Jackson Factories

Jackson Guitars is an iconic name in the world of heavy metal and hard rock. Established in the late 1970s, it quickly became synonymous with shredding solos and aggressive tones. However, while the guitars themselves are legends on the stage, the factories that birthed these instruments have their own storied histories.

1. Charvel’s Guitar Repair: Southern California

Wayne Charvel, after a three-year stint at Fender during the early 1970s, established “Charvel’s Guitar Repair” in Azusa, California, in 1974. The workshop quickly gained renown for its high-quality repair services, custom paint jobs, and bespoke parts production for out-of-warranty Fender guitars. As the reputation of Charvel’s shop grew among musicians, it faced competition from Asian manufacturers who started producing and selling knock-off parts at lower prices. This challenge led to a strategic shift when Grover Jackson, who had become an integral part of the business, suggested they start building complete guitars.

Charvel’s instruments were thus composed of wooden components sourced from Boogie Bodies and Schecter, adorned with a mix of Charvel-branded and aftermarket hardware. Facing financial difficulties, Wayne Charvel eventually filed for bankruptcy and in 1978, handed over the company’s reins to Grover Jackson, dissociating himself from the Charvel brand thereafter. After purchasing the company name, Grover Jackson moved the business to a new location in Glendora, California.

Jackson brand was born in 1980 when the iconic guitarist Randy Rhoads approached the company, seeking a unique guitar tailored to his playing style. This partnership with Grover Jackson, Tim Wilson, and master builder Mike Shannon led to the creation of the Concorde, a bold redesign of the classic Flying V. The radical departure from Charvel’s traditional Stratocaster-inspired models prompted Grover Jackson to differentiate these instruments with a new brand name, selecting his own surname for the marque, thus birthing the inaugural Jackson guitar.

This was a time when heavy music was gaining momentum, and Jackson became the answer to a new generation of flamboyant guitarists looking for more from their instruments. The early Jackson guitars, including the legendary Randy Rhoads models, were crafted in this Southern California shop, which quickly became an epicenter for high-performance custom guitars.

2. San Dimas, California

The San Dimas period is often revered as the golden era for Jackson guitars. It was a time marked by innovation, collaboration, and the birth of designs that would become iconic in the realm of electric guitars. The San Dimas factory, situated in California, was the crucible where the foundational identity of Jackson guitars was forged.

2.1. The Beginnings: Charvel Guitars

Custom Endeavors: Charvel’s initial emphasis was on producing guitar parts and offering repair services. They quickly garnered attention for customizing guitars, especially Stratocaster-style instruments with unique finishes and configurations.

2.2. The Jackson Transition

Randy Rhoads Collaboration: The San Dimas facility became pivotal when Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist, Randy Rhoads, walked in with a distinct vision for a guitar. This meeting led to the iconic Jackson Rhoads V-shaped guitar, marking the beginning of the Jackson brand.

Branding Evolution: Following the success of the Rhoads model, Grover Jackson decided to launch the new designs under the ‘Jackson’ brand name, while still operating Charvel out of the same facility.

2.3. Features of the Factory

Boutique Production: The San Dimas facility was not a mass-production powerhouse. Instead, it maintained an artisan approach, focusing on handcrafted instruments. This meant limited production numbers but exceptional quality.

Skilled Luthiers: The factory became a gathering point for some of the best talents in the guitar-making industry. Their collective expertise contributed to the high quality and distinct sound of the guitars produced.

2.4. Iconic Guitars

Birthplace of Legends: Beyond the Rhoads model, the San Dimas facility was responsible for the creation of several iconic guitar models. The Jackson Soloist and Dinky were all products of this era.

2.5. Legacy and Collectability

Highly Valued Instruments: Guitars stamped with “San Dimas, CA” on the neck plate are highly sought after in the guitar-collecting community. Instruments from this period are considered to have a certain magic about them, embodying exceptional craftsmanship and a unique tonal quality.

Transition: By the end of the 1980s, operations were moved from San Dimas to a more spacious facility in Ontario, California, marking the end of the legendary San Dimas era.

3. Ontario, California

When the legendary San Dimas period drew to a close, Jackson transitioned to Ontario, California, marking the beginning of a new chapter. The Ontario facility was not just a new location, but a sign of the brand’s expansion, maturity, and an evolving approach to guitar manufacturing.

3.1. The Move to Ontario: Reasons & Implications

  • Need for Expansion: The demand for Jackson guitars was growing exponentially by the late 1980s. The San Dimas facility, though iconic, couldn’t keep up with the production requirements. Ontario, with its spacious facility, was chosen to meet this demand.
  • Modernization: Moving to Ontario meant more than just additional space; it was an opportunity to introduce more modern manufacturing techniques, allowing for efficient production without compromising on the brand’s quality.

