In the ’70s, there was no such thing as Jackson Guitars. as Jackson Guitars. Grover Jackson was working with Wayne Charvel and would soon purchase Charvel’s company. A meeting with a relatively unknown L.A. guitarslinger named Randy Rhoads would change everything for Jackson the man, and would launch Jackson the company. In the ensuing years, Grover Jackson would merge with IMC, and in 2002 Jackson Guitars was bought by Fender. On the verge of the company’s 30th anniversary, Mr. Jackson himself looks back on the birth of it all.
“I met with Randy two years after I had bought Charvel Manufacturing,” recalls Jackson. “He had gotten the Ozzy gig and they had recorded the first record and released it in Europe. Randy came home for Christmas and came by the shop on Dec. 23, 1980. We sat and talked from noon until midnight. In the course of that conversation, the original Randy Rhoads model was designed.
“At that time, we had just started to make some Charvel guitars and were getting a little bit of success, but the company was very modest. We were broke and struggling to gain some sort of a foothold in the marketplace. Randy came out with a cocktail napkin with a crude line drawing on it. I thought that if I put out this crazy shaped guitar and it didn’t do well, it could have a negative effect on what little success we had at Charvel. I asked if he would mind if I put a different name on the guitar, and he said that was fine. We went with Jackson on the headstock and that’s how the Jackson brand was formed. The first guitar I built for him was the white one and a little while later I made him the black one as a backup.
“We started to see some effect in sales that first year that Randy had the white one, although sadly, the interest really picked up after he passed away. The scene in L.A. was really exploding around that time and soon the guys in Ratt—Warren DeMartini and Robbin Crosby—were playing our guitars. Carlos Cavazo from Quiet Riot was very influential for a period of time. Then it was a deluge, with Def Leppard, Steve Vai, Vinnie Vincent and lots of other guitarists playing Jacksons.
“The industry changed a bit after that. Companies like Kramer and Ibanez wanted to get in on some of the action that we had going, and the way they did it was through endorsements. A lot of the artists realized that there was an economic advantage to this. They no longer wanted the best guitar they could get. Now they wanted the best endorsement deal. For me that was sad.
“Over the years, my unwillingness to cut corners and do things more cheaply probably cost me the company. I felt like it was the right thing to do in order to make a better mousetrap and the reputation we had for quality was extremely important to me. Although ultimately it was to my detriment, I wouldn’t change a thing.”