Tim Reynolds discusses how he approaches gear and playing for his various projects: Dave Matthews Band, Tim Reynolds Trio, and solo acoustic.

Tim Reynolds rocks his Gibson Flying V and Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifiers for TR3 concerts. Photo: Chris Kies

Some people just fly under the radar during collaboration. Jordan had Pippen, Simon had Garfunkel, and Dave Matthews has Tim Reynolds. Although he grabbed attention with Dave Matthews Band acoustic concert releases Live at Luther College and Live at Radio City Music Hall, Reynolds has been leaving audiences spellbound as a solo acoustic artist and melting faces with his electric trio, TR3, when he's not with Dave Matthews Band.

 We caught up with him in between a spring of touring with TR3 and a summer of hitting the road with DMB.

What led you to pick up guitar in the first place?

Probably my sister playing Beatles records in the sixties. And even before that, Elvis records, and everything after that just blew me away, up to James Brown... y'know, the whole late sixties to early seventies was basically when guitar rock came into its own and so I was just completely all into that. And it's still a fascination, I'm still checking out guitar players whose names I can't pronounce... it's an ongoing thing.

I'm into other instruments as well, because they can inform different ways of playing... dervish flute, oud, sitar. I'm really a fan of the sitar, I played that for a while, and it still moves me... I guess Indian music in general has so many cool inflections and ornamentations, the way a vocalist does. The mojo of that, the way it communicates such feeling, it can be dark or light, or into the microtonal stuff.

Then there's the way you play jazz guitar, where you don't bend any strings at all, but it's just like the way a piano is; what note comes after what, and the effect of that. It's just an endless search for new ways to approach the instrument. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. You feel like you need many more lifetimes to study this or that. It can be anything that has soul or communicates feeling. Vocalists, the way they sing. Sometimes I'll just put on a record and play along with the singers, try to emulate that, because it's a more interesting thing than just going crazy... but I also like to put on stuff and just jam and go apeshit. It's also just the technical things that I hear people do, that I kinda just go "Fuck, man," there's so many people at the cutting edge of technique on the guitar.

Who do you see on the cutting edge, and how do they influence your playing?

There's this guy, Yamandu Costa, and he plays an 8-string classical guitar—all this amazing uptempo stuff—and his technique is like a combination of extreme classical meets flamenco, but it doesn't sound like either because he's playing samba. It's just all these amazing syncopated rhythms.

And then there's Allan Holdsworth, who's been around forever, but he just keeps getting better and better. He's like John Coltrane on the guitar. That's one way of looking at guitar, and then there's the other extreme, like I was saying, with vocalists. I kind of draw from those things a little bit more now, but I go back and forth. I'm not going to sit around and just practice playing faster and faster, because I can do that a little bit naturally. I'm really kind of looking for the soul of stuff. Because I tend to go apeshit, I like to look at the slower, vocal things that have more ornamentation, because that's what I need to concentrate on more.

Your career is so varied—alternating between touring with Dave, solo acoustic, the trio—how do you prepare for each of those?

For me, whenever it gets to a week or two out, depending on how much time I have before each of those gigs, I just kinda shed on the tunes. The hardest for me is the acoustic solo tunes. It's a whole different repertoire and it takes a lot of focus, so I spend a lot of time doing that. I had two different gigs doing that, and I forgot how much fun they are. It's this whole different set of songs that i like to play, so I hope to do that more this year or next year.

Mick Vaughn, Dan Martier, and Tim Reynolds currently comprise TR3

So let's talk about Radiance a little bit... You started touring with TR3 again in 2007?

Yup! We started right about the end of the year, played a lot of local gigs to get to know each other.

And then what led to the new album?

