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GearHead: Paul Reed Smith’s JA-15

A singularly versatile hollowbody

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Paul Reed Smith JA-15

As with any worthwhile signature guitar, the key to understanding Paul Reed Smith’s outstanding JA-15 hollowbody is to study the player who inspired and helped develop it. Here that means Paul Jackson Jr., whose résumé reflects not only his multi-disciplined expertise but also his status as a dyed-in-the-wool Los Angeleno: lots of work with Michael Jackson, a slew of smooth- and contemporary-jazz credits, house-band spots on American Idol and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno-not to mention his vast experience with R&B royalty. The JA-15, it seems, was designed and manufactured to operate equally well in all those settings and then some.

The instrument ($4,185 online) boasts a carved spruce top, mahogany sides and curly maple back-all solid woods. The bound curly maple neck supports an ebony fingerboard filled out with 22 smaller frets and PRS’ trademarked bird inlays in mother of pearl and paua heart; the headstock is the old-school PRS shape you might recognize from PRS’ Santana models. The JA-15 is available in 10 tasteful V12 finishes, V12 being the thoroughly researched surface the company claims “will not crack or react with thinners.” It’s an organic, unobtrusive finish, neither overly glossy nor self-consciously raw. Among the other highlight features: two classic-sounding 53/10 humbuckers; PRS’ brass and aluminum two-piece adjustable bridge, with increased weight and mass for improved resonance; and the Phase III locking machine heads, which you’ll tweak much less than you might expect, as the JA-15 stays in tune almost at set’s length. Nickel hardware comes standard, but there is a gold option if you really want to make the finish pop. Also standard is a PRS hardshell case.

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