When Fender acquired Charvel and Jackson in 2003, he was promoted to Senior Master Builder for Jackson. Today, he maintains the same high standards and absolutely freakish attention to detail that he learned as a teenager from Grover Jackson in the early ’80s. And he’s still surrounded by many old friends from the original Charvel/Jackson crew, which the company says makes Jackson the longest-running custom shop in the United States.
We recently visited the Jackson shop to talk with Shannon about his storied history with the company and take a look at the many cool projects going on there.
What were you doing before you joined Charvel?
I was working with a furniture company. I’ve always been into making things. I knew woodworking, and even in high school I had a part-time job helping this guy do fine furniture. I learned about exotic woods and a little bit about tools. This was a summer job, probably around 1977.
How did you meet Grover Jackson?
set-neck early prototype of what
would become the Soloist.
What was the guitar line like back then?
We were basically making Strat[-style] bodies with the one humbucker in the bridge. There weren’t a lot of guitar parts at the time: You had hard-tail bridges, the brass trem bridge, or Tune-o-matics. Our work orders at the time were on three-by-five cards with handwritten work-order numbers. That’s all we had to build from, just handwritten information. This is pre-computer stuff.
Who were your clients at the time?
There were local players, but most of them were up-and-coming musicians. Gary Moore was one of the super-early guys. After Eddie Van Halen got the striped guitar, that put Charvel on the map. We were the original hot-rod shop. We would change pickups and repaint things in the early days. We started building our own bodies. We’d cut down a Strat[-type] template and turn it into a Dinky model. And if you took an Explorer body and chopped out the bottom end, that was the birth of the star shape, which goes back to 1979.
How did Randy Rhoads come to Charvel?
I don’t really know the details about how Randy knew about us, but Grover used to go to Hollywood and hang out at the nightclubs to get to know people. He came from a background of being a guitar player and working with Anvil cases. He knew a lot of people in the industry who had started Mighty Mite and some of these other guitar companies that were doing parts and stuff like that. He was in touch with everybody.
A rare shot of Rhoads playing his second Jackson Concorde V backstage before a December 30,
1981, gig with Ozzy Osbourne at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Photo by Neil Zlozower
What do you think made the company stand out at that point in time?
There were a lot of young people, and we were all into quality. The detail and the quality, at the time, would surpass any other company. We were all anal about the detail and the fit and finish. If you build bad stuff, you’re not going to be around long.
Tell me about the Randy Rhoads model.
I worked on the black Rhoads model with the brass parts. I remember it being one of the first neck-through-body things we built. We glued up five chunks—which were 3/4" to an inch wide—for the center blank. For the butt of the neck, you only need around 2 1/4". The last two pieces that were glued on those were basically scrap. Later on, we just used three pieces down the center and then glued the wings on. The black Rhoads was also the first guitar we put headstock binding on. I believe there was a neck-through-body Star that had been built prior to Randy’s, although it didn’t get any recognition or the Jackson logo. I believe it had an Explorer[-style] headstock.
What were the other differences between the first Rhoads model and the second one that you built?
The white Concorde is made out of Pacific Coast maple, which is fairly light. When I picked up Randy’s first guitar during our inspection and measured it, it wasn’t as heavy as rock maple. The two-piece center blank has the same Pacific Coast maple sides. The black one has a five-piece rock maple center blank, which is fairly heavy. We used poplar wood for the sides. As far as the neck shapes go, the white one was pretty thick and round. Randy liked the Les Paul feel. On the second one, it was more of a D shape. Randy told Grover later on that he didn’t like the D shape. He liked the round shape. We started four more guitars for him, but unfortunately he passed away before those were done.
A bevy of exotic custom Jacksons in various stages of finishing.