Ibanez JTK1 Jet King

March 1, 2004

Although retro fever has been shaking around the gear industry for quite a while now, few manufacturers have exhibited Ibanez’s balls in evoking some Sears Roebuck vision of ’60s pawnshop guitar design.

The company’s Jet King is truly a magnificent mix of vintage-inspired beauty and junkyard chic. This is a guitar that champions the underbelly of rock—a paean to the garage bands and sonic wackos of yore, and it tags modern users as off-kilter renegades. In other words, if you want to get fired from your Quiet Riot cover band, bringing this guitar onstage will get you a pink slip in the blink of an eye. Yeah, the Jet King is that cool!

Body Parts
The Jet King’s unfinished headstock, old-radio-like knobs, rocker switches, and splashes of chrome imply a certain cheap-hip wonkiness, but the construction is extremely solid. The only hardware goof was a rattling input-jack cover. The high-gloss body and satin neck finishes are flawless—there are no dimples or clumping—and the four-bolt neck is practically ziplocked into the body.

The 22 lightly polished, medium frets are generally excellent, although a couple of ragged ends appeared below the 15th fret.

Ergonomically, the Jet King is a blast to play. It’s light, the slim neck invites all kinds of fretboard gymnastics, and the serrated controls are willing targets. Added bonus: The lightweight body is easily tossed behind your back for those climactic, grab-the-mic-and-scream moments essential to all riot-inducing rock and roll sets.

Tone King
The Jet King’s evocative, pawnshop-prize looks might portend a singular, low-rent roar, but it delivers a diverse palette of fairly belligerent tones. The Tone knob itself has a pretty subtle frequency range. You can back it off for some fuzzy jazz-like sounds (especially with the neck pickup selected), but knob-spinning wah-like tone trickery isn’t really an option. It doesn’t matter—you have more than enough sonic firepower at your disposal with the coil-tap rockers and the pickup selector. Most of the tones you’ll discover are punchy and aggressive, but the Jet King never veers into cheap, spitty high end. To some players, the relative lack of lo-fi may be a slight disadvantage, but I was too busy digging the Jet King’s ’60s- and ’70s-styled midrange timbres. My fave tones included a James Gang-like funky snarl with a big bottom (bridge/no tap); a rounded “Mississippi Queen” warmth with a little bite (neck/no tap); a snappy, Malcolm Young-inspired overdrive (tapped bridge); and a steady, “China Grove”-esque tight bass with
top-end sparkle (neck and bridge/both pickups tapped).

The Jet King seems to have an affinity for all amps—I used various Marshalls and Fenders, a Vox AC15 and a Valvetronix, and a Mesa/Boogie Rectifier Recording Preamp—and dynamic shifts were readily achieved with twists of the guitar’s Volume knob. From the familiar, yet slyly unique tones to its love it/hate it visage, the Jet King is a brilliant partner for anyone who simply can’t abide the road most traveled.  

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