It just kind of came about organically... I'd been working a lot of solo gigs and using drum machines. Then I just started playing with Dan [Martier, drums] and Mick [Vaughn, bass]. They came over to my house and we had a verbal rehearsal for our first gig, and then we played out and had a lot of jamming, and I realized "Let's all practice and get it really tight!" We learned songs I already had, older TR3 songs from the '80s, and in the process of doing that came up with some new songs. A lot of times, recording in New Mexico, I'd kind of pretend that I was a band, jam with myself—I'd play a drum track, improvise some bass, and try to think of it as a song. There'd be a moment during a three- or four-minute jam where I'd lock into something. I had a lot of recordings like that, so we started looking at some of those things and making songs out of those. That's about half the material from Radiance, and the other half is older TR3 material. Also, when we were in the studio I'd just learned this Chris Whitley song, "Wild Country." I didn't know that we'd record it, but we learned it and spent a day recording it, and I was really psyched because I love that song. It reminds me of coming from New Mexico.

The gear I was using at the time was just my little Marshall, and I had a little Fender amp I used on a couple tunes for cleaner sounds. And it turns out we had another amp just like mine there, so we kinda double-amped it—one in the closet, one in another room. I didn't really have to double any parts because we already had them doubled. I wanted to keep that to a minimum because on the album I did before that, Parallel Universe, I kind of went apeshit with overdubbing and production. But when we did Radiance, it was more like "Let's get the live sound of this band." Also, Dan and Mick are great singers, so we had these cool vocals which we didn't have in previous incarnations of TR3. We spent a week at Haunted Hollow in Charlottesville, and that was like being in heaven because we just worked on this music in this simplified studio. Rob Evans, the engineer, also helped us produce it, and he just has such a great ear. It was just an easy-going great experience.

Back to the gear—I noticed that you were using a Mesa/Boogie [Dual Rectifier] most of the time on this tour, right?

Yeah, that was my first big amp. I got it back in '98 when I lived in Santa Fe, and it sounds really great. Then I just got this big Marshall amp [JCM2000], and I was really stoked about that too. I mean, the Marshall sounds great, they're both the best at what they do, so you can't really say one is better than the other. I mean, it's like comparing a Martin and Gibson acoustic, they're both just great! It's a matter of maybe one fits a song better than the other. So I started using it on this last tour. I felt bad that it just sat in my house, so I decided just to take it out on tour. When I first worked with the Mesa, it took a little while to get used to it, because my Marshall has three channels, but then I realized it makes you work a little harder, which is good, so on the songs I need more distortion I just turn around and crank up. The great thing about the Mesa is that it sounds great at any volume, whereas the Marshalls, you have to turn them up to get that optimum volume.

Tim and his Strat. Photo: Chris Kies
You're mainly using a Gibson Flying V and a Fender Strat on tour, right?

Yeah, Flying V and Strat. On the album I played a Les Paul for the C tunings, but the truss rod became disconnected—I'm not sure if it's broken or what—and I still have to get it fixed. I didn't want to take it out on the tour, so I used an SG I'd gotten a couple years ago that I used on Chaos View. I'm a fan of all great guitars. It's easy to imagine just using one, but once you get a taste of different ones you kind of get addicted to the way they sound on certain songs. When I play acoustic, I usually stick to one or two. Electric guitars, they're almost like a different effect; the tone of a Flying V and a Strat are really different, and they have different ways of bending strings, and I just enjoy all that.

So, let's talk about effects... what's your approach? You do a lot of weird stuff, like using a ring modulator for a bar or two here and there. What led you to that?

The ring modulator is the quickest way to get the most "out" sound. After a few years with it, I learned how to manipulate it. I had to write down different settings, and now I understand the frequencies, and the waveform settings, and the mix control. I kind of feel like it's an instrument unto itself. So I just like sneaking it in randomly, or as part of the song. It's just a different thing—it's otherworldly.

My other effects are pretty normal: Leslie simulator, Jimi Hendrix Uni-Vibe sound, delay. Those are pretty normal. I got some new effects recently, but I haven't really felt like I've learned to use them. My newest is a Z.Vex Fuzz Factory. I use that as a third channel, it's got such a different sound—uber-sustain. You can actually turn one knob and just make it squeal, like it's out of control. Sometimes I'll use that when I want the ring modulator to speak a little louder. Turn that up and it's just kind of BLAUGH!!! It's kind of fun to have that option.

