The Zebra Hummer is a positively striking instrument, and maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the guitar’s designer, Phillip Jarrell, is a fine art photographer with dozens of magazine covers and a recent gallery showing on his résumé. His latest objets d’art are Jarrell Guitars, which in a few short years have attracted the attention of a wide range of players from King Diamond shredder Mike Wead to Sonic Youth mad genius Lee Ranaldo.
Jarrell clearly has little patience for the ordinary (check out the “mythical creatures” in his latest photo exhibit), and his guitars reflect that same imagination, starting with the cases: the Zebra Hummer lives in a form-fitting silver metallized cocoon (with integral hygrometer) that looks like something Frodo might have found in the recesses of Mount Doom.
Flip open the six latches (this is truly one of the coolest cases I’ve seen on a production guitar), and behold the Zebra, with its eye-popping, otherworldly-yet-organic black and white striped finish. According to Jarrell, it’s a veneer created by press-heating wood sawdust and vacuum-gluing it to the maple top and mahogany back of the double cutaway body, then finishing it in glossy clear polyurethane. The Zebra’s body also draws the eye with its swooping, ergonomic cutaways, and its ebony fretboard and headstock overlay are highlighted by colorful, mildly gothic abalone inlays. Subtle touches like ebony pickup rings and a sturdy recessed output jack reveal careful attention to both form and function. Jarrell Guitars are built in China, but they’re more boutique than mass-produced. Jarrell himself oversees manufacture, and the resulting fit and finish is excellent, from the sharp-edged inlays and tight neck pocket to the smooth, well-dressed frets. The neck is a comfortable mediumslim maple “C” shape, and the factory setup delivers low action and easy bending across the 12" radius ’board. A sculpted neck joint allows excellent upper-fret access. My only playability suggestion would be to move the pickup selector farther from the easily bumped coil-split switches.
Played acoustically, the Zebra’s tone was clear and resonant, with notably more sustain and a less percussive attack than I expected. Testing through a Suhr Badger 30 and Vox AC15C2 revealed a warm and well-balanced clean tone. The Zebra Hummer’s pickups are a tried-and-true choice— Duncan ’59 neck and Custom bridge—but they somehow speak differently in this animal, delivering strong note definition and smoothness, but less bite and snarl than the PRS Custom 22 and Les Paul ’59 reissue I used for reference. The parallel and split pickup switching yielded a wide array of plucky and sparkling tones, yet I found the radicallooking Zebra Hummer ironically sounded rather mellow at clean and low-gain settings, possibly more suited to smooth jazz than blues or classic rock.
But, as I started pushing the gain, everything changed. The Jarrell rapidly began to out-evil the other guitars in the room for detuned metal grunge and highgain legato and tapping. The Zebra has a powerful fundamental with more muted overtones—a tonal recipe that can sound one-dimensional at lower gain—but the payoff is it stays tight and well defined at extreme thrash settings, practically begging for more and more distortion while remaining razor sharp, precise, and brutal.
The Jarrell Zebra Hummer isn’t for everyone, and that’s largely intentional. Its cosmetics are impeccably designed and classy, but likely too bold and aggressive for some. And while it can deliver a wide range of tones, I found the Zebra’s real magic might be in unleashing fullfrontal assault through a high-gain amp. For those drawn to less venomous styles, Jarrell Guitars offers the graceful contours of the Zebra with a variety of pickups and finish options, and it’s worth noting that his semi-hollowbody instruments are being endorsed by jazz and country artists like Jake Langley and Mac McAnally.
Big props to Renaissance man Phillip Jarrell for infusing the guitar world with a fresh dose of imagination and design!
CONTACT Jarrell Guitars LTD, (229) 232-8371; jarrellguitars.com
JZS-1 Zebra Hummer
PRICE $1,400 retail/$900 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16", Graph Tech
SCALE LENGTH 24 3/4"
NECK Hard Maple, “C” shape
FRETBOARD Ebony, 12" radius
FRETS 22 jumbo
TUNERS Jarrell top lock
BODY Maple top, Mahogany back, “Zebra” wooden veneer front and back
BRIDGE Tone Pros Tune-o-matic and stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Seymour Duncan SH-1 ’59 neck, TB-5 Duncan Custom bridge
CONTROLS Dual Volume, Tone, and series/ parallel/split mini toggle, 3-way pickup selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL120, .009-.042
WEIGHT 9.3 lbs
KUDOS Stunning style, great build quality and playability, wide range of tones.
CONCERNS Better suited for high-gain players.