Sound — 8
OK, when I first played it through a JCM100 head plus quad box in the music store, it sounded brilliant. I play all sorts of rock from '70s through to metal (not nu-metal though, can't stand that shit), and I have an special place in my heart for the blues, and this guitar was highly responsive to all styles. The bridge in hum mode was especially beautiful, reminding me of the bridge output for a Les Paul, and the neck pickup in single coil mode (coil-tap on) is so bluesy it makes you want to start singing along with the sweet sound it makes about your dead woman and how the cat left you (or the other way around whatever). Clean, dirty, whatever, it sounded awesome, and it was on special so, hey, what did I have to lose? Once I brought it home I put it up against my Ibanez GRX40 which I already knew was a pile of crap, and this guitar just re-affirmed this. Through my little Peavey Rage practice amp the difference in the two was unbelievable. Though it must be said, there's a noticeable drop in sound when the coils are tapped and because there's only one volume control you can't even rig it so that you have one pup tapped and both at the same output level so you can flick between them, which is what I do in a few songs. A bit annoying. Also, while I have no complaints about the bridge hum I've noticed that the neck hum is a bit muddy when I play it through my 80 watt Marshall Valvestate, especially on the clean channel. Because I can't afford a better amp, I think I'll have to replace both pups to get a bit more grunt and tone. I play through a Boss ME-6 which, again, isn't the best floor pedal set-up but all I can afford, and it sounds very nice in most settings. And through a Boss Metal Zone, this JTK1 could make small animals' brains haemorrage. As I said, rock and blues are my staple, and this axe suits me to a tee. I love its looks and the sound it makes is great for my style - fat, humbucking overdriven sounds and twangy bluesy tones from the tapped pups, and a very acceptable clean sound, though it could be better with some nicer pickups. Tonally speaking, there are a total of 8 different pickup settings so you've got a great variety, though I must say the two pups on tapped mode together sound a bit weak. Overall though, this guitar with stock pups shits all over other guitars I've heard and played (like Mex Strats, most Epis and definitely most Ibanez guitars I've played; I've read reviews where guys have put it against Gibson Les Pauls and it was hard to tell the difference. After playing it, I believe it); with some EMGs or SD hums it would be an absolute killer of a guitar.
Overall Impression — 8
After all my bitching, I love this guitar. It was my first really professional instrument, and it suits my playing style really well, and the different tones I can wring from it make up for any niggles that it throws my way. It is indeed well worth buying and fixing up all the little crappy problems such as cheap hardware, even pick-up changing, which I will do soon. Due to its looks and its Vintage tone with stock pups, it probably won't suit everyone (I'm thinking speed, thrash or nu-metallers here) but it works a charm for any other kind of rock or blues. The addition of separate controls for each pup would have been ideal, but hey, nothing's perfect. If this were lost/stolen, I'd be heartbroken. I'd probably go out and get another one, and then go hunting for the bugger who did it and throw him off a bridge with weighted shoes. I've been playing for almost 12 years, but I've never had any formal training or lessons, thus I sound like I've been playing for a lot less. However, I'm fairly competent and know a good guitar when I play it - and this is real value for money. I have two other guitars, a Strat copy (which I hate more and more everyday - time for a Hendrix-style sacrificing, I think) and an Ibanez GRX40 which I'm keeping as a backup guitar (but which will be refurbished from top-to-bottom), or, if that fails, to smash on stage one day. The JTK1 saved me from the frustration of playing the GRX full time, and for that I am truly grateful to it. Now all I need is a Strat, a Les Paul, and possibly a PRS - then I'll be content.
Action, Fit & Finish — 8
When I played and bought it, the JTK1 was set up with a medium-low action, which was brilliant. I couldn't see any flaws in the body or the hardware (otherwise I wouldn't have bought it). After you get home and play it for a while, though, that's when you notice more problems you missed in the store. First, the easily solved problems. While I love the action it was set at, the bridge hum was as a result so damn close to the strings that every palm-mute shoved the strings right up against it - I had to lower the pickup height, but that didn't appear to affect the sound at all, thank Christ. The strings it was supplied with were like nylon strings, so as soon as I wore them out I replaced them with D'Addario. 46 gauge. Now, the more serious niggles - at the ninth fret there's a slight buzz, which isn't really noticeable unless you are really keen of ear, but nevertheless takes away from this axe somewhat. The pickup selector can be extremely noisy when switching - when playing a softer song and switching, it can be a tad embarrassing to hear that very audible "click." To add to that, the selector feels like it's going to come off the guitar every time you touch it - very loose and unstable. The tone/volume knobs are a bit shaky too. And maybe it's just the way I play, but I find that the coil taps, which are situated at the bottom left of the guitar body, are very easy to flick on accidentally if you're playing big chords, but then again, maybe it's just the way I play. One last niggle - the input jack is shit. Loose (on both sides) and the screws to fit the plate in aren't even the same damn size! I've had to take it off and screw the jack in more times than I care to remember. Once during a recording session it got so loose that all I got through the amp was a buzzing noise. Another thing to get fixed up (and having lost the receipt, no warranty). Apart from that though, everything else is pretty good. Again, finish is stunning, the maple neck and rosewood fingerboard feel lovely and the bridge, nut and tuners are all extremely sturdy. The tuners, even though they're snot green, perform admirably - smooth turning and they keep the strings beautifully in tune. Even after a full set the strings are almost perfectly tuned (I say "almost" because nothing is ever absolutely perfect).