3.2. Factory Features & Production Process

  • Advanced Machinery: The Ontario factory incorporated state-of-the-art machinery that enabled more consistent production runs. This meant guitars produced here had the same renowned quality but with greater consistency across multiple units.
  • Skilled Workforce: While machinery was upgraded, the human touch was not abandoned. Many artisans and luthiers from the San Dimas days transitioned to the Ontario facility, ensuring the brand’s legacy of craftsmanship continued.
  • Enhanced Workflow: The factory was designed for streamlined production. From wood selection and treatment to final assembly and quality checks, the workflow at Ontario was systematic and efficient.

3.3. Product Lines & Quality Control

  • Diverse Offerings: The Ontario factory facilitated the production of a wider range of models. While flagship models continued to be produced, newer models were introduced to cater to a broader audience.
  • Stringent Quality Control: One of the hallmarks of the Ontario facility was its rigorous quality control process. Every guitar went through multi-point inspections, ensuring that instruments, whether custom or standard models, met the brand’s high standards.

3.4. Legacy & Continued Production

  • Balancing Tradition and Modernity: The Ontario facility managed to strike a balance between maintaining the legacy of the San Dimas era and embracing modern production techniques. This balance is a testament to Jackson’s commitment to their roots while also looking ahead.
  • Collectability: While San Dimas models are often more sought after by collectors, Ontario-era guitars have carved out their niche. Known for their consistent quality and diverse range, these instruments are appreciated by both players and enthusiasts.

4. Japan Factories

Jackson’s rise to fame in the 1980s prompted Grover Jackson to start producing popular guitar models in Asia on a larger scale. By 1986, production shifted to Japanese assembly lines, and guitars were then designated by model numbers.

Jackson Guitars has leveraged the production capabilities of Asian factories to cater to various segments of the market, especially the mid-range and entry-level sectors. This move not only allows for more cost-effective production but also broadens the accessibility of Jackson guitars to a global audience.

Grover Jackson sold the Jackson brand to IMC (International Music Corporation) in 1989. Under IMC, Charvel guitars were manufactured exclusively in Japan from 1986 to 1991.

The “Professional” series, which started in the late 1980s, was one of Jackson’s initial lines produced outside of the USA, specifically in Japan. These guitars were well-received and provided players with a more affordable option while retaining many of the quality features Jackson was known for.

After Jackson Guitars was acquired by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) in 2002, the production dynamics for Jackson underwent several changes to leverage Fender’s expansive infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities. Here’s a breakdown of where Jackson guitars have been produced post-integration:

5. U.S. Production

  • Corona, California: Many of Jackson’s high-end and custom shop guitars shifted to Fender’s main U.S. facility in Corona, California. This allowed Jackson’s Custom Shop to benefit from Fender’s advanced resources while retaining the brand’s distinctiveness and craft quality.
  • Specialized Teams: Even within the Corona facility, Jackson guitars are made by specialized teams well-versed in Jackson’s unique design elements and specifications.

6. Mexican Production – Ensenada Facility

Just south of the U.S. border, in the bustling city of Ensenada, Baja California lies a facility that has become synonymous with producing some of the most esteemed instruments in the music world. The Ensenada factory, while not originally designed for Jackson or Charvel, has played a pivotal role in the larger tapestry of guitar manufacturing. The collaboration between Jackson Guitars and Fender’s Ensenada factory in Mexico has been a significant development, enabling Jackson to tap into Fender’s vast manufacturing prowess while maintaining its unique identity.

6.1. A Fender Foundation

  • Origins: The Ensenada facility is predominantly recognized as Fender’s primary manufacturing hub in Mexico. Established in the early 1990s, it was designed to produce high-quality instruments at a more affordable price point, expanding Fender’s reach to a wider range of musicians.
  • Strategic Location: Its proximity to Fender’s main U.S. operations in Corona, California, allowed for seamless integration, communication, and shared expertise between the two facilities.

6.2. Expanding the Jackson Footprint

  • Diversifying Production: Although Jackson’s roots and flagship models originated from the USA, the decision to manufacture select models in Ensenada was strategic. It allowed Jackson to cater to a wider range of customers, offering quality instruments at a more accessible price point.
  • Strategic Synergy: By leveraging Fender’s established infrastructure in Ensenada, Jackson could swiftly upscale production without the logistical challenges of setting up a new facility from scratch.

6.3. The Ensenada Advantage

  • Consistent Quality: The Ensenada factory is renowned for maintaining rigorous quality standards. As Jackson models started rolling off the production line here, they inherited the facility’s reputation for consistent and top-notch build quality.
  • Technological Edge: With advanced machinery and production techniques at its disposal, Jackson guitars produced in Ensenada featured precision engineering, ensuring that they met the brand’s high standards in every aspect, from fretwork to finish.

