Jim L. Schmidt openly admits that his raison d’etre circa 2009 is to
outgun his fellow California guitar maker – and former employer – at
offering an affordable, bolt-neck, U.S.-made electric with three
pickups and a vibrato tailpiece. Schmidt worked first in the lumber
selection room before moving into final assembly during his tenure with
Fender in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Now, working as JLS Guitars, he makes electrics that are devoutly of
the S-style, but with a twist in the form of his chambered ash body
with figured maple top. Denoted by the workmanlike names SSS Model and
SSH Model (differentiated by single-coil or humbucker in the bridge;
each $1,024 including shipping), the line is assembled from start to
finish by Schmidt himself in his workshop in Folsom, California, using
some original components, some bought in from other suppliers. As a
custom builder, Schmidt points out that he can also provide many
options regarding the pickup configurations on his guitars.
Schmidt makes his own bodies, routing ten narrow chambers (plus control
cavity and pickup routes) in a solid ash back, then capping it with a
two-piece, bookmatched maple top, and marrying it to necks purchased
from another manufacturer. The one-piece maple neck on our review
sample carried 22 jumbo frets, courtesy of a small fingerboard
extension that provided room for the extra fret beyond the 21-fret
vintage norm. All frets were smoothly filed and polished, and the neck
played extremely well from nut to neck-body joint. The hardware
complement on all JLS guitars includes a gold-plated Warmouth
vintage-style Stratocaster vibrato and enclosed 16:1 ratio gold-plated
Gotoh tuners. Pickups are Fender American Standard Stratocaster
single-coils, with the option of a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates
humbucker in the bridge, as on this example.
Schmidt’s chambering keeps the guitar’s weight down to a little over 7
lbs, and also allows the inclusion of an elegant f-hole in the maple
top, a surprising “Thinline-inspired” feature on an S-style electric.
The routing work revealed by this particular f-hole shows just the
tiniest bit of wood furring in evidence in the ash beneath, but
workmanship is very good overall. The SSH is finished in a thin,
water-based satin lacquer. The overall look, to some players, might be
akin to that ’70s trend for stripping guitars to natural, and others
might feel a figured top such as this deserves a polished gloss finish.
I like the overall vibe in the hand, though, and it’s hard to argue
with the environmentally friendly aspect of the water-based finish, or
the likely fact that it won’t constrain the guitar’s resonance unduly.
Plugged straight into a TopHat Club Royale MkII, the SSH revealed a
warm, round neck pickup for good bluesy excursions or sweeter rock
ballads, and an open and balanced tonality overall, with admirable
definition. The in-between settings still capture much of the
Knopfler-esque quack that many S-style players are hooked on, while
switching to the Duncan in the bridge ups the ante on the rock action.
The Pearly Gates is a lower-gain humbucker (roughly in the vintage-PAF
range), so the bridge, neck and middle positions are all well balanced
output-wise, and there’s plenty of sonic versatility between the five
available selections. All in all, the SSH is a well executed
instrument, and should appeal to more than a few players looking for a
U.S.-made alternative in the S-style mold that’s a little different
from the norm and more affordable as well. —Dave Hunter
Contact JLS Guitars, (916) 984-1534; jlsguitars.com
Price $1,024 retail/ street price N/A
Nut width 1 11/16"
Neck Maple, bolt-on, 25 1/2" scale length
Fretboard maple, 12" radius
Frets 22 jumbo
Body chambered ash with flame maple top
Pickups Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates humbucker in the bridge position, Fender American Standard Stratocaster single-coils middle and neck
Controls Single Volume, two Tones, 5-way switch
Bridge Warmouth vintage S-style vibrato
Weight 7.4 lbs
Kudos Excellent playability, versatile tones, appealing flame in maple top
Concerns Slight “furring” of wood inside f-hole route
For more information, visit www.jlsguitars.com.