Somewhere deep in the MusicPlayers.com archives, buried away, exists a grainy VHS tape of Jason Becker simultaneously yo-yoing and playing three-octave arpeggios effortlessly, equally showing off inhuman technical ability along with showmanship which has yet to be rivaled. Later in his career, Becker was seen with his classic “Numbers” guitar, now faithfully reproduced in tribute by Kiesel Guitars.
Quite tragically, Jason’s career was cut short by the neurologic disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which has rendered him immobile and in need of around-the-clock care. His fight for life is an inspiration to us all. Remarkably, Becker still composes music, in part thanks to computer technology developed by his father that scans eye movement and tracks that into the computer! So much for the excuse that your guitar is in the shop…
The Kiesel JB24 is an instrument whose playful design would be at home in a kindergarten classroom. Hand made in Souther California, Kiesel guitars (formerly known by the Carvin name) are outstanding instruments, finely crafted from choice woods and adorned with gorgeous finishing work. We have reviewed quite a few of their guitars over the years and have been uniformly impressed by everything from fit-and-finish to playability and more.
Although no one at MusicPlayers.com professes to having Becker’s mastery of the guitar under their belt, the question of the day is, “Did Kiesel build a fitting tribute guitar to this adored shredder?” The answer to that is an unequivocal “Yes,” and once again, this is another Kiesel guitar we’ll end up purchasing (rather than part with) at the conclusion of this review.
The JB24 Jason Becker Numbers guitar starts its life as a slab of swamp ash, which is a particularly good choice for a shred machine and a preferred tonewood. Upon opening the premium, semi-soft case (we mean it, we’d fly with this case, no questions asked. It’s perfectly sturdy but small enough to fit in an overhead), we were instantly struck by the playful crayon colors and child-like Numbers theme on a body and headstock painted bright white (much cooler than the natural wood finish depicted on the website in our opinion). The guitar is available in a wide range of colors including natural wood.
The fret position markers on the fretboard itself are neither dots nor some high-end version of the trapezoid—they’re actual numbers. 1, 3, 5, 7, and so on adorn the fretboard in bright colors. Continuing with this theme, the pickups, single volume knob, and Kiesel logo are all colored similarly.
The pointy, six in line headstock really screams shred as well. While most Kiesel guitars can be custom ordered with numerous options, this signature tribute guitar has far fewer options beyond choice of color.
The maple neck, 25.5” scale length, is thoughtfully outfitted with stainless steel fret wire and is graced with a single piece, maple, 14” radius, fretboard. Dual carbon fiber truss rods assure the bolt on neck stays as flat or as bowed as you set it. Kiesel cuts no corners and includes premium add-ons such as an original Floyd Rose tremolo, Seymour Duncan pickups in a HSH configuration and their own branded, premium, locking tuners. The pickups are a great choice for this style guitar: a SH2N in the neck position, a STK-S7 in the middle, and a signature Jason Becker Perpetual Burn in the bridge.
Electronics are a standard five-way selector switch and a ¼” input jack, however there is no tone knob. That’s fine with us, as most shredders don’t really understand what it’s there for anyway (joking, sort of). A single, orange volume knob sits on the lower portion of the body near the selector switch. Our test guitar weighed in at 7.6 lbs, which is a bit heavier than some of the other shred guitars in our collection.
Our JB24 (7.6 pounds) was a little on the heavy side for a shredder, which is not a ding. It’s not prohibitively heavy for a long night of playing, but is of a good weight where the guitar is sturdy and has some density to it. There are no creaky neck pockets, loose hardware or other nonsense typical of mass-produced instruments. The Kiesel Custom Shop is truly just that: a custom shop giving proper attention to detail.
Plugging the guitar in was easy enough and the input jack was located comfortably on the lower side of the guitar. At standard tuning, the setup felt nice and loose and was set up perfectly for our anticipated tests. Our test instrument was strung and tuned, and stayed tuned throughout the length of the review period. This is a testament to the Original Floyd Rose trem, which felt sturdy yet slick, as well as the solid feel of the build we spoke about. This guitar welcomes your whammy bar mayhem.
