Hills, California, and both the humbuckers and single-coils are based around Alnico V magnets with 18/20 low carbon steel pole-pieces on nickel silver baseplates. Although named Habanero, which suggests a hot and fiery performance, the voicing is intended to be of a more vintage flavour.
They're selected by a standard five-way and controlled by master volume and tone pots that are capped by custom-made knobs.
"If we can make it we will, rather than buy standard parts," comments Gold, and even the pickup surrounds and cavity plates are machined from billeted aluminium.
The reverse headstock has an ebony cap, in keeping with the use of that wood for the fingerboard. The 'board itself, with its ivoroid binding, sports eye-catching pearl Infinity inlays on this example - dots are part of the basic spec.
Hardware here includes a double-locking Original Floyd Rose vibrato system, although a hardtail is available too. Gold also informs us that a seven-string is in the works.
Early Jackson guitars were well loved for their seemingly effortless playability and that's certainly the case here. The neck is mirror-smooth, finished in the same gloss black as the body - it's simply gorgeous to play.
With a wide feel and topped with a conical, 254-356mm (10-14-inch) radius, rock players are well served. Also notable is that where the more, shall we say, 'youth-orientated' brands now tend to go for waif-like necks, the GJ2s fill the palm more like old-school, grown-up rock necks.
There were tuning and set-up niggles out of the box; some perhaps down to transit and recent bonkers weather, and one down to a vibrato that's set up way too light. A quick string change and some tweaks solves all, just as any dealer would do.
The Five-Star's basswood gives a well-balanced modern rock tone; with a driving rock amp, the neck pickups retain breath, almost Slash-like (albeit without the ultimate Les Paul girth), while the bridge pickup gives more of a late-'80s and '90s rock tone in the vein of Vai and Gilbert.
The middle single-coil does increase versatility: a traditionally lighter, Strat-style tone whether used on its own or combined via the five-way switch with the humbuckers. If you're approaching this guitar from a heavy rock angle, you might be interested in hotter pickups.
It's great to see Grover Jackson making guitars again. His instruments will attract serious interest from players in the high-end, boutique rock guitar market, which is still a very healthy and active part of the guitar world. Whether they shout loudly enough to be heard over the noise made by Suhr, Tyler and Anderson - not to mention the higher echelons of Jackson, Charvel and Ibanez - remains the killer question.
At £2,999, the Five-Star is a very serious investment, flanked by equally serious competition: life is going to be tough for GJ2 at that price, in the UK at least. However, it definitely has its own identity and feel among rock guitars - reason enough to try one.