The main effect I associate with you is delay, but you didn't seem to be using it as much this time out.

With the band and this kind of music, it's more about the interplay between the band. I'm probably known for using it more with the acoustic, not so much with looping, but to do transitions between a 6- and a 12-string. I'll just write a random title, something silly, and that'll be an improvising section with the delay. And I guess in the end, I do it less and less. I started out in the '80s playing at Miller's every Monday, I really got into the science of that. And I notice now that you can buy a giant loop station and have everything timed, and that's really cool, but it's like so many people are doing that now. I'm still trying to learn how to play guitar. With the power trio, I just kind of get back to the basic thing, the ring modulator is the detour effect for that. I still love the delay, and I depend on it for a lot of those songs, but it's just more subtle.

So what gear are you going to be taking out with Dave this summer?

It's pretty similar to what I used [before]. It's a bigger rig, even though I probably don't need a bigger rig. No one uses an amp on stage except Stefan [Lessard, bassist for Dave Matthews Band]. There's so much air being moved... even with a 4x12 cabinet and a hundred-watt head, if I'm not standing right next to it, I can't hear it. I have a monitor, but I have everyone else's stuff too. Everyone else uses in-ear monitors, but I'd rather use the squishy old earplugs, it makes every place sound the same to me, because I have really bad tinnitus.

[The rig] is just a bigger version of my usual stuff. The first year, I used a Marshall, and for some reason, I couldn't get my usual tone out of it. So we switched to Mesa the next year, and seemed to alleviate that. We also figured out I was getting a lot of tone loss from the wiring into the amp, which I'd never experienced before, or maybe I'd just never put it under a microscope to check it out. So we used one of those tone boosters, and that totally fixed it. I remember the first year [DMB] released their live gigs on their own label hearing the tone of the Marshall and going "Oh god, that's not right!" And then the next year, it was totally better using the Mesa and the signal booster.

Next time I go to the studio, I'm going to have more amp options. When we did the Grux album [Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King], the producer was also a guitar player, and he had giant racks of all these different amp heads, and I kinda just went to school on all these different amps. I mean, some of them I didn't like, but the coolest was this Marshall amp that said "Fuckface" on it. Whenever we needed something that would work every time, we'd go to that.

So out of all the guitars that you've owned and played throughout your career, what's your "go-to," desert island guitar?

For desert island, it'd have to be a Martin D-35. You can just pick it up and play it. It's got a nice big, boomy, kind of bassy sound because of the three-piece back. A while ago I was doing a gig with this folk guy, John McCutcheon. We were doing this rock tune in his living room and he picked up this Martin and just started playing this song with an A chord and I just though, "What kind of guitar is this? That's what I want!" It just has a great tone, and I love the hell out of it. I love the D-28s, too. I have a 12-string D-28 that's right up there with the rest. That's another thing I really love, 12-strings. Then the next level would be a Strat, because whenever I want to play a solo with the band, and I really want it to express emotion, I go to that. I mean, I love Gibsons too, it's just a minor click away from that too. I've become addicted to all of them, especially the Flying V—it's just got a really nice tone.

Anything else on the horizon for you?

We're working on a TR3 live CD which we'll probably have come out the beginning of next year. At the end of last year, we recorded some gigs and there's a lot of stuff I'm really psyched to put on CD. It's live, so I guess there's more what you'd call shredding or guitar improv, a little more busy, funny stuff. There are some longer versions of songs, some stuff off of Radiance, some covers, and just having fun, the way a live album captures the feel of a gig.