The neck has more of a chunky feel compared to (typically) razor-thin shred necks, but not prohibitively so. Still, attempting some Jason Becker-type runs (we then noticed we could really use some practice), we had absolutely no problem getting around the neck at all. Cutout access and the neck pocket in no way inhibited upper-register access on the instrument, either. The guitar is a bonafied shredder, through and through. With the relatively flat radius, that combined with the thickness of the neck felt great together. Of course, neck profile is arguably the most make it or break it feature, and we really liked this neck a lot. It also makes this guitar more accessible to classic hard rock players who want the sound and vibe of a shred guitar with the comfort of something more traditional.
The volume knob as well as the selector switch both had appropriate amounts of resistance to them, which was very little. They were intelligently placed to be easily accessible but not get in the way of our right hand (still close enough for volume pinky swells). Its unfortunate how many manufacturers get this wrong. Kiesel did a great job all around on the design.
Sadly though, we were unable to yo-yo with our right hand and blaze out legato runs with the left, ala Jason Becker in Cacophony. Yes, we tried. It’s rather difficult to do. No, we won’t deduct any stars for that.
We plugged our JB24 into the recently reviewed Mezzabarba Skill 30 1x12 combo amp. We decided to run no effects first in order to really hear this pickup combination and determine the overall balance of sound. The first thing we noticed is the Duncan SH2n and (surprisingly) the Perpetual Burn pickups were not as hot as we thought they’d be. The SH2n we have in other instruments and as a neck pickup works well as a good, all around utility pickup. For that reason, it’s a fantastic choice for manufacturers due to the fact it will appeal to the widest range of players and be at least passable to most if not all applications.
The Perpetual Burn was a bit of a pleasant surprise. It was well balanced between the need for volume and aggressiveness, and it was extremely articulate sounding. It easily took the sound from a delicate passage to, well, Jason Becker burn! Many shred guitars are marketed with set-to-kill pickups with extremely hot output, but the JB24 was a bit tame compared to some of those guitars, which made for a more versatile sounding instrument. We did not hear the compression and extra long sustain associated with higher-output pickups, though. What we did hear was a lifelike, yet still uniform, quality to the notes, and precise articulation. We’d like to argue this approach is better than a go-for-the-jugular pickup combination (which is also a lot of fun) due to the fact we can always add a compressor or boost up front in the signal chain if we need the guitar to respond in a hyper-compressed, aggressive manner. The Perpetual Burn also has a nice, punchy and focused midrange to it that never gets too trebly.
The middle position, single coil pickup, with the gain dialed back on the amp, provided pristine clean, glassy passages and had a good presence to the sound. We never even missed the lack of tone control on this guitar! Pickup positions 2 and 4 were hum canceling, too, for spanky Strat-like tones.
Our second specific sound test was conducted in the studio with a Fractal AX8. We monitored through a set of KRK VXT8s and our PreSonus Studio 192 interface. Pulling up the Friedman BE100 patch mated to our favorite 4x12 impulse response cab yielded fantastic results as well. We found not only great intonation throughout the range of the guitar, but a recording-ready tone that worked beautifully right into Pro Tools. There was excellent balance to the sound. It was plenty aggressive, and we didn’t even add any delay or reverb right away for lead lines as we casually jammed to our favorite backing tracks.
Documentation and Product Support
Kiesel offers a fantastic money-back guarantee, pretty much unheard of with custom, build-to-order guitars. We love to see a manufacturer stand behind a product in this way. In addition, their instruments are covered by a generous five-year limited warranty as well.
Contact is easy enough, and the Kiesel website leads to every contact form imaginable in 2018. A product manual is available on the site, as well as companion literature for the tremolo, wiring diagrams, and more.
The Kiesel JB24 Jason Becker Numbers guitar (MSRP $1,699) sells for $1,599, and the custom white finish added just another $200. To get a custom, build-to-order guitar in the United States that is the signature model for an iconic ‘80s shredder for under $2,000 dollars is really a steal. Check out some of the crazy color combinations you can build in the Kiesel JB24 gallery.
The JB24 guitar is a fantastic value and a “must have” for anyone with even a casual collection of shred guitars. At twice the price, we would still sing this guitar’s praise. In fact, there are several manufacturers today offering similarly configured, mass-produced, Super-Strat type guitars at those lofty prices–and half of those are imports. And they don’t offer half the child-like playfulness that the JB24 delivers. Play this at the gig and it’s a guaranteed conversation starter.
There's also a limited edition headless model, the JB06X, which starts at $1,599 and is available in numerous colors at no extra charge.
Kiesel Custom Guitars
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