Thanks to the marketing people at Jackson, there has always been a lot of confusion regarding the Japanese Jackson guitars labeled Professional or Pro. Sometimes Pro is short for Professional and sometimes it's not! And what are the differences anyway?
Headstock of a 1993 Jackson Rhoads Pro from the Professional series.
The Golden Years of Jackson import guitars
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.
It is quite useful to know exactly which guitars we're talking about here, so you can spot the Pro's in the crowd. Everywhere you look, be it on eBay or Internet forums, the mixup between "Professional" and "Pro" is present and almost the norm.
The label Professional denotes a series of guitars. The most expensive guitars from this series are called Pro's. They have expensive and sound-enhancing features like quartersawn necks, bound ebony fingerboards and German made Schaller tremolos (if not a string-thru).
When Jackson introduced this series of guitars in 1990, there were only Pro models. Every guitar from the Professional series were Pro’s. They all had these expensive features. They were all priced well above the $1000 mark. That is my take on it.
Root cause of the confusion - the 1990 Index
Jackson's presentation on the other hand, was a bit more blurry and later caused a widespread confusion about the labels Pro and Professional - a confusion that still exist today. Take a look at this catalog index from the introduction in 1990:
Index of the 1990 catalogue. According to Jackson, the "Pro series" consists of 8 guitars. Apparently, only 4 of the 8 models are Pro's. But they all carry the same expensive features described earlier. So what are the differences between them, Jackson?
A better 1990 Index
I have made my own (photoshopped) 1990 Index to show you how I think it should have been. It makes a lot more sense to me this way, especially when you look at what happened the following years, when the series expanded:
Notice how the headliner in red is changed - the series should have been called (and spelled out): Professional and all the model names should have been followed by the label Pro. Photoshopped 1990 Index!
Cheaper models benefits from the Pro label
What happened later in history, was that Jackson included more guitars under the label Professional series - guitars that did not have the expensive features of the Pro's. They were named Std or EX, to name a few. That is not a problem in itself. But when Jackson use the terms inconsistantly, it becomes confusing. On the headstock it says Professional. But in catalogs Jackson abbreviates it to Pro. But Pro are the top-of-the-line expensive guitars, remember? That's confusing! But maybe it's all a deliberate marketing trick by Jackson, making us think that Professional's are all the same.
Say you have a Rhoads EX (retail $695). It says Professional on the headstock under the clearcoat. In catalogs, Jackson refers to it as a Pro series, because they can't be bothered writing the whole name (like they do on the headstock). Does that make it comparable to the Rhoads Pro? ($1595). H*ll no! But we easily get the impression that it does.
Blank truss rod cover?
Furthermore, from early 1992 thru 1995, the word Pro suddenly appeared on the truss rod covers of the Pro guitars. Helpful and confusing at the same time, because where does that leave the first batch of Pro guitars (90-91), which had blank truss rod covers? D'OH!
The Japanese made Pro guitars, are the guitars that are known to equal the USA Jacksons in terms of build quality, features and workmanship. These are the ones you want to hunt down on eBay, but expect to pay good money for them.
Most of the other Professional series models are killer axes too - I am only pointing out, that the Pro's are the closest match for a USA made Jackson from the same period of time and deserves to be recognized as such.
Here are the words of Jackson on the series when introduced in 1990:
The Jackson Pro series is designed for the professional working musician who requires a superior caliber instrument to match his or her superior talents.Read full version
Jackson Pro (by Jackson, 1990)
For years the only way for some of the world's best guitarists to get their hands on a Jackson guitar was to custom order it from the factory, and many of you still do (see page 50) but now there's another way. In response to the monumental demand for Jacksons, and with an eye toward making them affordable to virtually any working professional guitarist, Jackson has introduced a standardized line of guitars. By limiting the custom options to finishes and having the guitars made to Jackson's stringent specifications at the Charvel plant, we're now able to produce top quality guitars for very competitive prices. These guitars are made to the same exacting Jackson standards and with he same hardware, woods and electronics that have made Jackson the most sought-after guitars and basses in the world.
The Jackson Pro Series is designed for the professional working musician who requires a superior caliber instrument to match his or her superior talents.
From the 1990-91 Jackson catalog, page 32
Jackson Guitars, 1990
Professional = not USA made
None of the 1990-1995 Professional series guitars are made in USA. All of them are made in Japan at the "Charvel plant", as Jackson used to call the Chushin Gakki factory.
Below is a summarized chart I put together, making it easy to spot the Pro's and compare them to the other models. The list covers the period from 1990 thru 1995 and info is added continuously.
Every guitar with Pro in their name on that list, is a Pro from the Professional series of guitars. The Limited '91 model is also a member of the high-end Pro's, being the most expensive of the series overall.
To get the full picture of these legendary guitars, make sure to also check these links:
The models in the chart below, can be found in more than one guitar catalogue, so be sure to check out all Jackson catalogues from 1990 thru 1995, to get the full picture.
Note that the configuration of the models changes slightly during this 5 year period; especially the tremolos gets swapped around.
You should also know that the original catalogues sometimes contains errors, like wrong tremolo or wrong number of frets listed. Cross checking a catalogue page with its corresponding pricelist, will often reveal inconsistencies, especially regarding tremolo model.
Jackson will sometimes display a guitar in the catalogue with features NOT found on the final production model.