When Gus G. switched from ESP to Jackson, it was a big deal. Gus has a dedicated fanbase who love to collect every piece of gear he uses, and a brand change like that tends to make headlines. Gus had two main lines with ESP – an Eclipse-based model and a star-shaped one – so what form would his Jackson model take? It turns out the answer is the latter, and it’s available at several price points: a budget-friendly JS Series, the more pro-spec’d X Series and this, the USA Signature Gus G. Star made in the Jackson Custom Shop.
The body is alder, and it’s surprisingly light. In fact, despite its size, this actually feels like a smaller guitar than it is, and you’ll find that you’re able to whip it around and find the most comfortable playing position for whatever lick you’re attempting. The finish is satin polyurethane, and the black pinstripes are applied so incredibly cleanly that you won’t find a slightly off edge anywhere. The neck is one-piece neck-thru quartersawn maple, and those who are used to shredders’ axes might be surprised by how round and deep the back of the neck is. It has a satin urethane finish to make it feel nice and smooth, but this is a neck that a great many players are going to feel comfortable with, even if they’re used to Les Pauls and old Telecasters.
The pickups are Gus’s signature Seymour Duncan active Blackouts. This particular Blackouts set employs traditional humbucker coils wound very low output, with an active preamp built into the volume pot to bring them up to full active power. There’s a three-position pickup selector, and no coil-splitting.
The voicing of the pickups is right in that sweet spot: the individual notes of chords knit together like a big wall of sound, yet there's still enough detail to pick out each note. Power chords sound very thick and chunky, while single notes are bursting with harmonic overtones. The neck pickup is ideal for those big Michael Schenker bends and wide vibrato, but it also tracks perfectly for high-speed arpeggio-fests. These pickups clean up pretty nicely too, although it'd be even better if the Blackouts modular preamp offered the ability to coil-split. The playability is flawless too. The fretwork is incredible, and that neck shape takes a lot of stress off your hands, especially during fast rhythm work.
On paper this guitar has a lot in common with the X Series version, but the differences are down to factors like wood selection, the amount of time and work devoted to fit and finish, and of course the fact that the USA model is built in a Custom Shop in very limited numbers by a very small number of master craftspeople. If you're a Gus G. fan, it all comes down to budget. This is a world-class guitar, and if you're good for the extra bucks above the X Series, go for it.
Hits and Misses
Flawless build quality
Surprisingly light for a guitar this big
High-quality fitted hard case
No coil splitting