Jackson sets a high standard for affordable shred with an all-round extraordinary axe.
In the ’80s, at the height of the shred craze, Jackson guitars—with their neck-through-body construction, hyper-fast necks, and glammed-out looks—were among the most desirable axes in the shop. The price tag, however, was an obstacle that many working musicians couldn’t overcome. In 2002 Fender Musical Instruments Corporation bought Jackson, and today Jackson offers U.S.-made instruments and less expensive import versions, including the import X Series. For this review, we checked out the X Series SLATXMGQ 3-6 Soloist, an axe that features neck-through-body construction (a feature usually reserved for much more expensive instruments) and top grade hardware at under $700.
Killer Key Components
Like its predecessors, the Jackson SLATXMGQ 3-6 has looks that kill. The arched basswood body with ultra-quilted, maple veneer top is mated with black hardware and piranha pearloid inlays—epitomizing the “super strat” aesthetic. Jackson put pointy headstock guitars on the map, and while the Soloist’s three-tuners-to-a-side AT headstock design is a slight departure from that famous hockey stick drop, there’s no mistaking its metal roots.
The SLATXMGQ 3-6 is more affordable than Jackson’s USA-made offerings, but the company didn’t skimp at all on the hardware—an area where many manufacturers would cut costs first. Pickups are a good litmus test for gauging a guitar’s quality, and the SLATXMGQ 3-6—with its EMG 81 neck and 85 bridge pickups (the sonic foundation for many of metal’s iconic bands)—does not disappoint.
The SLATXMGQ 3-6 is also outfitted with a Floyd Rose Special bridge. And, love ’em or loathe ’em, you gotta hand it to Floyd Rose—this locking tremolo system keeps things in tune. The fact that the guitar arrived from its trip across the country almost perfectly to pitch is testament to its basic stability. But a voyage in a FedEx box is one thing. Vai-style whammy abuse is another. Throughout my test period, I attacked the whammy vigorously and the guitar’s tuning never went astray. The tremolo is recessed into a deep body rout. So in addition to being divebomb friendly, it’s set up for a wide range of upward, pitch-up maneuvers. I was able to get a major third up from the A note on the 2nd fret of the G string. And despite pulling the maneuver repeatedly with brute force, the Jackson stayed in tune.
Built for Speed
Even if you don’t torture the SLATXMGQ 3-6’s impressive vibrato like I did, the guitar’s modus operandi is easy to understand from the second you lay hands upon it. It comes strung with .009s and is set for ultra-low action. Guitars don’t get too much easier to play than this. One of the reasons Jackson guitars are favored by shredders is their 12”-16” compound radius fretboards. In the lower positions, where you will likely do the most chord work, the fretboard is roundish. Higher up, the fretboard gets flatter, getting your hand into a position that makes fast licks easier to play.
This is the sort of instrument that can inspire you to go for it in a way other axes might not. Plugged into a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV, I instinctively selected the bridge pickup, dimed the controls, and reached for some wicked, wide-stretch shapes way up the neck. These are shapes that I don’t often play, but the neck’s shape almost guided my fretting hand into the parallel position required for these types of patterns. And with unobstructed access to 24 frets to play with, there were a lot of sonic discoveries to be made.
Flipping to the neck pickup, you get a thicker top end and a lot of extra clarity compared to some high-gain neck pickups. This proved useful in articulating sweep-picked licks, and it was easy to distinguish every note of the swept shape—no blurry harmonic mush here. The neck pickup’s capacity for note-to-note definition is also great for bringing out speedy, alternate-picked 16th-note licks. Even if you’re of the “less is more” ethos, melodic lead playing is also a joy with the SLATXMGQ 3-6. When I switched to my Mark IV’s Rhythm 2 channel, set for lower gain, and with the guitar’s volume and tone controls rolled back just a hair, I heard a vocal quality in the Jackson that was beautiful for bluesy, expressive bends.
The SLATXMGQ 3-6 is equally beastly for rhythm guitar duties. Depending on how I EQ-d my amp, I could get razor sharp, massive power chords à la “Master of Puppets” or a warmer classic rock sound for open-position, A–D–E-type progressions. Low, single-note riffs similar to Lamb of God’s “Laid to Rest” also sound big, crisp, and articulate.
Shred guitars aren’t usually what comes to mind when you think of clean tone, but the SLATXMGQ 3-6 is a mighty fine clean machine. The active pickups give cleaner tones a vibrant, liveliness that vintage-style pickups sometimes lack. For funking away or playing pop-rock figures, the SLATXMGQ 3-6’s lively, bright sound can be the perfect fit.
There’s no doubt that the Jackson SLATXMGQ 3-6 is a top-notch metal guitar. What might be surprising—especially given its decidedly metal look— is how exceptional is can be in other electric applications. I can’t think of a rock, pop, or R&B gig where it wouldn’t excel.
In the high days of hair metal, a Jackson guitar of this caliber would have been impossible to attain for a musician on a budget. But for today’s aspiring, cost-conscious virtuoso the Jackson SLATXMGQ 3-6 is at the head of its class—and well within reach.