Jackson Stealth Pro 92

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I recently returned to playing solid-bodied, electric guitar and so had reason to take my Jackson Stealth from its case. I was surprised to find that it needed very little attention or even tuning. In examining the instrument I realised that it is now 25 years old, yet remains in virtually ‘as new’ condition despite much use. I decided that this was a good time for a re-appraisal of the Jackson’s provenance and specifications –

 

My Jackson Stealth

My Jackson Stealth

 

 

Charvel/Jackson’s Early History:

 

After working for Fender, Wayne Charvel established his own California workshop in 1974, building a solid reputation for Fender repairs and custom parts. When Japanese companies began copying his parts, Charvel began to make complete guitars before selling the company outright to Grover Jackson in 1978. Under Jackson’s ownership, Charvel popularised a modernisation of the classic Fender Stratocaster design, involving replacement of the single coil pickup at the bridge with a humbucker and various other refinements. These ‘superstrats’, as they became known, were well suited to the heavy rock and metal music of the 1980s and Charvel ornamented their guitars to appeal to this market. This resulted in an association of Charvel guitars with many famous guitarists of the rock and heavy metal genres.

Collaboration with Randy Rhoads on a signature model guitar produced a prototype that was insufficiently angular for Rhoads and so a more angular neck/head was produced to match the asymmetrical, ‘Flying V’ body. Rhoads referred to the shape of this second design as the ‘Concorde’. But Jackson was concerned that this radical departure from the Charvel neck design might prove unpopular and not wishing to diminish the Charvel name, added his own name to the headstock. However, the visual impact of the Rhoads model proved to be iconic in the industry and this prompted Jackson to found Jackson Guitars. The success of the 1980s guitars also enabled Jackson to mass produce popular designs in Japan (from 1986) . Whereas the Californian guitars were essentially hand-built, custom instruments, the Japanese instruments were assembly line versions and categorised by model numbers. In 1989, Charvel/Jackson merged with the Japanese manufacturer IMC.

 

Jackson Rhoads Prototype #3

Jackson Rhoads Prototype #3
[By Diramirez – Wikimedia Commons]

 

The Professional Series and ‘Pro’ Model Guitars:

 

Some confusion about the terms ‘Professional’ and ‘Pro’ when applied to Jackson’s 1990s guitars is understandable and some rather vague promotional material released at the time, did little to help. I will therefore attempt to clarify the situation.

Jackson introduced their ‘Professional’ series of superstrat models in 1990. From 1990 until 1995 all of the Professional Series guitars were made in Japan at the “Charvel plant”, Jackson’s name for their Chushin Gakki factory. In their 1990 catalogue, Jackson also referred to this new range of guitars as the “Pro” series and stated that their intention was to provide an affordable alternative to the high quality instruments that customers had previously needed to custom order direct from their American factory. The guitars would be made to the same exacting standards of the USA Jacksons in terms of build quality, features, materials and workmanship but would be mass produced, standardised models for which only the finishes could be customised. The catalogue entry concluded with, “The Jackson Pro Series is designed for the professional working musician who requires a superior caliber instrument to match his or her superior talents.” Thus, the first guitars of the Professional series were relatively expensive instruments with expensive features such as quartersawn necks, bound ebony fingerboards, sharkfin inlays, mother-of-pearl logo and Schaller floating bridges, for example. All the models of this range (other than archtops and some signature instruments) included the designation ‘Pro’ in the model name (Fusion Pro, Stealth Pro etc.). According to the Audiozone website, “The Japanese Jackson Pro models introduced in 1990 and terminated in 1995, are some of the best imports ever to be released under the Jackson brand.” The list price of the Pro guitars was more than $1000 (about £600 at the time).

The confusion arose because Jackson extended the professional system a couple of years later with the addition of guitars that lacked the expensive features of the ‘Pro’s. Instead, they had flatsawn necks, unbound rosewood fingerboards, plastic logo and lower quality components (such as pickups and bridges), according to model. Jackson described these guitars as having the same playability as the Pro models but at a lower price. The list price of these guitars was generally more than $600 (or £340).