I also have a CD I'm trying to get out by the end of this year that's a bunch of acoustic solos—a two-CD thing, one with all instrumentals and one that's vocal tunes. All that was recorded when I was still in New Mexico, the last summer that I spent any time there. Before I left, we had this small house that was like a studio space. Not necessarily like a hi-fi recording studio, it was an artist's studio that I adopted as my hangout, my man cave. I recorded a lot of stuff there. I didn't really have a big board and a recording room, but I could do what I needed to do.

Which covers? You mentioned "Wild Country" earlier.

Some James Brown, some Prince, Zeppelin, some Portishead, Golden Earring, "Hocus Pocus" by Focus, "Jesus is Just Alright" by the Doobie Brothers, "Matte Kudasai" by King Crimson... we're just all over the place. Sometimes we'll be joking with each other, and say "What about this song?" But then we'll play it and go "We almost know it. Let's learn it!" Last tour, I really wanted to learn this Portishead song I've been loving for years, so we just did it and it was really fun. It's almost like a Miles Davis song, you can improvise, but the head is so memorable, that's all you really need to play: just this vocal line and a harmonica sample—I'll use a slide to get the harmonica sound—but it's just so much fun to play!

Tim's Gearbox
  • Gibson Flying V

  • Fender American Deluxe HSS Stratocaster
Gibson SG (Drop-C tuning)

  • Schecter C-7 7-string
Martin D-35

  • Martin D12-28

  • Jim Dunlop Univibe

  • Moogerfooger Ring Modulator

  • Boss DD-6 Digital Delay
Hughes & Kettner Rotosphere
Z.Vex Fuzz Factory

  • Fishman Aura (for acoustic guitars)

Marshall JCM-2000 with 1960A cabinet
Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier with 2x12 cabinet

The Telstar combines the best of a Strat and Tele with great success. We talk to the builders and designers at Destroy All Guitars.

Late Night Show host Conan O’Brien has many running gags. One of the more popular is “If They Mated,” a rendering of two celebrities’ most prominent features on one face. Builder consortium Destroy All Guitars has taken that one step further and applied it in real life—using two of the world’s most famous solidbody electric guitars, the Stratocaster and the Telecaster, to form the Telstar. It is most certainly not a gag.

Organized by Cliff Cultreri, DAG describes itself as “a guild for guitarists,” where builders, designers, and parts makers can all combine their strengths instead of competing with each other. The Telstar represents the first original guitar designed and built by DAG. It combines the strengths of master builders Gene Baker and Chad Underwood. Baker (who was an apprentice Master Builder at Fender, and Senior Master Builder at Gibson by age twenty-five) starts the process, carving the ash into the Telstar’s new-yet-familiar body shape. When Underwood receives the body, he sets to work putting the pieces together—he’s highly acclaimed as one of the finest bolt-on builders available today. Underwood also handles the relicing of the guitar, transforming it from a new-looking guitar to a well-maintained classic. “Why would you want a guitar with modern looks and vintage playability?” asks Matte Henderson, who came up with the idea for the Telstar. “We grew up looking at people playing Strats and Teles and SGs and Explorers—and there’s something very cool about that aesthetic—but it’s not always the most functional scenario.”

Cultreri also gave us a hilarious description of the Telstar as a mix between a long-term relationship and a one-nightstand: “I started off as a Tele fanatic. Somewhere in my playing career, I did romance the Stratocaster, and it’s been in and out of my life like this psychotic ex-girlfriend that just doesn’t quite want to go away, shows up every now and then, locks itself in my bathroom, refuses to leave, bangs its head on the wall a few times… this really allows me to keep that crazy girlfriend in check.”

Designing the Telstar
Another humorous description can be found on the headstock of the guitar itself, which features the two slogans of DAG: “Modern Vintage Mayhem” and “Schizophrenic Mojo.” These slogans capture the Telstar in a nutshell—it’s a near-perfect blend of new and old. “Part of Schizophrenic Mojo is balancing out aesthetics and functionality,” says Henderson. “I wanted this to have that classic fifties Leo aesthetic, but I wanted any modifications we had to enhance the playability to scream out not when you look at it, but when you play it.”

