The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Jackson guitars like the Soloist, Dinky, Rhoads, Kelly, and King V are standard issue for guitarists in just about every heavy-rock subgenre. From the early ‘80s to the present, Jackson has been building a bulletproof reputation as the best choice for guitarists who play any form of heavy music. If you’re into metal, that includes you!
If you were conscious during the ‘80s you may remember the rise of the Jackson brand name. For those who are too young, you missed a great time. It was truly the golden age of metal, a decade-long perfect storm of heavy music that saw the insurgence of the NWOBHM, an explosion of bands from the Sunset Strip, the underground thrash revolution, and the infancy of death metal. They were beautiful days, and Jackson was waist-deep in it all.
These days, Jackson guitars are still in the hands of some of the best players in metal. Some of them are veterans who have relied on Jackson for decades. Some are up-and-coming talent in powerful new bands who are helping to further the legacy of the already legendary Jackson name. Some are even young guitarists who don’t even have a band yet, but already know Jackson guitars are the way to get the sound they’re going to need to succeed.
Is Jackson a Good Guitar Brand?
In my opinion, Jackson is one of the best guitar brands in the world when it comes to metal and hard rock. One of the reasons is because they build quality instruments for all levels of guitar player. There are several distinct series in Jackson's lineup, each aimed at a specific level of player and budget.
Whether or not a guitar player finds value in an instrument is often dependant on their skill level and the price they paid for the guitar. With a brand like Jackson, you can get exactly what you want, based on your budget, skill level, and expectations. In other words, no matter if you are a beginner or a professional, there is a Jackson out there for you.
Here's a quick overview of the types of guitars in the Jackson lineup:
- JS Series: The Jackson JS Series features affordable versions of many classic Jackson models. Beginning and intermediate guitar players can find great value here, and veterans can land that Jackson they always wanted for a cool price. But don’t be fooled: These are still high-quality guitars, with some of the same appointments that put Jackson on the map.
- X Series: The Jackson X Series takes epic Jackson designs and gives them a little boost into the modern age of metal. Here you can find options like active pickups, neck-thru build designs, and gorgeous flame tops. If you love the look of these classic Jackson models but would like to see some more modern features the X Series is worth a look.
- Pro Series: You don’t have to be a pro to play a Pro-Series guitar, but you might end up feeling like one. These are Jackson models with some serious appointments made for the stage and recording studio. They might cost a little more than the JS or X Series, but if you have your sights aimed at the big time these guitars should be up for consideration.
- USA Series: Jackson USA Series guitar is a high-level instrument for serious musicians. Well, make that serious musicians with fat wallets. While the price tags might be a little steep, one look at the specs tells you these guitars are worth the asking price. You can get an awesome Jackson guitar for less, but, aside from the Custom Shop, these are the best Jacksons you are going to find.
Now that that's out of the way, let's take a look at some of the best Jackson guitar models. On to the gear!
Since the early ‘80s, the Jackson Soloist has been among the best guitars built in the superstrat mold. It may seem like a tame design by today's standards, but the late-‘70s and early ‘80s were a time of innovation in the guitar world.
Spurred on by the success of Eddie Van Halen and his Frankenstrat guitar, musicians began looking for Stratocaster-type instruments with hot humbuckers and fast necks. There was a big gap in the guitar world that needed filling, and Jackson took advantage of it.
The Soloist gave guitarists exactly what they were looking for back then, plus the addition of a neck-thru-body and cutting-edge whammy bridges. The design continues on as a metal masterpiece today, and in Jackson’s lineup, you can find Soloist models ranging from those that resemble those original guitars, to much more modern ideas.
The Soloist is a great option for lead guitarists and shredders, but at home in any metal subgenre.
The Jackson X Series Soloist SLX
At first glance, the Dinky looks a whole lot like the Soloist, but there are some significant differences. The Dinky has a slightly smaller body size, and where the classic Soloist design is neck-thru construction, the Dinky usually features a bolt-on neck.
This means the body tonewood will have more of an overall impact on the sound of the guitar, and for that reason alone some players prefer the Dinky.
The Dinky is also a guitar notable for one of the coolest trends of ‘80s hard rock: the reverse headstock. Though there were many guitars from different manufacturers that employed the backward headstock, the Dinky is probably most associated with this look. Unfortunately, Jackson appears to have abandoned this design in decent years.
Dinky models in the JS series are among the best metal guitars for beginners, but you can also find many pro-level models that will work well for gigging musicians.
The Jackson Randy Rhoads model dates back to the earliest days of the Jackson brand. As the name suggests, the design is based on the original guitar conceived by the legendary Randy Rhoads.
The first Rhoads model was built by Grover Jackson back in the days when he was still part of Charvel. In many ways, it was Randy Rhoads, and the guitar he envisioned, that launched Jackson and helped it become the guitar company it is today.
