Are Jackson Guitars Good? + Their Best Models (2024)

Author: Santiago Motto | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

For the last five decades, metal music has enjoyed huge recognition and grew exponentially from clubs to arenas. Yes, bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Def Leppard, and Anthrax made the style grow way beyond the imagination of any fan or player.

There’s one common denominator that has been steady throughout all these years: guitars. Yes, more than any other musical style in the world, metal has remained guitar-oriented including lengthy solos, face-melting riffs, and singalong choruses.

Jackson is a big part of that illustrious history, and, today, I’m going to dissect the brand from its motto, history, and models all the way to where they are made and who owns the company today.

Hold on tight because this short story of the big-J shredding machines starts right now.

High-Performance Guitars – a Jackson Definition

The late seventies and the early eighties saw the world enter a transformation in terms of culture and, especially, music. Yes, the grandiloquence of the seventies with the opera elements and huge shows was about to hit steroids and go into excess mode.

Everything had to be bigger, faster, more colorful, and bolder.

Jackson is a brand that embraced that initial quest of making a guitar that could be called a high-performance instrument. Yes, instead of focusing the efforts on recreating any great models of the past, early on they set out to make better, faster, more precise, and louder instruments.

In that race toward the best guitar for high-demanding players, Jackson came up with some of the most iconic instruments in the history of metal. Moreover, Jackson was there to meet the demands of some of the players that helped shape modern metal as we know it.

Other brands that work toward the same goal are Ibanez, ESP, and Schecter among others. Yet, Jackson is a synonym for high-performing, loud, metal-ready instruments that can be seen on the biggest metal stages on Earth to this day.

So, the first thing you should know about Jackson guitars is that they are performance-oriented rocking machines ready to turn your chug into an epic headbanging fest.

Jackson’s History

How did Jackson become a synonym for high-performance instruments? Well, it all started back in the late ‘70s when Grover Jackson was working in Wayne Charvel’s guitar hot-rodding shop. After one year of working for Charvel, Jackson bought the business from him and started making Charvel-branded Jackson guitars in 1979.

They soon became famous among the big hair bands that were walking the Sunset Strip and taking over the world like a storm.

It wasn’t until late 1980 that virtuoso player Randy Rhoads (formerly in L.A.-based Quiet Riot) joined the Prince of Darkness band as the lead player and needed a new ax to dominate the scene with that Jackson put his last name on a headstock for the first time.

The “Excalibur” that Grover Jackson built Randy Rhoads was called the “Concorde” guitar because it was such a high-performance instrument that it matched the plane.

For this concept, Jackson created a new version of the Flying V with a shorter side, gold hardware, mother-of-pearl block inlays, and a dual-humbucker configuration. He didn’t know he was designing one of metal’s most iconic guitars.

The Jackson Concorde in the hands of Randy Rhoads became a flagship for metal players around the planet and Jackson’s reputation as a guitar builder grew exponentially taking the brand to the forefront of most metal stages in the mid-1980s.

From that moment on, Grover Jackson continued to design guitars that could inspire metal players to break their own limitations and that could also perform flawlessly night after night.

The rest, as they say, is metal history (in the making).

Current Jackson Series & Models

Jackson guitars compete in a very tight business niche: high-performance, metal-oriented guitars. In this niche, Jackson has managed to create a name as a reliable, top-notch brand ready to be on the stage but also as a reliable first option for metal or heavy-rock-oriented beginners.

Therefore, affordable models as well as high-end models enjoy a similar reputation. Indeed, Jackson is a tight competitor for brands like Ibanez and ESP but shines with its made-in-USA line. Plus, it also has the oldest running custom shop department in the world.

Bear in mind that entry-level models feature very similar budget-cut features as similar models by other big brands. Therefore, you can expect reliable instruments across the board with sound, craftsmanship, parts, and comfort getting better and better as you go up the price scale.

Jackson’s Current Series

Most guitar brands divide their products into series. These series allow the buyer to pick from a diverse range of prices and features.

Jackson JS-Series

Usually, entry-level series feature alternative woods, generic hardware and electronics, and third-party construction in Asian countries. That is the case with Jackson’s JS-Series guitars manufactured in China and Indonesia.

These are guitars that look like the high-tier, quintessential Jackson guitars but are made for the beginner or budget-constricted player who wants to play metal without breaking the bank.

For example, the JS22 DKA is a version of the brand’s famous Dinky guitar (a super Strat with an archtop body) that costs around the same as an entry-level Squier Strat with dual humbuckers, a poplar body, and amaranth fingerboard. For a little extra, you can get the JS32Q DKA with a Floyd Rose-type tremolo.

Finally, the King V JS32, Kelly JS32T, and Rhoads JS32T can bring you closer to the original Jackson line without the hefty price tag.

