Jarrett Guitars Zaffiro XJ Electric Guitar Review
October 21, 2009
The Zaffiro (which means sapphire) is made in the United States by a small-shop company called Jarrett in Westport Connecticut, whose motto is “Redefining the American custom shop instrument one hand-built guitar at a time…”. The slogan alone makes you want to stop and at least take a look, right? Even better, the company sells direct to the consumer in order to keep their prices as low as possible. In today’s economy, you can’t really ask for anything better! And it doesn’t seem to have affected their business at all. Orders have been steady, and they seem to make some pretty cool guitars, so that’s why we decided to take a look. So let’s do that.
The Zaffiro looks sort of like a fatter Les Paul, and as with any guitar, you either like the looks or you don’t. Personally, I think it looks great. The Zaffiro has a mahogany body with a nicely figured maple cap and a neck crafted from mahogany. The fingerboard is topped with macassar ebony then bound with maple and given a 12" radius. The width of the nut is 1-11/16". Unlike Gibson, however, Jarrett uses a 25.5" scale length, and the body is larger than a Les Paul. To me, this guitar just feels more comfortable to hold on to. And even though it may have a bit more chunk than a Les Paul, the body is chambered and weighs in at 8.8 lbs., which isn’t too bad, and may even be lighter than most. The top is unbound, and on this review model the quilt figure is quite striking. Overall, the finish work is good, as is the fretwork. Our review model came with pickups custom made for Jarrett by Seymour Duncan, although you can order it with a set of Bartolini pickups as well. Other features on the Jarrett Zaffiro XJ include a GraphTech Tusq nut, and top-of-the-line Gotoh 510 Delta tuners, which for my money are the best damn tuners on the market today. It also comes in a TKL hardshell case, which is nice!
Jarrett offers the Zaffiro in several configurations. Our sample is outfitted with a Pigtail aluminum bridge, but you can also get it with a wooden tailpiece for more of a jazz-style guitar look. And, if you want something more, Jarrett does custom work as well, and will build out your Zaffiro (or any of their other models) with your choice of tonewoods, scale length, finish, neck, etc.
I’ll just start off by telling you that I like this guitar. I like its looks, and though the neck shape isn’t quite what I would pick, it just flat-out feels good. Although our sample isn’t the “jazz” model, it still feels like a jazz guitar. The neck is somewhat wide-ish and fairly thin, but not shredder thin. The ebony fingerboard is bound and the finish work on the frets is great, as you might expect from someone that builds them “one guitar at a time.” The frets are not super jumbos, and are in fact fairly low profile which can make bending a bit of a problem for some. But for straight head jazzin’, this guitar is simply the real deal. Low—and I mean loooooooow and comfy—action that feels like a guitar set at a way higher price point. Really, I can’t say enough about the great playability of this guitar except: excellent! Did I mention that the quilted maple top makes me drool?
Tone-wise, I think this axe could fit in almost any musical situation. Even though the body is chambered, the Zaffiro has nice sustain. The tone from the neck pickup is warm and clear, and the bridge pickup delivers plenty of bite. Pickups are, of course, very much a matter of personal taste, and the glory is that if you don’t like them you can just change them. Jarrett offers several different kinds including Duncans, Gibsons and Bartolinis, and are open to custom choices. So whatever your preference for pickups, just tell ‘em!
The only issue I found was that the good-looking wooden pickup rings were not well fitted to the top and I could see a gap between the ring and the top. They just didn’t want to lay flat on the top. I contacted Jarrett about this and I was told that they rushed to get the guitar ready for review and the wrong rings were used. OK, I can buy that. They said they would, of course, make it right for a customer, and I can buy that, too. So, it’s not really a big deal, but I always want to tell the whole story.
I also want to mention the body shape. I have never been comfortable with Les Pauls. I think they look very nice, but I can never get comfortable with them. While the Jarrett does have the look and overall vibe of a Les Paul, it just works a lot better for me. Because it is wider, it sits in your lap better and seems … well, just more correct in terms of how deep the body is compared to how wide it is. The fact that it’s chambered means it is a bit lighter to hold, and it still sustains great. The body width also feels more comfortable on my right arm as it hangs over the body. The peghead may seem a bit unusual to some, but to me it looks pretty classic, in an art deco sort of way, and I like it. I showed the Zaffiro to some friends and got mixed reactions. For some, the peghead can make or break the deal and that has always amazed me. If a guitar plays and sounds great, why would you worry about how the peghead looks? To each his own, right?
All this got me asking myself, “What I would do differently if I were to order one?” Hey, you don’t end up reviewing guitars unless you can envision yourself owning every guitar that goes by, right? To answer the question, I would have a slightly narrower neck, but with a thicker profile like my trusty ES-330. I think I could also go for some way cool P-90 pickups, and maybe jumbo frets for sure. I might go for a sort of Gretsch orange color as the finish. Actually, I lie awake at night thinking these sorts of thoughts … do I need help? What would you pick for options?
The Final Mojo
Jarrett is doing the direct sales thing à la Carvin, and they are making a great product at a very reasonable price. These are made-in-the-USA guitars with a one-year parts and labor warranty, and they even give you seven days so you can make sure you like it. Jarrett also seems very open to making the customer happy, which is not only good but necessary in direct sales. As we all know too well, one unhappy customer can mean a lot of lost sales, thanks to the internet. Jarrett can do custom work that includes six body styles and you get to pick the rest. Style, tone, playability and even a nice case—what more do you want? So considering the price, the custom features, quality and just that it is a kick ass guitar, I would recommend it for sure. Ratings-wise, I wound give this guitar a 5, knock off a half point for the pickup rings, but add a half point for the quality-to-price ratio.
you want a high quality American-made guitar at an import price.
I can’t think of a reason. Perhaps if you want a body shaped like a croissant?
MSRP $1495 - Jarrett Guitars - jarrettguitars.com