Randy Rhoads was Ozzy Osbourne's first guitar player as a solo musician. If you don't know who he is you need to stop what you’re doing right now and go find out.
The Rhoads has changed a bit over the past thirty-plus years, and it’s been copied here and there, but it remains the most recognizable of the guitars in Jackson’s lineup. It’s a metal classic for the ages. Fortunately, Jackson makes Rhoads available for every level or player, starting with the JS line and moving up to professional models.
The Rhoads is one of my favorite pointy guitar designs, and I highly recommend checking out the JS32 version. It is the perfect guitar for aspiring metalheads, or any player who loves the look of Jackson guitars but doesn't have deep pockets.
The Jackson Kelly is somewhat similar to the Ibanez Destroyer or Gibson Explorer, but edgier and a bit smaller. Though the design was first conceived in the early ‘80s, if you were around a few decades ago you probably most associate the Jackson Kelly with former Megadeth lead guitarist Marty Friedman. Indeed, Friedman and fellow Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine were two of the most visible Jackson artists for a long while.
While the Kelly has the same fast neck as other Jackson models, it definitely has a more metal look about it than either the Soloist or Dinky and kind of resembles the blade of an ax. It’s a very cool vibe, but that bigger body also means a little more wood, and, to some ears, a different resonance and tone.
There is a Kelly available for every budget and skill level, from the affordable JS version, all the way up to more expensive, professional-level models.
When you think about the Jackson King V the first guitar player who comes to mind is probably Dave Mustaine. Mustaine is the driving force behind thrash metal pioneers Megadeth. He used the King V for a long time, starting in the late ‘80s, and became heavily associated with the guitar before moving on to endorse another brand.
But if you were around for the ‘80s you might remember the guitarist who originally wielded the King V, Robbin Crosby of Ratt. Crosby's King V was more of a doubled Rhoads design, but it was quite similar to modern King Vs.
It’s a testament to Jackson that their guitars have what it takes to span the width of the metal genre and get the job done. Whether it's glam metal or thrash, Jackson comes through. Like the Kelly, the King V is made from a big chunk of wood, and that means great tone as well as awesome metal mojo.
And it’s hard to imagine a guitar the looks more metal than the King V!
The Jackson King V KVX
Which Jackson Will You Choose?
Good luck picking one Jackson model above the others. Unfortunately, this is one of those times where “one of each” is probably the best answer. Or maybe you are one of the fortunate ones who are drawn to one design over the others.
If you are on a budget or even a beginning player you’ll probably want to look to the JS Series. Most of these guitars come in at under $300 and will be more than enough to get you through your first few years of playing until you can move up to a higher-end Jackson.
If you are an intermediate or advanced player you’ll find what you need in the Pro or X Series. The Pro Series in particular has some pretty outstanding options for under a grand. These are serious guitars, for serious musicians.
Of course, if you are looking at the USA Select series you probably don’t need any advice. Excepting the Custom Shop models, these are the best of the best in the Jackson lineup. If you are considering one of these guitars you have likely been around the block a time or two and know exactly what you are looking for.
No matter where you stand as a guitar player there is a Jackson series and model for you. Jackson is one of the best guitar brands for metal, with a legacy behind them like no other guitar company. Whatever metal subgenre you are into, you know Jackson will get the job done.
Jackson Guitar Poll
GMan Perez on December 20, 2019:
Jackson is in my blood!!
Juan Carlos on September 24, 2019:
You need to try Jackson Chris Broderick signature...incredibly fast, custom dimarzios, plenty of space for fast articulate solos, great look, splittable pickups, killswitch, etc. etc. excellent tone...
ingobert on April 03, 2018:
iam playing a jackson right now. a 200euro beginner guitar which i bought for 13 years. i like the style and thought i would stick to jackson as my idol hellmuth lehner from belphegor does (even if you are 28 you can have dreams and idols ;-)) therefor i thougth a x series soloist might be the one because i can grow into it if you understand what i mean. a have not really considered a 7 string. maybe i should try one if i can get my hands on it. thanks for the chat.
Guitar Gopher (author) on April 02, 2018:
@ingobert - Since you are tuning so low, have you considered a 7-string? Ibanez makes some good ones in their Iron Label Series, as does Jackson, Schechter, ESP LTD.
ingobert on April 01, 2018:
hi! thanks for the great review. i´m thinking about buying a new guitar but its hard to choose. i played for about 13 years now without lessons. i would not say i am a beginner but i am not trained in so many different techniques. i like b-standard tuning, death metal and a beafy juicy tone. i dont know how to describe but in your other review about the best metal guitars you decribed it quiet well. i just started to get trained in shredding. im fast in alternate picking on one string. im working with alternate picking on several string and sweeping. first i thought a js dinky would be perfect for me but im not sure. do you have any suggestion about a guitar which would fit me? i really want to get good and fast. sorry for my english iam swedish without great english skills. thanks! ingobert
Alex on April 12, 2017:
Where is the Monarkh?