Price paid: $ 699.99
Purchased from: Musician's Friend
Sound — 4
If you play a Jackson Kelly, you're a metal player; through and through. I use either a Randall RM100 with modules ranging from the pristine-clean Blackface all the way up to the saturated Ultra XL or I run my pedalboard into an Ampeg VH-140C; like tuner/whammy/dime wah/ehx metal muff w/top boost/digital delay/tremolo/eq/Ampeg/BBE Max Com/Presonus EQ3B/mixer or Randall 2x12 cabinet pushing Celestions. The EMG pickups are very quiet, even with max gain; but they were LIFELESS in this guitar. UTTERLY LIFELESS! If you roll the volume back a bit, they can clean up nicely, but play clean only occasionally anyway. I have an EMG 81/85 set in my ESP KH-2 and I truly love 'em, so I'm not some EMG hater, either. The Floyd Rose Special is an average trem, but doesn't have enough sustain or stability for my taste, especially if you do long, wide bends or heavy trem work with the bar. It's not terrible, but not great. You'll have to fine-tune in between songs.
Overall Impression — 5
I play Cream to RATM to Dying Fetus - this guitar is made for metal, and metal only. I've been playing for 16 years and own more gear than I care to admit. It borders on the unhealthy, actually. While this neck profile is better than the one even on my RG550 and comparable to my '91 Kelly Professional, the pickups and trem make me wish I would've passed on this one. By the time this guitar gets where I want it, I'll have over $1000 into it with new pickups, Floyd, and sustain block. I definitely would NOT buy this guitar again, and will never buy another guitar without a hands-on test drive. Resist temptation and get a dressed Kelly from the early 90's in great to mint condition. You'll be better off. YouTube video:
Reliability & Durability — 7
This guitar is great for the bedroom and practicing musician. As I do gig occasionally, this will see no stage time until I do a pickup swap and install an Original Floyd Rose (still the best to me) with a sustain block. It looks fantastic, high-end even, but the finish won't stand up to ANY abuse or misuse. The finish on the upper horn even has a small finish crack - and I keep all my guitars in a climate controlled room. The strap buttons are solid, and Jackson did one thing right by moving the strap button/holder back to the middle of the heel instead of keeping it at the top of where the neck plate would be on the bolt-on models. It makes a huge difference for balance and playing.
Action, Fit & Finish — 6
Understand that, I really, REALLY wanted to love this guitar. I made the cardinal mistake of being taken in by her looks and not getting to know her first. This guitar is all show, no go; to look at it, it's beautiful... One of the best matched maple tops I've ever seen. A bound, unpainted neck-thru (my favorite) w/almost no heel; super easy to get to frets 20-24, and as thin as the top-notch necks of the early 90s Jackson Kelly Professional, and not 1 sharp or unlevel fret (a pleasant surprise). The neck came with a slight relief; a terrible idea- you want this to blaze outta the box- so I had to loosen the nut, adjust the truss rod, retune, intonate (FYI-buy the tool!), tighten the nut, lower the string height, and finally fine tune. Luckily, I'm proficient at guitar maintenance. If you're not, then avoid all together. SO disappointing. Basically, it looked gorgeous, but played like $#!7.
Features — 9
Made in 2012, this Kelly KEXMG has a basswood body w/a beautifully matched quilt maple top on a trans finish, a ripping-fast three-piece through-body maple neck, compound-radius (12"-16") bound rosewood fingerboard with 24 jumbo frets, Jackson Shark fin inlays, EMG 81 (bridge) and 85 (neck) pickups, and a Floyd Rose Special trem. The trem could use a sustain block, but you're paying the money for other 'high-dollar' items (neck-thru, bound neck, pickup upgrade, Floyd, etc.). On the surface, it's absolutely everything I wanted in my metal machine.