Review: GJ2 Guitars

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GJ2 Guitars – Arete 4-Star + Glendora NLT + Glendora FR

American guitar guru Grover Jackson is a genuine living legend. When Jackson bought Wayne Charvel’s small shop (in 1978) nobody would have guessed that this man would single-handedly define two new types of electric guitars.

The – mostly bolt-on necked – Charvel guitars from the Eighties kicked off the Superstrat-phenomenon in earnest.

GJ2 Guitars – Concorde 4-Star + 5-Star

The original Jackson-branded instruments became famous as hiogh-octane Metal-guitars, which combined first class playability with bold graphic finishes. The most legendary Jacks model is surely the Concorde/RR, which Grover Jackson developed for Randy Rhoads.

Grover Jackson left Charvel/Jackson at the end of the 80s, and he went on to design instruments for a number of different brands, like Washburn for example. The Charvel and Jackson brands are nowadays part of the huge Fender conglomerate.

Grover Jackson has recently launched a new guitar-making outfit, together with (ex-Fender man) Jon Gold. GJ2 Guitars is a small Californian outfit which concentrates on small-run high-end guitar making.

Kitarablogi.com takes the first five instruments to arrive in Finland for a spin.

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Glendora NLT – full front

The GJ2 Glendora NLT (this version 1,717 €, incl. gigbag) is the most traditional guitar of our group of five.

The review sample’s body has been crafted from light ash (custom option) and finished in gloss Antique White. The basic version of the Glendora comes with a body made from either basswood, alder or poplar.

Glendora NLT – full back

The satin-finished maple neck joins the body in traditional fashion.

Glendora NLT – headstock

The Glendora’s headstock is a stylish variation on the classic six-in-a-row design.

The tuning machines are quality units from Gotoh.

Glendora NLT – vibrato

The contemporary two-post vibrato bridge is also a Gotoh design. The bar is simply pushed into the block and kept in place by an adjustable nylon collar.

Glendora NLT – body beauty

The rosewood fingerboad sports 22 gleaming jumbo-sized frets.

For his new GJ2 guitars Grover Jackson has perfected a new method of applying a compound radius to the fretboard. A compund radius means that the frets have a steeper curve near the nut and get shallower further up towards the body. This gives you the best of both worlds with easy open position chording and effortless string bending higher up the neck without string choking.

Glendora NLT – body angle

GJ2 Guitars use their own Habanero pickups as standard. Our review sample comes equipped with an HSS-setup, but you can order your Glendora with several different pickup combinations, like the vintage-style SSS or two humbuckers.

The controls comprise a five-way switch, as well as master volume and tone controls.

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Glendora FR – full front

The Glendora FR (this version 1,930 €, incl. lightweight case) is the Floyd Rose-equipped version of the Glendora.

Glendora FR – full back

Our review instrument comes with a standard body (basswood, alder or poplar), but apart from that the basic build is the same as on the Glendora NLT.

Glendora FR – headstock

One of the custom options available for a surcharge in the Glendora-range is a matching headcap, just like on this guitar.

Glendora FR – vibrato

GJ2 Guitars use only top-drawer quality parts, like the Schaller-made steel Floyd Rose bridge on the Glendora FR.

Glendora FR – body angle

It’s a Habanero-set of two single-coils and one humbucker for this guitar.

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Arete 4-Star – full front

The GJ2 Arete is one of Grover Jackson’s new designs based on a through-neck. There are three different basic versions of the Arete available, called 3-Star, 4-Star and 5-Star.

The Arete 4-Star (this version 2,231 €, incl. lightweight case) is the middle model, which is crafted almost completely from South-American mahogany. The neck uses three long strips side-by-side for added stiffness.

Arete 4-Star – full back

Two mahogany wings make up the streamlined body. The more affordable Arete 3-Star is made from sapele, while the more expensive 5-Star counterpart gives you several different body woods to choose from.

The Arete 4-Star comes in a hand-rubbed oil finish. The cover plates are made from aluminium.

Arete 4-Star – headstock

The headstock sports one of GJ2 Guitars’ special features – the Invisible Binding. This is achieved by routing out a shallow ”pool” on the headstock’s face, into which a large rosewood plate is then inlaid.

Arete 4-Star – vibrato

All Arete 4-Star guitars are vibrato-equipped – they come either with the same knife-edge bridge as on the Glendora NTL, or with a steel Floyd Rose as on our review instrument.

The black pickup bezels feature a structured surface.

Arete 4-Star – body beauty

The bound rosewood fingerboard sports Mini Bull’s Eye inlays, as well as 22 jumbo frets.

Arete 4-Star – body angle

The basic version of the Arete 4-Star is equipped with two Habanero humbuckers, but you can also order HSS- or HSH-configurations, should you so desire.

The three-way toggle is mounted between the master volume and tone controls. GJ2 Guitars’ cool Flying Saucer-knobs not only look great, but are also easy to adjust.

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Concorde 4-Star – full front

A through-neck crafted from three side-by-side strips of maple flanked by basswood wings – this is the basic recipe behind the GJ2 Concorde 4-Star (this version 2,768 €, including hard case).

Concorde 4-Star – full back

All Concorde-models feature a full-length, 64.8 cm (25.5-inch) scale.

The Concorde 4-Star is available in five gloss finishes – Jet Black, Stark White, Antique White, Sports Car Red and GJ Blue – and either a Floyd Rose vibrato (as on the review sample) or a Gotoh hardtail bridge.

Concorde 4-Star – headstock

The hardware on a Concorde 4-Star is chrome-plated.

The fretboard is equipped with 22 jumbo frets and pearloid inlays.

