Jackson recreates one of Iron Maiden legend Adrian Smith’s main stage guitars in a more affordable version. Words by Peter Hodgson.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #132. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith is a man of exceptional taste in guitars. From the Goldtop Les Pauls he wielded in the ‘80s to his current Jackson Superstrats, he’s always gone for guitars that could fit into Iron Maiden’s multi-guitar attack while also holding their own during solo moments.
Jackson offers several different Smith models, including the USA Signature Adrian Smith San Dimas DK and the affordable X Series Adrian Smith SDX. The latest is the X Series Adrian Smith SDXQ, which takes the basic spec of the SDX and adds a transparent quilt maple top, inspired by a Custom Shop instrument Smith has been using for a few years now.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
The SDXQ has a basswood body under that maple top – a wood combination that you’ll find in guitars like the Ernie Ball Music Man Axis (preceded by the Edward Van Halen model and Eddie’s EVH Wolfgang – clearly the man knows tone). It’s a wood combo that provides a nice even frequency spread due to the basswood, but with a little extra juice in the high end from the maple. The neck is a bolt-on maple two-piece with a maple fretboard, graphite reinforcement, 22 jumbo frets, and a 12-to-16-inch compound radius fingerboard that goes from a little curvy at the nut end for chording to a more shred‑friendly flatter radius for lead work higher up.
The fretboard inlays are simple black dots that tie in nicely with the black hardware, and the oversized Jackson logo leaves no confusion whatsoever as to whether this is a Fender. The neck is finished in Satin Urethane for a smooth, non-sticky feel.
Although the Jackson USA version of this model uses a DiMarzio Super Distortion humbucker and two Samarium Cobalt Noiseless Strat pickups, Jackson has developed a humbucker pickup designed to maintain a full, powerful tone with plenty of output and sustain. It’s offset by a pair of single coils voiced for classic Strat tones.
The pickups are connected to a five-way selector switch, and while there is no option to split the bridge humbucker (in the second position, it’s on in full alongside the middle single coil), you’ve still got the neck and middle single coil combo to play with. There are also master volume and master tone controls, and the input jack is located on the side of the guitar, not in the typical Strat top-mounted fashion.
The bridge is a Floyd Rose Special double-locking two-point tremolo with a matching Floyd Rose locking nut, with Jackson sealed die-cast tuners. The overall look is very flashy in person: this guitar immediately jumped out visually on the racks at the NAMM Show when we saw it in January. It has a sort of gothic-meets-metal-meets-classic-rock vibe, and I could see it appealing to a lot of players whether they’re fans of Iron Maiden or not.
SPEED OF LIGHT
The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up this guitar is that the neck is very easy to play. Fender and its family of companies has clearly done a lot of research into how to make a great ‘one size fits all’ neck shape; while some guitars have very idiosyncratic necks (The EVH Wolfgang’s asymmetrical profile or the super-thin Ibanez Wizard neck shape, for instance), this neck isn’t going to weird anybody out. And the compound radius fingerboard makes fretting a breeze.
You will run into the neck joint before comfortably hitting the 22nd fret, but otherwise it’s a very smooth playing experience regardless of whether you’re a rhythm player, a lead shredder or someone who wanders all over the place.
Sonically, this is definitely a guitar that favours heavier tones.The single coils will indeed give you those classic Strat clean sounds (including the hum) but the bridge pickup is really at its best when it’s driving an angry amp. It has enough power and cut to give definition to your single-note riffs but it also turns power-chords into chunky slabs of brutality. There’s a nice upper-midrange spike too, which seems to really enhance pick harmonics and fretting-hand phrasing.
The Floyd Rose feels quite sturdy and reliable. It’s non-recessed, so you can’t pull it up or perform whacked-out flutter effects or Jeff Beck ‘lean on the bridge’ tricks, but that also means it won’t sink backwards and knock the whole guitar out of tune if you happen to break a string during a show.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Is this guitar gonna make you sound like Iron Maiden? Well, not 100 percent, but a pickup swap to Adrian’s favoured DiMarzios or the Seymour Duncans he has in the original Custom Shop version of of this guitar would get you closer.
What it will do, on the other hand, is help to make you sound like you, because it’s a very reactive, responsive instrument that punches way above its weight and is suited to everything from Maiden-style metal to shred to blues-rock. It just helps that it has some serious metal pedigree behind it.
• Basswood and maple body
• Compound-radius fingerboard
• Floyd Rose tremolo
• 22 frets
• Jackson high-output pickups
• Great tuning stability
• Super fast neck
• Chunky humbucker tones
• Floyd Rose isn’t recessed
• Noisy true single-coils
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