The closing of 2010 may signal the end of
a rather turbulent decade, but it’s certainly
a time to celebrate the state of the independent
guitar-building industry, which, despite uncertain
economic times, has been fruitful and
innovative over the last decade. Small builders
are not an entirely new phenomenon, but the
popularity of the internet really helps small
outfits get the attention they deserve. And
playing a superb guitar like the JET Caldera
reminds me how wonderful it is to be a player
in a time when such outfits can thrive.
Force of Nature
You can tell the Caldera is a special guitar by
just opening the case. It’s a stunning instrument
in every sense of the word. From headstock
to strap button, the guitar revealed no
finish or structural blemishes, no matter how
hard I looked for them. The Caldera weighs
just 7 1/2 pounds and was perfectly balanced
when I stood and let it sit across my shoulder
with my strap set waist high. The gorgeous
transparent black korina body is capped with a
quilted maple top and finished in a three-tone
Caribbean Burst paint scheme with exquisite
natural wood binding.
JET uses a unique process to join their body
and top pieces, which involves carving the body
wood to a peaked center in the middle, routing
carefully placed tone chambers, then finally gluing
the top on with an extremely strong polyurethane-
based adhesive. According to JET, this
makes the guitar tremendously resonant and lively.
The entire body is encased in a polyester finish
that exhibits a strong sheen and transparency.
I was taken aback by how closely JET paid
attention to minor details, such as using exotic
wood pieces to surround the pickup screw
cavities and installing a recessed, angled jack
on the back of the guitar. It’s a practical and
aesthetically pleasing design touch that’s typical
of JET’s work. A string-through bridge, two
custom-wound Seymour Duncan humbucking
pickups (which are screwed directly into
the body for better resonance and sustain), two
Volume, and two Tone knobs (with a push-pull
coil-tap switch in the neck pickup’s tone control)
make up the rest of the Caldera’s hardware.
Except for the pickup bobbins, there’s
not a trace of plastic on this instrument.
Neck Over Heels in Love
As lovely as the Caldera’s body looks and
feels, its neck was the real source of joy for
me. Made of three pieces of quartersawn hard
maple with a 25"-scale, the ebony-stained,
24-fret neck felt like a piece of finished marble
in my palm. And with the perfectly smooth
slab of ebony used for its fretboard, the
Caldera’s neck was one of the best I’ve felt in
years. The joy didn’t stop there, though. The
Caldera’s highly sculpted neck joint fit my
hand like a glove, giving me effortless access to
the higher frets. All that reach can feel a little
strange if you’re accustomed to the chunkier
neck joints of a Stratocaster or Les Paul. But
with its enhanced playability, the joint is a
true design improvement that’s easy to
get used to.
Born to Burn
It’s pretty evident that the
Caldera has its roots in the hardrocking
tones of a choice Les Paul,
so I was eager to test the Caldera’s
mettle with a rig known for its LP
friendliness—a 1981 Marshall
JCM800 2204 half stack, set with
the gain up about halfway.
Starting right into some
tight, blues-rock riffing, I
was treated to clarity, sustain,
and tonal bite that
were off the charts. The
highs were clear and
present, but pleasantly
rounded. The Caldera
has a solid, defined low
end, but I was struck by
the guitar’s pronounced
high-midrange tones. Far from
annoying or nasal, they work
exceptionally well in exactly the way
you’d want a humbucker to interact with a
great British tube amp.
The dual custom-wound Seymour
Duncan pickups are, in general, quite hot,
but they possess a juicy bounce and sweetness
that feels natural and easy to control.
By comparison, the Caldera’s coil-tapped
sounds are a little disappointing and seemed
a bit weak and thin, even when I ran just
the neck pickup into a Fender Twin Reverb.
Obviously I wasn’t expecting the guitar
to exhibit the same amount of force and
punch as it had in full humbucking mode,
but the chime-like quality of the high end
was noticeably deadened when the tapped
mode was engaged. That said, it’s a tone
that could work for jazz or blues players
who require a little less muscle and high-mid
kick in front of their amp.
The JET Caldera is an outstanding guitar.
It offers many familiar Les Paul design
motifs with refinements that alleviate
some of the most common complains of
that time-honored axe. I was hard-pressed
to find anything involving the tone that
was not top notch, except for an arguably
weak coil-tap mode. Thanks to its great
neck and super-resonant, lightweight body,
playing the Caldera is almost as effortless
as pulling it out of the case. Traditionalists
should have no problem gravitating
towards its impeccable build, though they
might be turned off by how brazen and
hot the pickups are. For modern rockers,
however, the Caldera is a great choice,
especially if you crave a guitar that stands
out from the pack.
Watch the video review:
you’re looking for a great-sounding, hot-rodded rock machine that’s distinctiv eand magnificently playable.
you rely primarily on single-coil guitar tones.