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.