What is it?
Jeff Loomis has long established himself as one of the brightest stars in the shred firmament, with the prodigiously talented Wisconsinite pushing heavy metal lead guitar to the new heights in Arch Enemy.
His technique is meticulous. His note choice judicious. His style is pyrotechnic. To do all this, of course, requires an electric guitar built for metal. In the past, Loomis has had signature electrics built by Schecter, but his switch to Jackson in 2018 seemed to come at the right time for both parties.
As with most other Jackson endorsees, Loomis has optioned an existing Jackson body shape, choosing the Kelly. This aggressively chiselled offset was made famous by Marty Friedman in the Countdown To Extinction era and looks a little like an Explorer if the Ted McCarty had first started drafting one after the thrash metal's big bang moment in the mid-80s.
Unveiled at NAMM 2020, the Loomis Signature Kelly arrives in a USA model, at a price prohibitive to most of us, and in the Pro Series – a South Korean build that has a similarly pro-quality spec and a very nice build indeed. Here we have a basswood body with a sandblasted ash top, finished in black.
This open-grain effect is reprised on the headstock fascia and looks the bee's knees, particularly with that classy binding applying the finishing touch. The Loomis Kelly is solid, with a maple neck-through construction offering a super-stable platform for aggressive playing.
The scale length measures 25.5," and you've got a full 24-fret ebony fingerboard to cut loose on. In keeping with Jackson's house style, it has a 12"-16" compound radius – a bona fide starts pistol for anyone itching to get some shred down fast.
Taking care of business you've got a pair of signature Seymour Duncan Blackout humbuckers at the bridge and neck positions. These are not your common or garden atomic-metal humbucker. Loomis has gone for a passive high-output design.
The neck pickup features an Alnico V rod magnets and a tone profile that sees the treble enhanced, while the bridge pickup features an Alnico V bar magnet and a slightly boosted midrange for a more aggressive tone.
It is nice to see Alnico used on a metal player's pickup when the temptation for ceramic magnets often proves irresistible. You might get more heat off of them, but they don't quite have the touch-sensitivity of Alnico.
Completing the picture there is a double-locking Floyd Rose 1500 Series double-locking vibrato, a classic six-in-line headstock, and Dunlop Dual-Locking strap buttons for peace of mind when jumping around and executing some heavy metal lead guitar power moves. A note of caution when doing so indoors: that bass-side top wing can poke out a little bit, so be mindful of your surroundings lest you break a vase.
Performance and verdict
The Loomis Kelly is a speed machine that finds a balance between the svelte proportions of the neck and the body mass. There is a lot to like about a neck-through build. Even a few chords played unplugged sound authoritative. The neck feels solid.
If you need any tweaks, the truss wheel is conveniently located at the top of the fretboard, so no need for the screwdriver and wondering where you put the screws to the truss-rod cover. It's the little things...
The little things all add up, such as the Luminlay glow-in-the-dark markers that count out the frets along the side of the neck. Perfect for low-light situations like a stage. Also, we love that the headstock fascia matches the body with its sandblasted satin ash finish. The Pro Series is not an entry-level guitar, but the level of craft on offer would exceed most people's expectations.
• Epiphone Prophecy Flying V
The Epiphone Prophecy Flying V is a high-performance electric guitar that is exceptional for metal but with enough range to make it a quite thrilling update to a classic design.
Through some heavy drive, that bridge humbucker really makes a fist out of a powerchord. There's a chewy aggression and detail in high-gain settings, and you'll have no trouble coaxing harmonic squeals out of it. The neck pickup is less of a nose-bleeder and offers an able platform sweep-picked arpeggios and smooth legato leads.
That both pickups clean up nicely is more than a bonus. It elevates the Loomis Kelly, with clean notes that bloom naturally. They breathe. Again, this is all evidence that Seymour Duncan's R&D is in fine shape. In giving these Blackouts a generous dynamic range, they flatter expert players such as Loomis, reveal nuances that can be compressed out of the mix with less interesting winds.
While Arch Enemy might be engaged in the serious business of box-office heavy metal, and the muted satin black finish of Loomis' Kelly doesn't suggest thrills-and-spills, this is nonetheless a fun guitar. The Floyd Rose unit is well-balanced, stable, and remains one of the great engineering triumphs of the modern era.
There is no tone control, which might upset some. It seems a shame to have these musical humbuckers in here and not have a control circuit that explores them fully. But then, take a straw poll of heavy metal guitar players and ask them where they keep the tone control. It's always on 10, and if they don't have it on they'll tell you it is because they never touch it and don't want to accidentally adjust it mid-performance.
Loomis is a state-of-the-art guitar player and this is an instrument to match. But the Kelly shape is a modern classic now that's got a little history behind it. Jackson and Loomis have kept the signature flourishes to the sound and the spec, with just a signature motif on the rear of the headstock to give the game away.
This all goes to say that it might have Loomis' name on it, but this is for any metal player to make their own. It'll cover any metal style, and represents excellent value when you consider that a lot of the spec is carried over from the US model.
MusicRadar verdict: A classy update to one of Jackson's most successful electric guitar designs, the Jeff Loomis Signature Kelly Ash is a tone machine with a pair of perfectly voice pickups and offers a typically speedy ride.
- BODY: Basswood with a Sandblasted Ash Top
- NECK: Maple
- FINGERBOARD: Ebony
- FRETS: 24
- SCALE LENGTH: 25.5”
- FRETBOARD INLAYS: Pearloid Sharkfin
- PICKUP: 2x Seymour Duncan Jeff Loomis Signature Blackouts
- BRIDGE: Floyd Rose 1500 Series double-locking vibrato
- CONTROLS: Volume, 3-Way Toggle Pickup Switch
- FINISHES: Black
- CONTACT: Jackson