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This article was originally published in issue #26
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Jeff Loomis has been one of the longest standing endorsers of Schecter Guitar Research and for 2014 he has once again teamed-up with the US company to release a new incarnation of his JL7 signature series. This one has significant upgrades and modifications to his previous design, incorporating many new developments in guitar construction, hardware and aesthetics to create a truly cutting-edge 7-string guitar for the modern Metal marketplace.
The first thing that struck us on removing the JL7 from the packaging was its enhanced appearance - the staining of the maple neck and fretboard on the previous model has been eradicated to leave the natural colour of the wood on display under a clear satin finish. The Vampyre Red body transparently reveals the grain of the swamp ash underneath (upgraded from ash on the previous model for weight relief) and combines with the neck to create an understated, contemporary look. The cross inlays that are a signature of Schecter guitars are black and give the guitar a clear Heavy Metal leaning without being overbearing or detracting from the tasteful impression of the instrument overall.
The headstock is unfinished and features a black Schecter logo as well as a silver truss rod cover with Jeff’s signature engraved on it, a subtle way to indicate the artist’s involvement in the product without detracting from the clean look of the guitar. The tuners are arranged in a 3/4 combination and were Grovers on our review model; the fixed bridge version features Schecter's own-brand locking machine heads.
The three-piece neck is constructed from maple with two walnut reinforcement strips for stability, black binding and Luminlay glow-in-the-dark side inlays. In a major departure from the previous JL7 model, the neck now features an ultra-thin C-shape in place of the considerably thicker profile of the past. Jeff has been a long-time believer in the 26.5” scale length for 7-string guitar which allows for a more balanced string tension across the 10-56 gauge strings supplied as standard on the instrument, and this thinner neck profile is a welcome and extremely comfortable addition to the design, which allows the player to shred all over the slightly longer fretboard with ease.
The new look JL7 also features Schecter's new Ultra-Access neck joint which we found to offer absolutely superb upper-fret access and comfort. At first glance the guitar appears to feature a neck-through design but actually utilises a set-neck construction and severe scalloping of the backside of the lower horn to really get the body of the guitar out of the players way - even when performing wide stretch licks at the top end of the neck my fretting hand wasn’t coming into contact with the body at any point and bends and vibrato could be executed with ease.
In terms of hardware, the guitar features a black Floyd Rose 1000 7-string bridge and locking nut. This is the South Korean-made Floyd Rose, but it uses all the same dimensions and materials as the Original Floyd Rose and will therefore fit any Floyd Rose upgrade parts you may wish to install, or could indeed be swapped out altogether for its German-made counterpart. Throughout our review we found it to hold tune perfectly, despite a serious amount of abuse, although the four-spring installation in the back of the instrument did make the bridge and string tension of the guitar somewhat tighter than many players might expect. This is likely in order to compensate for the increased tension of the 7th string, the thicker string gauge and the longer scale length and is certainly a contributing factor to the fantastic tuning stability, but in our opinion installing a set of three short tremolo springs would probably create a string tension and whammy bar response more in line with what many players would expect. However, this is an easy job for anybody experienced with Floyd Rose maintenance and is an issue that really comes down to personal preference; we’re certainly not about to argue with the choices of a player as proficient and respected as Jeff!
The guitar features a three-way pickup selector and one volume control, eschewing a tone knob in the tradition of many Metal-orientated axes, and two brand-new EMG pickups (NB: at the time of writing, Schecter's own website has this wrong though the promo video is correct! - Ed). The 57-7H (bridge) and 66-7H (neck) have replaced the previous models 707 pickups and are EMG's latest design, both featuring a unique combination of Alnico V magnets and steel pole pieces to create pickups that combine the classic characteristics and dynamics of PAF-style humbuckers whilst retaining the clarity and reliability of an active design. The bridge pickup offers a biting, crystal-clear tone that cleans up well when the volume knob is backed off, whilst the neck pickup is full of warmth and sustain. The split position offers the classic thinner tone that experienced players will expect with the clarity and top-end that ensures the low B string retains dynamics and audibility even when subjected to extreme gain scenarios. Finished in brushed black chrome these pickups really impressed us, delivering heaps of tone across the board and topping off the appearance of the guitar perfectly.
The construction, fit and finish of our review model was absolutely flawless and a testament to the massive advances in South Korean guitar construction over the last decade. The guitars are set-up and inspected to a high standard in the USA before shipping and our instrument arrived with perfect action and intonation straight out of the box. The fretwork was also excellent, with fantastic fret finishing and a perfect binding job with the Luminlay inlays expertly applied. The neck was straight as an arrow and combined with the 16” fretboard radius created a very flat, smooth and professional playing experience.
Overall, the new Schecter JL7 for 2014 is an absolutely superb 7-string guitar for Heavy Metal and any other form of music that requires an instrument that can accommodate the most advanced techniques. With many cutting-edge features and design concepts that really make it stand out from the competition, we feel that Jeff has made multiple improvements to his long standing signature formula that will no doubt prove popular amongst players of all levels.
All this quality doesn't come cheap but it's well worth what Schecter are asking for what is bound to be one of this year's great guitars.