When Gus G. defects to Jackson, He takes the opportunity to tweak his iconic guitar design. By Peter Hodgson.
Firewind guitarist Gus G. has used a lot of cool guitars over the years. His old ESP models were the guitars of choice during his tenure as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist – and if you haven’t checked out the album Scream, you really should. Gus shreds on that thing. One of those models was an Eclipse-based (Les Paul-like) model, and the other a Random Star shape.
Recently, Gus switched from ESP to Jackson, and there are now three Gus G. models available: a budget-priced JS Series, a mid-priced X Series with Gus’ signature Seymour Duncan pickups, and this – a USA Custom Shop model which looks pretty similar to the X Series from a distance, but as with anything from the FMIC Custom Shop family, you know you’re getting one beast of a guitar with top notch wood selection and serious master‑craftsperson build quality.
A NEW STAR IS BORN
The outline of this guitar is not too dissimilar from his old ESP Random Star, except that this shape has its origins in guitars designed by Wayne Charvel in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, seemingly inspired by Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Shark’ guitar – an Ibanez Destroyer copy of a Gibson Explorer with a big chunk cut out of it. Whatever the provenance, the shape is heavily identified with Gus these days.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the body is surprisingly light, and it feels like a smaller guitar than it actually is. The body points almost form an illusion, I suppose. The neck is
a one‑piece neck-through quartersawn maple slab that goes all the way through the body, flanked by alder wings.
Maple has a hard, snappy tone and alder is generally a little softer, with some sweetness to the midrange. The fingerboard is made of ebony, with 24 custom jumbo frets and a Gus G. logo at the 12th fret. The finish is satin polyurethane, and the black pinstripes are applied so incredibly cleanly that you won’t find an even slightly off edge anywhere.
Those who are used to shredders’ neck profiles might be surprised by how round and deep the back of the Soloist 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’ signature Seymour Duncan active Blackouts. This particular set employs traditional humbucker coils very low output, and an active preamp has been built into the volume pot to bring them up to full active power. Essentially, you’re getting about 70 percent ‘preamp tone’ and 30 percent ‘coil tone’, whereas most actives tend to put even more emphasis on the preamp rather than the raw sound of the pickups. These ones are voiced somewhat like the Duncan Distortion set to my ears. As far as electronics go, there’s a three‑position pickup selector and no coil splitting or tone control.
I find that the voicing of these pickups is right in that sweet spot: the individual notes of chords knit together like a big wall of sound, which is great for heavy power chords of the ilk you’ll hear in Firewind or Gus’ material with Ozzy Osbourne. That said, there’s still enough detail to hear each note.
Power chords sound very thick and chunky, especially if you add the octave, while single notes are bursting with shifting harmonic overtones. The neck pickup is great for those big Michael Schenker bends and wide vibrato, but it also tracks perfectly for high-speed arpeggios, which are a Gus speciality.
There’s no point playing a guitar this eye-catching if your fast licks come out all muffled and muddy, and that’s definitely not a problem here. These pickups clean up pretty nicely, although it’d be even better if the Blackouts Modular Preamp offered the ability to coil-split. You might want to do some fancy EQ-ing to get a really sparkly clean tone, because these sound pretty fat, and that isn’t always what metal guitarists are after in their cleans.
The playability of this guitar is flawless as well. The fretwork is incredibly well-finished, and that neck shape takes a lot of stress off your hands, especially during some fast, thrash‑influenced rhythm work.
Again, it’s not what you’d consider to be a shredder’s neck, but it supports your hand well and stays out of the way at the same time. It’s hard to explain, but when you pick it up, it will all make sense.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s true that 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. Oh, and the X Series has classic Jackson shark fin inlays instead of the Gus G. logo.
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 and you want to know what a really, really well-made guitar feels like, go for it.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Maple neck-thru with alder wings
• Seymour Duncan Gus G. pickups
• Ebony fingerboard
• Gus G. Inlay
• Hard case included
• Flawless build
• High-quality fitted hard case
• Surprisingly light for a guitar of its size
• No coil splitting
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