When it comes to neoclassical technical playing infused with progressive metal, Jeff Loomis has long been a standard bearer. Combining Malmsteen-inspired sweeps with Petrucci-style riffs and a keen sense of melody, Jeff plied his craft for two decades with prog-metal titans Nevermore before they broke up in 2011. Since 2015, he has is the lead guitarist of the smash hit metal band. Sworn enemy.
His long and successful association with Schecter, with whom he made a number of six- and seven-string signature models, ended in 2018. Soon after, he became a Jackson artist, releasing a Kelly signature model in 2020 This year sees Jackson Jeff Loomis’ signature line grow even bigger, with the release of a seven-string Pro Series Soloist and the promise of new models to come.
A few years ago you released a signature version of Kelly. Did you consider developing a seven-string Kelly or were you immediately drawn to a different shape for the seven-string?
Yeah, for two reasons really. I guess number one was really balance issues. I had played a few friends’ Kellys before; I had a friend who had a seven-string Kelly and it was just kinda, ‘Ooooh’ [mimes dipping the neck of a guitar]. Most of the seven strings I’ve played in my life were in the Strat genre, so I just wanted to adapt more to that area. I’ve always been a fan of the Soloist shape, so I just wanted to introduce it as a second guitar, you know. I’m very happy with how it went, man. It’s good!
When you started designing this signature model, did you start from scratch or did you have a clear idea of what you wanted?
Thanks to the success of the Kelly, we knew we wanted to continue the same kind of vibe in terms of looks – an all-basswood body with a sandblasted ash top. I just wanted to change the body style, and that’s really it. It’s a very simple guitar. The toggle would mostly be where the volume is, and the volume would be where the toggle is, right? But I always keep my volume at 10 and do a lot of mic switching between solos, so I like having that toggle very close. So it’s something that has continued on this guitar since the Kelly.
Of course, the Floyd Rose was mandatory…
I know a lot of people don’t like Floyd Roses and we’ll probably do a standard Gotoh bridge in the future. To be completely honest with you man, when I’m recording rhythm stuff, I don’t like using a Floyd either. So I would like to have this standard bridge when recording rhythm tracks. That’s something I think we’ll do later.
You know that most of the arms of the Floyd Roses are the screw-on type? Well, with the 1500 it’s a push-pull, which I love because you just push the arm out and tighten it with the little wrench, and basically it never comes loose. Sometimes with screwed ones you can read that noise through the pickups. I hate that. With the push-pull it’s just awesome and super quiet.
Were there any other mandatory requirements?
What I see more and more on a lot of instruments is the wheel truss rod adjustment. You know, we do a lot of air shows, and when we’re on tour, like in China and South America, we don’t have our tour bus, and the neck can move a bit on a plane or whatever. This wheel beats shit out of having to take the cover off here [points at the headstock]. All my guitar tech does is use a little allen wrench, stick it in there and give it a quarter turn and it comes right back or however I want it, you know.
Do you find the glowing side dots helpful?
We play a lot of dark scenes with a lot of smoke, my eyesight isn’t the best. So my guitar tech usually takes a Maglite and shines it on each one for a second or two, and everything lights up. It really helps you navigate the fretboard when you’re in a live situation.
There’s an old school feel about this guitar, and the jumbo frets give it that jagged guitar vibe of the late 1980s/early 1990s.
I will always have jumbo frets; it’s just something that touches me. I have a few Les Pauls at home here that I love to play. They are so heavy and for me are very good parlor guitars. But, man, oh man, the frets! You almost have to work a little harder, that’s the thing with these guitars.
Have you always gone for a thin neck profile or has that changed recently?
Thinner profiles are more comfortable for me over long periods of time and play; it’s stress free on my left hand. When we were working on the first Kelly guitar prototype, I got to sit in the custom shop in Corona, CA with the legendary Mike Shannon. It was super awesome, man, because I was just passing the guitar to him like, “No, not quite yet.” He was just hand sanding it and I was blown away by how smooth he was with the process. We did it about five or six times and finally it was perfect. And then they come in with all the special camera measurement stuff and take all the exact specs and then it’s mass produced in that signature guitar. It’s a really cool process to be part of.
What are the different requirements you have for a six and seven string?
The neck is pretty much the same, just wider of course to accommodate the extra string. I didn’t really go into too much detail on this one, one-on-one with Mike, like I did with my Kelly. But they just asked me if I wanted the same vibe on this one, and I agreed because that’s what I wanted. The way I look at it is that I simplify things for myself in a real situation. Being a basswood body, it’s not too heavy but not too light. It’s perfect for me to do a 1.5/2 hour show every night. I am no longer the young man I used to be.
You’ve used a maple neck a lot in the past, but stuck with ebony on this model.
I love the look of ebony on black anyway, and I’ve always thought maple might be the shiniest wood, when in reality, I think ebony l ‘is. I’ve always been a fan of the shark fin inlays on all the old Jackson stuff, and really wanted to get that look on both my Kelly and the Soloist. And I didn’t like a maple neck with the black shark fin inlays; I mean there’s nothing wrong with this look, I don’t like it, you know? So I wanted to continue the old-school style of having that ebony fingerboard with the shark fin inlays with the extra wide frets, which I love.
It cuts a lot into the mix in the lower registers. Is that why you were drawn to maple and ebony in the first place?
Absolutely, yeah. I always thought it popped out more and had a brighter tone, so that’s totally fine, yeah. I see the guitar as something that I personally need in a live situation to make things easier for me, and that’s how I designed it. Ebony, to me, is the strongest, brightest wood I need to achieve the tones I’m looking for. Especially when I’m recording; with these pickups I also get a lot of high output mids. This grind is what I’m really looking for, and I also get a really nice pick attack on the higher strings, where it’s almost like that shrill sound where you can hear the pick hitting the string. I like this! All these small factors come together to make the guitar of my dreams.
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