The introduction of the 1990 Jackson Pro Series. The Soloist Archtop Trem model shown.
The Pro headstock shown here is from a red 1990 Rhoads Pro featuring a blank truss rod cover (no engraving). The 1990-1991 Pro's had blank covers.
Here's a 1993 Rhoads Pro headstock. Notice the Rhoads Pro engraved truss rod cover. 1992-1995 Pro's had the model name engraved in the covers. The engraving started in early 1992, so there are 1992 serialized Pro's out there with no engraving (J2xxxxx = 1992).
A young Tim Wilson from Charvel Jackson, somewhere in Japan, possibly visiting the Chushin Gakki factory.....?
The 1990-91 catalogue, introducing the Jackson Professional Series.
The 12th anniversary Jackson Archtop Ltd. ´91. The most expensive Jackson Import produced back then, listed at $2450. Only 200 made. Specifications here.
Knowing how the first Japanese Jackson import guitars came around is quite interesting, so here's the full story on the original Jackson Professional Series from Japan, introduced in 1990 and terminated around 1995.
Chushin Gakki, Kyowa-Shokai, Grover Jackson
The most famous and sought after imports ever made under the Jackson brand name, were the 1990-1995 guitars coming from a product facility in Japan, established by company president Grover Jackson around 1984-1985. He went through the Japanese trading company Kyowa-Shokai, who subcontracted with the Chushin Gakki factory, who build the instruments. "Gakki" translates to "Musical Instruments".
Grover Jackson obviously wanted a large scale Japanese production of selected models from the current US Custom Shop. Expanding by setting up a secondary production in Japan was the norm for many American guitar companies at that time. Grover Jackson also established a production of several low-end models, coming out of Korea by 1990 (e.g. "Charvette" by Charvel).
The official name of the Japanese factory is Chushin Musical Instruments Mfg, Inc., located in Nagano and has been run by Yuji Miyazawa since 1986.
Grover Jackson did not, as a Jackson employee, see this whole Japanese Jackson project take off. He sold his interests in the company to IMC in 1989 and suddenly quit. So it was without its founder when the original Jackson Professional Series finally started coming out of the Japanese plant by 1990.
It all began with Charvel imports in 1986
Before the Jackson import brand name came into play, the Japanese Chushin Gakki factory had already been licensed to produce Charvel guitars in 1985 and started shipping the first imports, the Charvel Model Series around mid 1986. That line of guitars was terminated by late 1988.
A Japanese Chushin Gakki worker at the Charvel import assembly line. Photo date around 1985-1986. Photo supplied by Grover Jackson.
From 1989 till about 1991, the Chushin Gakki factory made the Charvel Classic, Charvel Contemporary, Charvel Fusion and Charvel Professional Series. All the Charvel imports of this era (1986-1991) are nowadays considered very high quality instruments. I see the Charvel Professional Series (the 550, 650, 750 and 850) as the forerunners of the first original Jackson Professional's.
See a list showing all Charvel Japanese import guitars from 1986 - 1991.
The first Jackson imports
Up till 1989, all Jackson guitars were hand made in the USA and were considered Custom Shop guitars with work orders, meaning that you could have a guitar built to your own specifications. Late 1989 marked the introduction of the "USA Series" and the Japanese "Professional Series". These guitars were production models, spec'ed out by the Charvel Jackson company and as such, not customizable. Custom Shop guitars were still available.
Studying the 1990-1991 Catalogue provides a good overview of these new initiatives, dividing the USA guitars into "Production" and "Custom Shop" and introducing the Japanese made Jackson "Professional Series" and also the shortlived, low-end Korean made Charvette brand.
Too high quality?
The story goes that the American luthiers taught the Japanese how to make the Jackson Professional Series guitars and went to the factory in Japan several times to adjust the production and check the guitars coming out. The Japanese luthiers did such a great job, that their top product - The Professional Series Pro models - gradually became known as being on par with their USA counterparts built at that time.
The only downside to the Japanese Pro models were the use of cheaper hardware. Apart from that, they were considered having the same build quality as the USA models, listed at about $400 less. This price difference is typically magnified in the second hand market, where the Japanese models can be acquired for half of a USA model. And that's a killer deal regarding the Pro models. Lately (2006), I've seen used Pro's go for a lot more though and it seems like all the 1986-1995 Japanese Jackson and Charvel imports are being highly valued these days.
Protection of the USA Jackson brand
It is rumoured (by Larry Langell) that the Professional Series, the original Pro models in particular, eventually cut into the USA sales due to popularity. As a result, Jackson made changes to the Japanese Import Series in general, attempting to separate it further from the USA made guitars. Late 1994 or early 1995, the killer Japanese Pro's were completely taken out of production, leaving only the bolt-on models with cheaper materials and lower quality woods in the import selection.
Kyowa-Shokai / Itaru Kanno
An interesting observation here is that around that time (late 1994), Jackson's contract with the Japanese trading company Kyowa-Shokai expired and the Japanese company opted not to renew it. Itaru Kanno, one of the main designers at the Chushin Gakki factory, then took off and used his experience to start a new guitar company shortly after, the Caparison Guitar Company, which started in 1995.
My guess is, that Mr. Kanno was initially hired by the Kyowa-Shokai company and simply joined his company in the contractual exit from Jackson Charvel and the Chushin Gakki factory. One could speculate that their exit played a role in the production stop of the high-end Jackson Pro guitars.
To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Kanno and Caparison are still connected to the trading company Kyowa-Shokai, much in the same way as when he was working at the Chushin plant, building Jackson guitars on a contract.
Former Jackson Charvel luthier, now with Caparison, Mr. Itaru Kanno. Photo taken by Steve Stell in 2007.
Read more on the relationship between the trading company Kyowa-Shokai and the Chushin Gakki factory.
Itaru Kanno designed several guitar models for Jackson Charvel, including the Charvel CDS Series, Charvel Questar Series, Jackson Soloist Special Custom, Jackson Dinky AXE Custom, the 27-fretter Jackson Falcon Custom and the Grover Jackson Doug Aldrich Series. I bet he was involved in the building of the original Jackson Professional's as well.
Japanese Jackson Guitars today (2006)
Some say that Jackson owned the Japanese facility and still do, but it’s safe to say that today, the Chushin Musical Instruments company makes guitars for the American Jackson Guitars company exclusively and that include the import Jackson and Charvel guitars and the Jackson Stars Series, where the latter is made for the Japanese market only.
audiozone.dk • January 2006