Jackson designated these cheaper guitars as ‘EX’ or ‘STD’ models (as distinct from the ‘PRO’ models) according to features but then referred to them in a catalogue as being ‘Pro Series’ guitars thus adding to any confusion. We must assume that this was simply a careless abbreviation of ‘Professional Series’ rather than a cynical marketing ploy because from that time, Jackson added the label ‘Pro’ to the truss rod covers of Pro models. But the earlier ‘Pro’ models lacked this distinguishing feature. All the models continued to have “Professional” written along the headstock. The Ex and Std versions were great guitars for their price but did not possess the quality of the Pro models that cost almost twice as much whilst approaching the quality of the USA built guitars.

 

Stealth Pro Specifications:

 

The Jackson Stealth Pro is a ‘superstrat’ guitar of the Professional series, produced in 1992.

 

Scale length: 648 mm (25.5″)

Frets: 22

Neck: The bolt-on, one-piece neck is made of maple. This is assumed to be flat sawn (Jackson did not list it as quarter sawn and the appearance of the figure suggests a tangential cut). A distinguishing feature of the Stealth is the very low, flattened ‘D’, neck profile that measures only 18 mm from fingerboard to neck arch at the 2nd fret. The making of a robust neck with such a low profile whilst allowing for the truss rod cavity, movement of the rod and use of flat sawn wood, is evidence of the quality of design and build accomplished by Jackson’s Japanese plant and the condition of my 25 year old guitar is a testament to this. The fingerboard is ebony with white, offset dot inlays. The fingerboard width is 43.2 mm (1.7″) at the nut and 52.7 mm (2.1″) at the 12th fret. The nut is locking.

Body: The body is made of basswood with a figured top of bookleaf matched ash. Jackson describe the design as being that of a “Dinky” model that has been sculpted front and back to give a light weight body with an ultra-sleek look and feel. The name ‘Stealth’ is likely derived from the appearance and feel of the sleek body and low profile neck.

Bridge: The bridge is a Jackson JT-590 double locking tremelo , made in Germany by Schaller under licence from Floyd Rose. Other than the locking nuts, all parts are interchangeable with original Floyd Rose components.

Electronics: The circuit is passive. The pickup configuration is HBSCSC (bridge-middle-neck = humbucker-single coil-single coil) comprising Jackson’s J-92C, J-100 and J-100S pickups. Objective information about these is scarce and I can find no description of the difference between the J-100S and the J-100 vintage single coil. The J-92C is a ceramic, ultra high output humbucker. Posts to various Jackson forums suggest that the J-92C is rare (being no longer in production) and highly sought after as the “ultimate shredding pickup”. In the early 1990s Jackson pickups were outsourced to Gotoh, Japan but USA pickups continued to be used on the high-end Japanese guitars. The controls consist of a master volume knob, a master tone knob and a 5-way pickup selector switch.

Serial Numbers: The Japanese bolt-on neck guitars have a 6-digit serial number engraved on the neck plate. The first 2 digits indicate the year of manufacture and the remaining 4 digits have yet to be deciphered. A Stealth Pro serial would therefore be expected to take the form 92nnnn (where n is any digit).

 

Table: Comparison of specifications of Stealth EX and PRO models –

Model
Year
Price
Body
Neck
Fingerboard
PC
Pickups
Bridge
EX
1992-95
$695 (£410)
BW
Maple
Rosewood
HSS
J75 • J110 • J110
JT-580
PRO
1992
$1195 (£700)
BW, ash, FT
Maple
Ebony
HSS
J92C • J100 • J100S
JT-590
[Key: PC = pickup configuration; BW = basswood; FT = figured top; H = humbucker; S = single coil]

 

 

Details of my Stealth:

 

The serial number on my guitar is 915094. While Stealth Pros are only listed as 1992 models, the serial indicates that the instrument was made in 1991 for export and sale in 1992. The truss rod cover is blank, as would be expected for a Stealth Pro. The guitar still bears its original, gold ‘Made in Japan’ sticker on the back of the heel. The finish is a transparent magenta burst and reveals the bookleaf matched, figured. ash top.

