Jackson American Series Soloist SL3: What is it?
The Jackson American Series Soloist SL3 is a homecoming for the original high-performance electric guitar brand. Built out of Fender’s Corona facility in Southern California, the new Soloist has been described as “the spirit of Jackson in a guitar” and represents the brand’s first large-scale US production range.
Jackson has come a long way since the summer of ’79 when Grover Jackson was building guitars in Glendora, California, with Wayne Charvel's name on the headstock. Of course, within a year, he’d collaborate with Ozzy Osbourne’s new hot-shot guitarist, Randy Rhoads, develop the Concorde – the asymmetric V-shaped guitar that was the first to bear the Jackson name. The rest is history.
Now the Jackson name is synonymous with metal guitars and variants thereof, and is spread across the JS, X, Pro and now American Series, with the JS offering an entry-level take on classic Jackson designs, the X Series offering a bit more firepower, ideal for the intermediate players, while the Pro caters to the serious amateur and pro alike.
The American Series? Well, this caters for a similar demographic, but at a price point that is a little more aspirational. For many players, those of Generation Perpetual Burn and indeed anyone who has honed their sound on the virtuosity from the last 40-odd years of hard rock and heavy metal guitar, this is the ultimate aspirational instrument.
The Soloist is the flagship model – the guitar that showcases the fundamentals of Jackson design.
Unlike the bolt-on builds that typify the Superstrats and turbo-modded T-styles of sibling brand Charvel, the Soloist has a through-neck construction, with this svelte piece of maple at one with the solid alder body, a design feature that boosts sustain, that also – particularly with this matte solid-colour finish – gives the impression that the Soloist is a solid one-piece guitar, as though 3D-printed.
The sort of 3D printer that could render such a guitar would have to be some kind of alien tech, but then the suspicion that an extra-terrestrial mind is at play only deepens when you consider the finish on our review model, Slime Green, like a Pantone swatch cribbed from somewhere deep inside Megadeth’s Hangar 18. Other finish options include Platinum Pearl, Gloss Black and Riviera Blue.
The feel of the neck is satin smooth, with the colour-finish continuing across neck, headstock and body alike, and it is a finish that feels more like eggshell on the body, making for very tactile instrument.
A guitar designed for maximalist playing styles, this American Series Soloist SL3 nonetheless retains a minimalist discipline, eschewing the temptation to apply binding to body, fingerboard or headstock. There’s no pickguard either.
Much has been made of this homecoming for the brand – and rightly so. It’s a big deal for Fender, who own Jackson, for they had to add new quivers to their bow in the Corona factory to develop and manufacture these instruments.
It’s only appropriate, given these circumstances, that Jackson should revert to the fundamentals of Soloist design, presenting this with the six-in-line headstock as opposed to the arrow-style 3x3 that we have seen on many 21st-century models.
For Jackson fans of a certain vintage, the six-in-line headstock can’t be improved upon; the marketing materials present this new age of Jackson and the Soloist with the tagline “Fast as f#*K!” but really the sharp pointed edges and angles of the headstock says all that already.
The body contours are classically Soloist, that is to say that you are aware of where the inspiration for the double-cutaway shape came from, but also that, with sharper, deeper cutaways exposing the entirety of the fingerboard, and a comprehensively sculpted heel, this is a very different type of instrument. A Superstrat? Sure, with the emphasis on super.
And yet, this Soloist – its HSS pickup configuration pairing a Seymour Duncan JB TB-4 bridge humbucker with dual SL6 single-coil electric guitar pickups in the middle and neck positions – reminds us that those heritage sounds are in play here, too. They are just presented in a different context, where single-coil snap and spankiness is a complementary timbre to lean into, with your money going on that fire-breathing JB.
Again, the choice of a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker feels of a piece with this homecoming theme – there can hardly be a more appreciated bridge pickup in Jackson history, as long-time Jackson endorsee Scott Ian of Anthrax can attest to.
“Yeah, they keep trying to get me to change,” he told MusicRadar upon the launch of the American Series. “They send me everything, and they have a lot of killer sounding pickups out there, but there is always something I go back to with the JB… We are actually working on a new signature [pickup]. I said, ‘Just wind a JB and put a name on it! And just tell people it’s different.’”
Ian is not alone. Even after all this time, with the rise of EMG’s active pickup sets and Fishman offering multi-voicings with their Fluence sets, the appeal of the JB as an all-purposes rock and metal humbucker remains undiminished.
Here, the pickups are selected via a five-way blade switch, and controlled by knurled metal volume and tone knobs, finished in black to match the hardware. The only hardware not in black are the nut and intonation screws for the Floyd Rose 1500 double-locking vibrato.
Jackson has taken a belt-and-braces approach to tuning, kitting the Soloist out with Gotoh Magnum locking tuners. You can’t be too careful when a player of a shred temperament eyes up that Floyd Rose and imagines the harmonic squeals and divebombing to come.
Jackson American Series Soloist SL3: Performance and verdict
To play the American Series Soloist is to be reminded at first hand of Jackson’s guitar philosophy, and if you are teleporting in from 1950s Telecaster Land you’ll find this a transformative experience.
It’s funny, we look at the Soloist, its heritage, and its styling, and think of the ‘80s, and yet it still feels cutting edge, even as next-gen brands such as Strandberg look to rethink the high-performance electric, taking more outré approaches to neck profile and body shape.