Concorde 4-Star – vibrato

The volume knob is easy to reach with your pinkie.

Concorde 4-Star – body beauty

Two Hanbanero humbuckers, one master volume, one master tone control and a three-way toggle – what more does a Rock God need?

Concorde 4-Star – body angle

The placement of the output jack is a nifty little feature.

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Concorde 5-Star – full front

This is GJ2 Guitars’ ultimate Heavy Dream Machine:

The Concorde 5-Star (this version 4,103 €, incl. hard case) can be had – for an additional charge – finished in a custom finish, such as the Randy Rhoads-style pinstripe graphics on this guitar.

Concorde 5-Star – full back

The back plates of the Concorde-models are made of aluminium.

Concorde 5-Star – headstock

The Concorde 5-Star sports gold-coloured hardware. Our review sample had optional, locking Gotoh-tuners installed.

Ebony is the material of choice for the bound fretboard, as well as the headstock inlay.

Concorde 5-Star – vibrato

Here’s a closer look at the golden Floyd Rose bridge.

Concorde 5-Star – body beauty

The inlays on the Concorde 5-Star are genuine pearl.

Concorde 5-Star – electronics

…and here’s a little peek into the very clean control cavity.

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Glendora NLT – beauty shot

The feather-light ash-bodied GJ2 Glendora NLT is a fantastic S-style guitar for the connoisseur!

The Glendora’s playability is first-rate, and the guitar’s satin-finished neck, with its oval C-profile feels like an old friend.

Played acoustically there’s a hefty dose of woody dryness and sparkling top end, no doubt thanks to the ash body. The Glendora NLT’s displays an open voice with a nicely clucking attack.

I have only good things to say about GJ2’s Habanero pickups – they sound great, they are dynamically rich and the whole set is well balanced in terms of tone and output level.

Here’s a short clip played using the neck pickup:

Glendora FR – beauty shot

The workmanship, feel and playability of the Glendora FR is the same as in the NLT-version – simply fantastic!

Acoustically there’s maybe a tad more roundness in the mid-range and a slightly fatter bass on display in the Glendora FR, which is probably a result of its standard body. On the other hand, the steel Floyd Rose adds its own sprinkling of presence bite into the mix.

Because the bridge humbucker isn’t overpowering the guitar’s single-coils, there’s plenty of fun to be had using the second switch position (bridge and middle):

Arete 4-Star – beauty shot

The lightweight GJ2 Arete 4-Star is a very comfortable guitar to hold and play.

Thanks to its hand-rubbed oil finish the Arete feels very organic. If you’re a fan of nice wood, then this is the guitar for you.

The neck profile has a nice bit of shoulders to its slightly flattened D-section, and fills out your hand rather nicely.

The Arete’s acoustic voice is warm and open.

GJ2’s Habanera humbuckers clearly follow the boutique-vintage route, which puts tone and dynamics front and centre, instead of sheer brute force. Thanks to this it is very easy to coax a whole trainload of different tasty humbucker-tones from the Arete 4-Star, which will satisfy both the traditionalist, as well as modern Rock- and Fusion-guitarists.

The Flying Saucer knobs have a very positive grip, allowing you to adjust the guitar’s controls precisely.

Here’s a clip I recorded using the bridge humbucker:

Concorde 4-Star – beauty shot

It may come as a surprise to a newbie, but the Concorde 4-Star actually feels extremely comfortable hanging suspended from a guitar strap. Sure, the visuals are very angular, but the feel isn’t.

On the other hand I should stress that the Concorde most probably isn’t the right choice as a couch guitar, because it won’t really stay in your lap. And one more thing – beware of the sharp top horn! But as long as you know this guitar’s boundaries, your in for a fun ride with a light and well-balanced studio- and stage-guitar.

The neck has a chunky D-profile, which is good news for tone and sustain.

The Concorde’s long scale, its maple through-neck, as well as the Floyd Rose system give this guitar a clearer, more precise – and in a positive way – more neutral acoustic tone, when compared, say, to a Gibson Flying V.

The guitar’s Habanero humbuckers do a fantastic job in getting the Concorde 4-Star’s precise attack and growling mid-range across.

The neck ’bucker displays a fluid, flute-like timbre, without any sign of muddiness:

Concorde 5-Star – body angle

In terms of playablity and ergonomics there’s not much to divide the Concorden 5-Star from its 4-Star sibling.

But there are some clear differences in tone, most probably due to the posher 5-Star-version’s ebony ’board. The Concorde 5-Star has some added presence bite and a tad more twang in its attack, resulting in an even livelier tone.

Here’s a clip played using the bridge humbucker:

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What a great thing that Grover Jackson isn’t content with resting on his (considerable) laurels. These new instruments build upon Mr Jackson’s rich past and vast knowledge, while managing to stay foward-facing and fresh.

The sum of this knowledge and experience, coupled with new building techniques and GJ2 Guitars’ obvious attention to detail, result in a range of instruments I would call the best guitars Grover Jackson has ever made.

This type of quality naturally comes at a price. But in light of GJ2’s comparatively small production runs and the sheer quality on offer here, you truly get what you paid for – boutique quality, made in the USA.

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GJ2 Guitars

Glendora NLT – starting from 1,368 €

Glendora FR – starting from 1,541 €

Arete 4-Star – starting from 2,594 €

Concorde 4-Star – starting from 2,779 €

Concorde 5-Star – starting from 3,335 €

Finnish distributor: Musamaailma

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Pros:

+ genuine boutique quality

+ playability

+ sound

+ many custom options

+ GJ2 Habanero-pickups

Cons:

– Concorde-models’ G&G-cases weigh a ton

GJ2 Guitars – logo

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