 

Top detail

Top Detail

 

The guitar has been modified with a coil split to separate the humbucker coils, effectively converting this to a single coil pickup and providing the option of a standard SCSCSC stratocaster pickup configuration. This option is selected using a push-pull tone control (but has rarely been used).

 

Acquisition and Documentation:

 

To date, the Stealth is the only solid-bodied guitar that I have purchased as a brand new instrument. I had previously been using a ‘Kay’ strat copy (a mail order catalogue guitar with a faulty truss rod that buzzed when certain notes were played), donated by a friend when it became surplus to requirements. But a tax rebate in early 1993 coincided with some progress when studying lead guitar and so I decided that a new guitar was called for. Deciding to browse local music shops before setting off for Denmark Street, I made my way to ‘Rock Around the Clock’ in Crouch End, North London, with my friend and musical partner Asha Dub. The store had recently moved along Park Road to new, more central premises where they also had a soundproofed demo booth. On floor stands in front of the main display, the ‘manager’s specials’ included 4 different Jackson Pro (1992) models. Obviously these guitars stood out because of the pointy headstocks and fine finishes but it was the ultra-fine profile of the neck that instantly drew my attention to the Stealth because I have smaller hands.

The sleek, lightweight body was another positive feature and we elected to test drive the Stealth in the booth which was equipped with a full Marshall stack of 100w head plus two 4×12 cabinets. The shop assistant plugged the guitar in and began to demonstrate the guitar’s features by playing it. After 5 minutes, during a pause, Dave Matthew (the proprietor) was heard to shout from the shop that the assistant should stop playing, leave the booth and let us have a go. For further enjoyment, we also tested a sunburst Infinity Pro with a gorgeous sound from the two humbuckers but I felt that the Stealth offered a more versatile variety of tones. Besides, by then the Stealth neck was already a determining factor. To prevent an impulse purchase, Asha and I had previously resolved to visit at least two shops. We explained to Dave that we were very interested in the Stealth but were going to think about it over lunch. To encourage a purchase before we left the premises, Dave offered a generous discount plus a free gig bag.

 

Rock Around the Clock, Crouch End
[now closed]

 

Even so, we left the shop and proceeded to the nearby premises of luthier Tim Marten (formerly Jimmy Page’s guitar technician) who had both a workshop and small guitar shop in the area at that time. There we tried a very different and cheaper, small-bodied guitar that I recall as being headless with a ‘V’ body, possibly a Steinberger copy. As enjoyable as this was, it failed to match the versatile tones and slimline neck of the Stealth and so we returned to ‘Rock Around the Clock’ where Dave had held back the Stealth and kept his word regarding the discount and bag. Even then, I had to wait several days for my cheque to clear before Dave phoned for me to collect the guitar. The original documents (below) that accompanied the guitar show that it was made in 1991, imported by Jackson’s UK distributor, John Hornby Skewes, in 1992 and purchased in January 1993.

 

Original documents

Original Documents: (L-R) Owner’s Manual; UK distributors tag; shop receipt.

 

Aftermath:

 

A few years later I was in a West End store and spotted two youths trying out a Stealth. They seemed impressed with the instrument. When they had finished, I also had a play and was immediately struck by the lesser playability of the guitar compared to my own. I made allowance for the higher action and assumed it had been poorly set up (especially for a shop demonstration). But the fret profile was flat and I thought the frets had not been well finished as I could feel some rough edges to the fret ends along the lower edge of the fingerboard as I played. Replacing the guitar in its stand, I noted from the label that it was an EX model and costing about £270. The flaws that I had noticed could easily be rectified in which case the guitar would have represented excellent value at the time. But it was evidently not of the same quality as a PRO model.

To complete the earlier quote from Audiozone, “The Japanese Jackson Pro models introduced in 1990 and terminated in 1995, are some of the best imports ever to be released under the Jackson brand. Notice I said Pro models. The Professional series continued until 1999.”

 

References:

 

Sources:

1. Audiozone website
2. Jackson 1992 Catalogue (2nd Ed.)
3. Import Charvel Fansite (pickups)

 

Useful Links:

1. Jackson website
2. Import Charvel Fansite
3. Michael Kiwanuka tours ‘Rock Around the Clock’ (BBC programme)

 

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