“What’s at the heart of it is the versatility,” says Cultreri. “There’s no such thing as one Swiss Army Knife that does everything, but there certainly are some that do more than others.” It’s obvious from the get-go that the Telstar is a multi-tool; it combines two singular instruments into a cohesive, organic whole. And it is clearly intended as a tool for players: the nature of that merger goes beyond the striking visual appeal of the two guitars in one—at once both strange and familiar. It also goes into a collection of blended elements that you discover with your hands and your ears, rather than with your eyes. It takes the best attributes of each and combines them in a unique way. “Guys that play Strats and Teles can get it done with one guitar,” Cultreri explains. “You don’t need to bring two guitars.”

Nearly everyone who’s seen pictures of the Telstar has marveled at the combination of elements from Fender’s flagship models. “We didn’t just want to make another Strat or another Tele,” Cultreri offers. “We wanted to introduce something that was different into the market. You look at the bottom ledge of the Tele, they way it just sits on your lap more comfortably for sitting and playing; and vice versa the Strat, with the rounded contours and the tummy contours— it’s a bit more comfortable up top.”

The Telstar in Person
As we said, some aspects of this guitar are best discovered up close and personal. In addition to vintage styling, the Telstar has some of today’s more advanced modern design elements. DAG has eliminated the need for a string tree, which they describe as a “vestigial appendage.” Instead, the height of the tuners can be adjusted. In addition to providing better tuning stability, this design also helps many Nashville-style players, says Cultreri: “Lots of Tele players do a lot of tricks and moves with bends behind the nut, and if you have a string tree in the way, you can’t do them. So with the graduated height on the tuning pegs, it allows guys to get back there and do bends on the head of the guitar.”

Another state-of-the-art element is in the choice of a bridge. You can go with a vintage Tele-style “double-cut” stainless steel with compensated brass saddles for the hardtail option, or you can accommodate your Strat leanings with a Glendale Chimemaster Tremolo, with a steel top plae, brass block and compensated brass saddles. In addition, DAG has included the “Tinker Street” design option—which simply reverses the bridge pickup to mimic Hendrix’s sound.

The 22-fret maple neck on the Telstar is one of the finest, most advanced features—Baker has designed a compound radius neck that has a huge feeling at the nut, but tapers off smoothly to increase playability at the higher frets. The taper really allows you to adjust your playing style between the two designs as well. Open chords really twang and pop, while the thinner profile higher up allows for lightning-fast leads. “Maybe someone’s never going to go past the third fret, and just plays cowboy chords,” said Cultreri. “They’ll love this guitar, too. Someone who’s going to push the instrument to the extreme is also going to appreciate this instrument.”

The bridge pickup is one of the few standard accoutrements on the Telstar: every model has a Tele pickup in the bridge. “What’s the strongest trait of the Telecaster?” asks Henderson. “The bridge pickup. What’s the weak link on a Strat? The bridge pickup. So it makes perfect sense to use a Tele bridge pickup in this guitar.” There are eight different pickup combinations in all, each using a Tele pickup in the bridge. From there, any combination you can think of—and some you might not, at first—are possible. For example, how about a Tele/Strat/Tele lineup, or a Tele/Strat/Humbucker? Notched tones with two Tele pickups? Sacre bleu! All of the pickups are made by Jason Lollar specifically for Underwood’s design.

DAG sent us three different models to check out, each bringing something different to the table. Two of the guitars are Sonic Blue, following in Fender’s fifties tradition of using automobile colors on guitars; the third is a blonde. Each one has been masterfully reliced by Underwood, who has worked closely on every detail. The peg heads are tarnished, the paint is chipped, and the pickup magnets look like they’ve seen years of playing.