Jackson X-Series

After the JS line, you get the X-Series guitars. These are guitars designed for the intermediate player, the hobbyist, and the semi-pro guitarist who needs a reliable instrument to perform night after night.

In other words, what you get with this series is a little more diversity, better quality, and some modern models featuring multi-scale designs, for example.

On the other hand, you’re not quite in the mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard situation yet and craftsmanship can’t be compared to that of the PRO or Concept Series.

Some great guitars in this price range are: 8-string X Series Soloist Arch Top SLAT8 Multi-Scale, Rhoads RRX24, the Soloist SLXDX, and the crazy and bold-shaped Warrior WRX24M.

Jackson Pro-Series

Although these are called PRO-Series guitars, they are somewhat similar to Fender’s Player series. They are Mexican-made guitars that feature everything you need to play on most stages. For example, here you start seeing Evertune and original Floyd Rose bridges, Seymour Duncan and Fishman pickups, top-notch finishes, and traditional tonewood choices.

What’s the difference with the USA-made guitars? You might be wondering. Well, the answer is very simple: craftsmanship and luxurious appointments. Yes, while here you can find the real deal to go touring the world, if you want the luxurious treatment a brand this size can give you, you’ll find that in the next category.

That said, you can buy any PRO-Series Jackson and go out and play it every night with the certainty that it will deliver consistently.

Some great examples are the breathtaking Soloist SL2Q MAH, the stealth Jeff Loomis Signature Kelly KE with dual Seymour Duncan Blackouts, the Rhoads RR3, the one-of-a-kind Soloist SL3R Mirror, and the Dinky DK Modern with an Evertune bridge.

Jackson MJ-Series

The Jackson guitars in this series are made in Japan and feature all the amazing appointments the USA factory does but with a more modest price tag and without stunning finishes.

One thing to notice here is that, upon picking up a PRO-Series and an MJ-Series, there’s a difference in craftsmanship that’s noticeable. Yes, the Japanese models feel a little better to the hand and are completely spotless when you inspect them thoroughly. Finishes on the Mexican models aren’t as perfect.

Three great examples are the Soloist SL2, Rhoads RRT, and Dinky DKRP.

Jackson USA-Series

Made in Fender’s Corona California factory, this is the all-in series by Jackson in which the company spares no expenses in creating groundbreaking instruments. I mean, you might like them or not, but there’s no doubt these are premium instruments made by experts with top-notch materials.

For example, the RR1 (the iconic Randy Rhoads guitar) features real mahogany and boasts a great deal of high-end and snap coming from the ebony fretboard. I tried it out by playing “Crazy Train” and it sounds exactly like the real deal (not me, of course, just the guitar).

If you’re a collector, a pro musician, or just a guitar player who loves metal and has a bulky budget for a new guitar, you can check the Randy Rhoads RR1, the Phil Collen PC1, the Soloist SL3 (in eighties-approved, dazzling Riviera Blue), the Misha Mansoor Signature Juggernaut HT7, or the oddly-shaped but great-sounding Star.

Jackson’s Current Models

  • Soloist
  • Dinky
  • Rhoads
  • King V
  • Kelly
  • Juggernaut
  • Monarkh
  • Warrior
  • San Dimas
  • Star
  • Demmelition Fury
  • PC1
  • Shadowcaster
  • Death Angel
  • So-Cal

Where are Jackson Guitars Made?

Jackson guitars are made in several locations. Let’s divide them by series:

  • JS-Series – China
  • X-Series – Indonesia
  • Pro-Series – Mexico
  • MJ-Series – Japan
  • USA-Series – Corona, California, USA

Does Fender Own Jackson Guitars?

Fender bought Jackson Guitars in 2002. The instruments giant moved the main headquarters to Corona California and Fender’s Mexican Ensenada facilities. The China and Indonesia-made models are manufactured by sub-contractors while the MJ, PRO, and USA Series are made in Fender facilities.

The Bottom End

Jackson Guitars has an unbreakable relationship with heavy metal and heavy music in general. Yet, the company offers high-performing, great-sounding instruments to the world regardless of the use you give them.

Finally, the quality control processes the entry-level models receive makes them better instruments than most of the competition. As you go up in the catalog and price tag, you’ll encounter good-quality, great-sounding instruments with high-gain appointments and top-notch accessories.

Even if you don’t like the guitars they make, after trying each line, I’m ready to say that Jackson is a brand you can trust.

Happy (heavy) playing!

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About Santiago Motto

Santiago is a guitar player with over 25 years of experience. A self-confessed guitar nerd, he currently tours with his band 'San Juan'. Called 'Sandel' by his friends, he has a pop palate for melodies, ballads, and world music. San especially has an immense love for telecasters and all-mahogany Martins.

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