Review: Jackson American Series SL3 Soloist

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Review: Jackson American Series SL3 Soloist

Words by Peter Hodgson

Fender Australia | Price: $4,499

When Fender Musical Instrument Corporation (FMIC) acquired the Jackson brand in 2002, it felt like a great opportunity to set up a kickass US production line to bring this classic Californian brand back to the masses. But it didn’t quite happen that way. Sure, you could order a USA Custom Shop instrument, and the high-end import guitars released by the brand definitely feel, play, look, and sound like Jacksons. But there was no production line in America cranking out Soloists and Kellys and King Vs.

Well it may have taken 20 years, but finally the day has come: FMIC recently announced the Jackson American Series Soloist SL3, made in its own dedicated section of the Fender factory in Corona, California. And while it hasn’t been explicitly stated yet, you can be pretty confident that they wouldn’t have invested in a whole new production line for just one model. This has gotta be just the beginning, right?

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But FMIC and the brains behind the Jackson brand didn’t just decide it would be enough to build a Jackson in America and be done with it: they set out on a mission to make a guitar that really encapsulated everything Jackson players wanted. And that means fast. So the marketing tag “Fast as F#*!” was coined and held to, and this instrument is being hyped as the “fastest Jackson ever”. Before we consider whether they succeeded, let’s have a look at what has gone into this new take on the classic Soloist.  

First of all, the body is listed as alder, but as a neck-thru instrument there’s a three-piece maple core which extends uninterrupted from the tip of the headstock to the rear strap pin. The fretboard is ebony with inverted mother-of-pearl shark fin inlays and glow-in-the-dark (and decently oversized) Luminlay side dots.

There’s no fretboard binding, but the frets are inlaid into the neck in a way that doesn’t require the fret slots to extend all the way to the edge, so it looks like there’s ebony binding when there isn’t. Cool touch. The frets are very well finished too, which is obviously important on an instrument designed for speed. The fingerboard itself has a 12”-16” compound radius, getting flatter and more shreddable as the 24 Jumbo frets approach the widdly end of the neck. The entire guitar and neck is matte-finished, so your hand will glide over the slim-but-not-ridiculously-so neck regardless of how sweaty you get onstage.  

Hardware includes a Floyd Rose 1500 Series double-locking tremolo with rust-resistant screws that look cool and will keep this guitar looking slick well into the future (I’m sure by now we’ve all seen rusted-out, tetanus-inducing hardware on worn-out ’80s shred guitars: probably not gonna happen here). The tuners are Gotoh MG-T locking units which I guess could be considered overkill since there’s a locking nut, but they feel great and will speed up string changes. Good news for those who aren’t fans of Floyd string changes.

The pickups are a pair of Seymour Duncan Flat Strat SSL-6 single coils and a TB-4 JB Trembucker. This is the most logical choice for a Jackson of this pickup configuration if you’re going for traditional vibe, but some players might find the single coils a bit noisy depending on the amount of gain they plan to throw at them. Still, every self-respecting metalhead has a noise gate or two in their rig these days, right? There are master volume and master tone controls and a five-way pickup selector switch, but no coil split for the JB.

So is it fast? Hell yeah.

The combination of smooth frets, super-straight neck, compound radius, and matte finish all conspire to offer a super-slick playing surface, and the neck itself sits at just the right height from the body to anchor your hand for accurate speed-picking. The Floyd stays in tune perfectly, the intonation is great right out of the box, and the controls are within perfect reach. Jackson has really gone all-out to thoughtfully engineer a very playable instrument.

But that doesn’t mean you have to play fast on the American Series SL3. It just means that it’s really comfortable to play, no matter what you’re playing on it. Any impediments to your playing comfort and ability to move around the neck have been removed in the design process, so whether you’re executing eight-finger, triple-octave arpeggios or just digging into a big ol’ pentatonic lick or an open-chord AC/DC riff, you won’t be fighting against the guitar.

You’ll both hear and feel the benefits of the neck-thru design, with an up-front pick attack followed by a beautifully blossoming sustain if you’re holding a note instead of speeding to the neck one. The JB is one of those pickups that sits perfectly in a mix, with clear-but-not-shrill highs, a big fat midrange and full low end, and it’ll handle anything from blues to thrash and beyond without breaking a sweat. The SSL-6 single coils are pretty hot as far as singles go, so they match the JB’s output pretty well and sound nice and clear for those Yngwie moments, and they clean up beautifully, especially in the neck-and-middle setting.

Downsides? Well this is the ultimate production Jackson, so it comes with a suitably hefty price tag. And those single coils won’t be for everyone, because ‘high gain’ means something different now to what it did when players first started using HSS Jacksons. But if you can swing the cost, this is one hell of a worthy addition to Jackson’s history.  

Head to Jackson for more information. For local enquiries, reach out to Fender Australia.