In addition, a two-tone sunburst, a Mary K greenguard and a butterscotch blackguard are offered right now. “When we started messing around, we were like, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great to offer the fifties custom colors!’ ” says Henderson. “All these colors came from car colors, and we started looking at colors that were a little more esoteric. Over the next year, we’re going to start exploring those colors too.”

Each guitar in our office now also has a different bridge than the standard options: one has a Glendale vintage Tele “single cut” bridge, another has a Glendale “hardtail” Strat bridge, and the last has the aforementioned Chimemaster Tremolo, but with steel saddles. One also has the Tinker Street pickup option. There are numerous other options for customization, as well. If you want a two-tone Telstar with a Tele/Strat/ Humbucker lineup, a Tele-style pickguard, and Strat-style top hat knobs, it’s yours. If you’re crazy about a Strat and a Tele, but wish the (relative) shortcomings of the one were compensated by the strengths of the other, the Telstar might just be your dream guitar. With the list of options available, you’ve got the ability to dial in exactly what you want.

“We have Gene constantly working on pickguards, bodies, necks—there’s always interchangeable parts and pieces, so that we can always have a little bit of a backlog,” says Henderson. “That way, when someone calls for a specific combination, chances are we’ll have what we need, unless it’s a complete oddball. So many people just want to be done. They don’t want to do any more work,” he adds. “And that’s what separates us— that’s what artistry is: following an idea to its logical conclusion.”

For more information:
Destroy All Guitars

The Jackson Custom Shop offers a wide array of options and stellar build quality

jackson custom shop soloist
Download Example 1
Jackson Vol. & Tone 8, Neck/mix/Bridge pups; Egnater Rebel 20 "Smooth Clean" setting;
Download Example 2
Jackson, Vol. & Tone 9 - Neck/mix/Bridge pickups; Egnater Rebel 20 "Searing Lead" setting
Download Example 3
Jackson Vol. & Tone 10, Bridge pup; Egnater Rebel 20 "Searing Lead" setting
Recorded in Sound Studio on a MacBook Pro using Digidesign MBox (SM57; MXL990).
First impressions count for a lot. I’m not the kind of person who judges a guitar solely by looks, but I’m of the opinion that guitars should look fun to play and motivate you to pick them up. When I opened the case from Jackson’s Custom Shop, I was motivated as hell.

In this hot rod issue of Premier Guitar, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the history of this type of guitar, and looking at some modern touches you can add to your current setup. Jackson—one of the first companies to work with hot rod guitars—sent us a new Soloist model from their Custom Shop, and this seems like the perfect issue to review it.

If You Come, They Will Build It
When viewing the Custom Shop’s spec form on their website, the first thing that jumps off the page is the sheer variety of options. Nearly anything you can think of is available. Want a neck-thru seven string Rhoads made out of koa? How about a bolt-on mahogany Kelly? Those options are in just the first section. After that, you get into the neck, parts, electronics and finish. An important note: if it is on the website (and, in some cases, even if it isn’t), you can build it. I do wish there was an interactive way to view the models after picking the parts; I could see myself spending even more time poking through the menus than I already have. It would also be nice to see more from the fruits of my digital labor than a spec form, so I can visualize exactly what I’m getting.

The guitar sent for review wasn’t of my own design, but any trepidation about someone else’s choices was gone the moment I opened the case. The first thing that jumped out was the sheer “metal” look of the guitar. It’s got a silver and black iridescent paint job, and the sharkfin inlays are partially colored red to look dipped in blood—definitely a clever touch. The Jackson logo on the reverse headstock has been bloodied up, too (even cooler). According to Jackson, this guitar is one of nine similar models, each based around the neck design. Right off the bat, I was struck by the quality of the design. The entire body is painted with a swirl that converges underneath the bridge pickup. It helps draw attention to the center of the guitar, a very tasteful touch. It came with a 24-fret neck-through setup and a Floyd Rose tremolo. Just below the 24th fret, the serial number is stamped into the fretboard, yet another subtle detail. The Soloist model, being a superstrat, allows easy high-fret access, letting you take full advantage of every one of the frets. That’s all done by scooping away a good deal of wood where neck meets body. And let me also say, the frets on this guitar are “jumbo” in the same way that Yao Ming is “tall.” They’re huge—a fact that is enhanced by the contours where the neck meets the body.