6.4. Jackson Models from Ensenada

  • Diverse Range: Over the years, a variety of Jackson models have been produced in Ensenada. This includes versions of their popular Dinky, Rhoads, Soloist, and Kelly models, among others. Jackson’s Pro Series guitars are produced in Mexico, offering a more affordable alternative to the U.S. and Japanese models. Despite their lower price, the Pro Series guitars boast high playability and craftsmanship, with speedy necks, smooth frets, and a compound radius for easy soloing. While the hardware may not match the MJ or USA Series, these guitars still deliver the iconic Jackson playability and sound
  • Special Editions: Occasionally, the factory has also produced limited-run or special edition models, offering unique finishes, hardware, or specifications not commonly found in standard Jackson lines.

6.5. Training and Craftsmanship

  • Shared Expertise: One of the benefits of producing Jackson guitars in a facility already seasoned with Fender’s production was the shared knowledge and training. Luthiers and technicians at the Ensenada plant already had years of experience crafting high-quality instruments, which easily translated to Jackson’s specific requirements.
  • Balancing Automation and Handcrafting: While modern machinery played a role in the production process, certain aspects of Jackson guitars, especially those that define their playability and tonal character, were crafted with a human touch. This blend of automation and handcrafting ensured efficiency without sacrificing the soul of the instrument.

6.6. Feedback and Evolution

  • Close-knit Communication: Jackson’s core team and the staff at Ensenada maintained a close-knit communication channel. Feedback from musicians, artists, and the market was regularly relayed back to the factory, ensuring continuous improvement in production practices and design tweaks.

In summary, after the integration into the Fender infrastructure, Jackson guitars have been produced across multiple locations worldwide. Each facility caters to specific market segments, but all share a common goal: to produce guitars that uphold Jackson’s legacy and meet the expectations of musicians worldwide.

As the years progressed and market dynamics evolved, Jackson further diversified its production to include other Asian countries like Indonesia and China. This was especially true in the 2000s and beyond, as the brand looked to cater to both mid-tier and entry-level segments of the market.

7. Indonesian Factories

  • Core Production: Over the years, Indonesia has emerged as a primary hub for Jackson’s mid-tier models. With a strong woodworking tradition and an established network of skilled craftsmen, Indonesian factories have produced a wide range of Jackson models with consistency and quality.
  • Key Models: Some popular Jackson series, like the X Series and JS Series, have models produced in Indonesia. This includes variations of the Soloist, Rhoads, Dinky, and other signature shapes.
  • Quality Control: While these factories are third-party operations, Jackson maintains stringent quality oversight. Regular inspections and collaborations ensure that the instruments align with Jackson’s standards.

8. Chinese Factories

  • Entry-Level Production: China, being a massive manufacturing powerhouse, has facilities that produce Jackson’s entry-level models. These guitars are primarily aimed at beginners or guitarists looking for budget-friendly options without compromising too much on quality.
  • Affordability & Volume: Chinese factories can produce at large volumes, allowing Jackson to cater to the global market effectively. Economies of scale and more automated processes contribute to the affordability of these models.
  • Models and Series: The JS Series, particularly the lower-end models, is often produced in China. These guitars provide a taste of Jackson’s signature playability and aesthetics at a more accessible price point.

Quality Assurance and Brand Identity

  • Maintaining Standards: While Asian factories allow Jackson to offer cost-effective solutions, the brand is conscious of its reputation. As such, rigorous quality checks and periodic inspections ensure that the instruments, regardless of their production location, uphold the Jackson name.
  • Collaboration: Representatives from Jackson often collaborate with these Asian factories on design refinements, ensuring that production techniques and materials used are in line with brand expectations.
  • Feedback Mechanism: Jackson values feedback from its community. Any insights or issues highlighted by users are often relayed back to these factories for continuous improvement.

Jackson’s collaboration with Asian factories reflects the brand’s commitment to making its iconic guitars available to a wider audience. While the production landscapes and price points might differ, the core ethos remains: to deliver instruments that resonate with the legacy and spirit of Jackson Guitars. Whether it’s a high-end USA model or an entry-level guitar from Asia, the brand’s distinct identity is evident in every instrument.

Conclusion

The story of Jackson’s factories is a tale of growth, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of perfection. Each facility, whether in California or overseas, stands as a testament to Jackson’s commitment to quality and its legacy as a premier guitar manufacturer. Through these factories, Jackson has consistently delivered instruments that resonate with the brand’s ethos, all while navigating the challenges and demands of a global market.