That it’s standing on the shoulders of the Stratocaster’s giant success ensures that there’s a good balance to the instrument, whether played seated or standing. Jackson provides Duncan strap-locks for the latter scenario. Again, you take all kinds of precautions when playing hard rock and metal guitar.
But it’s go-faster, go-louder, neck-through riff on the Stratocaster also positions the Soloist as similarly versatile, and in this instance perhaps only inhibited from making a bigger splash in the market by the more louder finishes – i.e. this Slime Green model – or a marketing campaign targeting the base.
Starting off at the mix position, blending neck pickup with the middle, and are reminded of why the likes of Jeff Beck and later John Mayer would pick up the Soloist. Those tones are credibly bluesy through a tube amp, particularly on the edge of break-up, or with some slapback tape echo, the Soloist can take on the voice of vintage Mystery Train-era Elvis.
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A MusicRadar favourite, typifying the Superstrat as a guitar not that far removed from the iconic double-cut that inspired it, but altogether offering a revamped set of tones and a playability that – like this Jackson – facilitates total-shred fretboard hi-jinks.
Now, that sounds a little nutty, as though taking a ride on the Millennium Falcon and commenting and the first thing you comment on is how comfy the seats are, but also reaffirms one of our long-held beliefs about the Soloist platform – that it is quite possibly the ideal studio guitar. At least, every studio should have one.
From the privacy of the studio, no one can see the Slime Green, or that the proportions of the Speed Neck are such that – by golly – how could you not play like a virtuoso with a guitar like this? Instead, the audience is left with the take and your tones. And there is an abundance of variety when it comes to the latter.
So, yes, blues, blues-rock, rockabilly. Roll back that tone pot, and the neck pickup brings out the jazziness in that alder. Fusion players – another demographic given to virtuosity, in need of high-performance – will love it.
Then you have the fabled JB at the bridge position, and it is your gateway to pretty much every classic Jackson tone, from the effervescent rock-metal glitz of Randy Rhoads, through the detailed grit of Mustaine/Friedman-era Megadeth and the chug of Scott Ian. It’s a pickup that offers plenty of output without torching everything.
Some players who want to tune down to C might prefer a pickup specifically voiced for such endeavours, but anyone perched around D to standard tuning will find the JB more than capable of offering detail and power.
Harmonic squeals are easy to come by once you juice the amp and add a drive pedal in front of it, and when you bend a note and hold it the Soloist can carry it for as long as needs be.
Those who would have preferred a neck humbucker instead of the single-coil will be mollified by a tone pot that can roll off plenty of that high-end sizzle, which is great for cleans, but also for cleaning up high-gain arpeggios, where the neck pickup can often come into its own.
The Soloist is an enabler. The rolled fingerboard edges give it a luxurious touch, and at this price point, where it is competing with Ibanez’s superlative Prestige models, should be a given.
That Jackson ships the Soloist perfectly setup and with a set of 9s onboard also helps. As per house-style for Fender's high-performance brands – EVH Gear, Charvel, Jackson – there is a compound 12"-16" radius fingerboard that offers a superb platform for rhythm and lead playing alike.
There’s a solidity to the performance, too. The Soloist is built tough. The whammy bar sits where it should; the Floyd Rose 1500 series is smooth and stable. The Soloist arrived in tune, took plenty whammy abuse, some heavily hit open chords, and went back in the case in tune.
At £2,449, the American Series Soloist SL3 is not cheap. For that price you get a high-end electric guitar that is engineered for immaculate playability and a wealth of pro-quality tones that are quintessentially Jackson. This is an introduction of sorts, even if the guitar itself feels readily familiar.
More models will populate the American Series, and in time Jackson will want to offer the Dinky, Kelly, Rhoads et al to the lineup. More finishes, too. It is not a caveat, or to suggest Jackson is guilty of a sin of omission, but we can’t help thinking we need a flamingo or hot pink colour finish in the next refresh – just like the model used by Beck and Mayer.
Or maybe, for the money involved, the iridescent pop of figured maple. There are plenty of directions Jackson can take this Californian-made series. It’s done the hard part; it’s taken the brand home, and this S-style – wild, audacious, overly qualified for most six-string tasks – is as surefooted a debut as you’ll find.
MusicRadar verdict: Not just a metal guitar, but arguably the best rock and metal guitar around, the Soloist SL3 foregrounds performance and delivers tones from the searing to the sophisticated, making for a triumphant homecoming for Jackson, and a thrilling showcase for what the brand is all about.
Jackson American Series Soloist SL3: Hands-on demos
Jackson with Lee Malia
Jackson with Mark Heylum
Jackson American Series Soloist SL3: Specifications
- TYPE: Solid-body electric, made in USA
- BODY: Alder
- NECK: Through-body three-piece maple neck with graphite reinforcement
- SCALE: 25.5”
- FINGERBOARD: 12”-16” compound radius rolled ebony with inverse mother of pearl sharkfin inlay and Luminlay side-dot markers
- FRETS: 24, nickel silver jumbo
- ELECTRICS: Seymour Duncan JB TB-4 humbucker (bridge), 2x Seymour Duncan Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 single-coils (middle and neck)
- CONTROLS: Five-way blade selector switch, volume, tone
- HARDWARE: Floyd Rose 1500 Series double-locking vibrato, Gotoh Magnum locking tuners, Dunlop dual-locking strap-locks, black
- FINISHES: Slime Green [as reviewed], Gloss Black, Platinum Pearl, Riviera Blue
- CONTACT: Jackson Guitars