Another custom touch was the addition of a bright red kill switch, located next to the control knobs. I never hit it accidentally while playing, and the location is perfect—just below the bridge pickup. It’s not just a sound effect, either. It can help you cut off a chord into total silence when you need that, while preserving economy of motion. The hardware on this guitar was all “just right.” The controls have just the right amount of stiffness: you won’t really budge them by accident, and when you move them intentionally, there’s enough resistance to make them trackable. The same goes for the tremolo arm: it stays put it until you move it again.

Playing the Jackson
When first picked up, the guitar has a very solid feel to it. It’s not as heavy as some vintage Les Pauls, but at over eight and a half pounds, it’s got some heft. Part of that solid feeling comes from the neck-through design and the alder wings attached to the maple neck. The neck has a nice feel to it; it’s nowhere near as thin as the Wizard neck on my Ibanez, but it plays nearly as fast. Some of that speed comes from the finish on the back of the neck, in addition to the fantastic construction of the guitar. With a 1-11/16" nut width (2-1/4" at the 12th fret) it’s got a nice, wide neck, even for a superstrat.

The setup of this guitar is nearly flawless. The intonation is spot-on, and the Floyd Rose allows the bar to be pulled up without any string buzz—on open strings, at least; fretting a string and pulling the bar up all the way (raising the pitch up to two and a half steps) does introduce some buzz on the wound strings. I tried some Vai-style divebombs, and was relieved to find the guitar still in tune. After five repeated divebombs, I had to dial in the G string a bit on the fine tuners, but if you don’t over-abuse the whammy bar, you’ll be fine.

jackson custom shop soloist

The pickups are two Seymour Duncans—a JB in the neck position and a Duncan Distortion in the bridge. This combo allows quite a few tonal variations, with enough control to really get a unique sound. Both pickups give a wide range of tones; fiddling with the tone knob allowed for more—and better—tones than I was expecting. It never quite reached “woman tone” territory, but rolling off the tone on the bridge pickup gave a very warm, smooth sound.

I ran it through an Engater Rebel 20 and was blown away. On the clean settings, it sounded good—thicker and darker than a traditional Strat (but if you want a traditional Strat, you’re probably not looking at a Jackson). With some gain, it started to shine: warm with the neck pickup, and cutting with the bridge. With a lot of gain, the guitar really came alive. Make no mistake, this guitar sounds great all the time, but it’s made for a high-gain situation. The Seymour humbuckers help with this, as they range from a smooth creaminess in the neck to an outright scream at the bridge. With the Rebel, the Jackson let me get some serious crunch on power chords near the nut, and some hot lead tones on the upper frets. The bridge pickup never got too harsh, but I found myself drawn to the neck pickup a bit more because of the smoothness of the tone. In addition to the Rebel 20, I also plugged it into the new Goodsell Black Dog 50 [review on page 179]. Again, it performed best on a high-gain setting, where the nuances of the guitar could really shine through. This guitar was made to be played loud, and run through an amp that moves some air. When you really dig in, you’re rewarded with some seriously rockin’ tones.

The Final Mojo
Overall, Jackson has put together a superb product here. The Soloist model we reviewed has enough weight to give it some serious crunch, without losing the playability they’re known for. Considering that there are near-limitless options available, odds are, Jackson can put together your dream guitar—if you’re looking for a rock axe. It is what it is, and while it has a very versatile set of rock/metal tones, it’s going to be best in that style, not elsewhere.
Buy if...
you want complete control over the design of your dream guitar.
Skip if...
your dream guitar is a ’56 Les Paul Goldtop.

MSRP (as reviewed) $4800 - Jackson Guitars - jacksonguitars.com