The Jazz Age
Jaydee Crusader 'Jazz'
Gary Cooper gets first crack at a very different Jaydee.
Are we finally approaching the end of the era when the 'Super Strat' dominates the guitar market? You wouldn't have thought so if you'd walked around the British Music Fair, seeing more versions of this variation on a guitar theme than the mind can handle. Everyone has their own version of the Strat-shaped machine with the advanced trem and hot pickups, and they range in price from the early hundreds to over a grand. But where can this guitar go now? Are the Hamers, the Charvels and the Kramers as far advanced as the breed can be? And what about the fashion element? Of course, the 'SS' is ideal for heavy metal heroics, and while that style of playing remains current then those who practise the craft are going to stick to their guns. But what about the players who don't play HM, and who have been attracted to these guitars mainly because they've been the only really exciting things on the market? The manufacturers, too, might be getting restless, and this could help break the monotony. Several British makers have privately confessed to me that they're heartily sick and tired of being asked to make Strat-clones, and I can certainly see what they mean. I sometimes have nightmares in which I face massed Japanese SS's stretching into infinity, each crying, 'Me, me, me, review me next!'
Guitar reviewer's hallucinations aside, there is a feeling that the Super-Strat has reached the end of its possible evolution and that the time is upon us, once again, for a change. It may well take a new musical style or an influential player to crystallise this feeling, but perhaps we've already begun to detect the early signs of this with the number of young bands who've abandoned fashion and pushed the price of secondhand Gretsches through the roof during the past year or so?
Either way, master guitar builder John Diggins has decided that the time is right to match his definitive SS class Hooligan with a 'new' model which is about as far removed from the Hooligan's ultimate head-banger style as you can imagine. I deliberately put the word 'new' in quotes because the Jaydee Jazz isn't really a new guitar at all. John has had this one hidden away for some ten years, and only now feels that the time is right to launch it. Is he right?
The sample Jaydee Crusader that I whipped away from the Guitar Extravaganza show at the 'Hand in Flower' rival to the main British Music Fair wasn't quite the guitar which you'll soon be seeing in the shops. During the years in which this prototype has been waiting for its introduction, John has occasionally loaned it to various customers to research their views. As a result, where mine was solid Maple, the model you'll be seeing will have a classic Les Paul 'sandwich' construction of Mahogany with a Maple top. Likewise the familiar Jaydee headstock will be reduced in size, a sensible move as it looks over-large on my sample (witness the photo accompanying this review). The change of headstock proportions won't, of course, alter the guitar other than visually, but what about the change in materials? I'll cover that point later.
As always with Jaydee's guitars, the Crusader sample guitar was beautifully made. John's craftsmanship really shows (as such skill always does) in the detail work like the neat, aged-ivory look double stripe binding which runs right round the body and the headstock, the precision with which the block pattern mother-of-pearl inlays have been fitted and the tidy little 'half moon' ivoroid cap which fits onto the back of the Mahogany neck at the body joint.
The Jazz's 22 fret glued neck joins the body at the 21st and has a luxurious, cambered, Ebony fingerboard bearing jumbo sized frets. These were polished so accurately and so smoothly that John had been able to set the guitar up with ultra-light strings (.008s?) with a whisper-light action. Speaking purely for myself, strings as light as these and such an impossibly low action feel strange on a Gibson-like neck — especially on a guitar which is purpose-built for other than HM styles. If I'd had the time, I'd have raised the action and fitted .010s (the same combination I use on my Gibson SG). This, needless to say, is a matter of personal taste, and what counts is that the Crusader was capable of being set up this way.
Moving on to the hardware and pickups, the Crusader has Schaller machines and a traditional Tune-o-Matic style bridge, with individual adjustment for string length only, the whole bridge adjusting via two end screws for overall string height alterations. The Gibson-style 'stop' tailpiece, meanwhile, allows you to adjust the string tension to your taste. The pickups on all Jaydee's guitars and basses are designed and made in John's Birmingham workshop, and unfailingly represent a high standard. It's a pity they aren't available on the open market as replacement types, in fact. In the case of this model there are two of them, blade-type humbuckers which are controlled by a large metal selector and four early Gibson pattern transparent 'skirted' controls, two volumes and two tones. These latter have a pull setting which taps them to single coil.
It's virtually impossible to overstate how good this guitar felt to play. It isn't the sort of instrument that I'd expect the dedicated Strat fanatic to enjoy — for you it could well seem on the heavy side, and you probably won't appreciate a neck which is is modelled on traditional Gibson lines. But if a more substantial guitar than a Strat is your thing, if you like a Gibson-ish neck, then you'll love this one.
But what does the Crusader sound like? Don't forget, my sample didn't have the Mahogany body with the Maple top that John's production models will have, so they're going to sound even sweeter and warmer than my sample did. I've taken that factor into account when thinking about my comments on the sound.
John has added a 'Jazz' tag to the Crusader's name, but I feel that this could put some players off. The guitar is much more than just a Jazz instrument, as I quickly found. Set the neck pickup to single coil and you get the most amazing funky rhythm attack which will fill out any band's rhythm section with a unique blend of warmth and cut. Likewise the tone you get from the bridge pickup on both humbucking and single coil settings; whilst it's certain to appeal to Jazz guitarists looking for a solid body sound (especially Fusion players), it offers a great deal to players who wouldn't consider themselves Jazzers by any standards at all. In fact, if you try the Jaydee through a high-class amp, you can soon think of all manner of applications for it, from a ringing, clean Country tone to a backing clarity which sounded absolutely riveting through a stereo chorus. Equally, wind the Jaydee up and it begins to sing into sustained overdrive, which is the point at which it crosses over to become a fabulous guitar either for Jazz Rock Fusion or for more considered and thoughtful Rock playing than you'd find yourself producing on a more Strat-like instrument. With that extra edge of warmth from the Mahogany, it's the sort of sound that, I predict, could give a Les Paul a good run for its money, especially as it seems to offer more tonal versatility than the LPs I've tried in recent years.
The Jaydee Crusader won't appeal to every guitarist — particularly not those who are wedded to their Super-Strats and only play Heavy Metal. For them the Jaydee Hooligan (reviewed in Issue 8) is the model to try. If on the other hand you're looking for something far more versatile, the sort of guitar that would cost you considerably over £1,000 if it came from a US maker, an, instrument of subtlety and class, capable of fulfilling a multitude of roles from Pop to Jazz, lasting you a lifetime and costing far less than it seems to be worth, then this is the Jaydee to buy.
RRP £800 inc. VAT.
More details from Jaydee Custom Guitars Ltd., (Contact Details). Trade enquiries to Scott-Cooper Marketing Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Gary Cooper
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