Just as there are many different schools of metal – heavy metal, stoner metal, death metal, thrash, death-thrash, grindcore, gore-grind, industrial metal, black metal, TRUE black metal – there are also many different schools of metal guitar design. Radical shapes and extreme colours compete on the shelves against stripped back, simple but deadly designs. Active or passive pickups, fixed or floating bridge, 22 frets or 24 (don’t even joke about building a metal guitar with only 21 frets. How can you possibly be evil if you can only reach a high C#?). In many ways the C-1 Blackjack ATX FR is almost too classy to be a metal axe, with its carved top and chunky neck profile that are more likely to remind blindfolded players of a Les Paul than a day-glo heavy metal meat-axe. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of badass features in here for shredders and rhythm chuggers alike.
This bad boy features a solid mahogany body with a carved top and aged binding, and a 3-piece maple neck with 24 jumbo frets and a rather flat radius. The fretboard is ebony, the grain of which is extremely tight, giving the fretboard a very smooth feel, especially combined with those huge frets. The only inlay on the face of the fretboard is an ‘active’ symbol at the 12th fret, although there are side dots too so you can still find your way around. The neck is glued in, but carved with Schecter’s ‘Ultra Access’ shape, which makes it feel like a neck-through. The back of the neck is painted, which some players will love, and others, not so much. If it bugs you that much, a good tech can scrape it away neatly, but even though I’m a player who likes a good chunk of unfinished maple, I didn’t find the painted neck to be obstructive or distracting at all. The headstock is Schecter’s pointy 3-a-side design, which looks traditional and hard-edged at the same time.
The review model has an original Floyd Rose locking tremolo bridge. There’s also a fixed bridge version available in 6 and 7 string but frankly, as a shameless 7-string noodler and whammy bar abuser, I feel the range is just that little bit empty without a Floyd Rose-loaded 7-string version. There, I said it. Schecter, please don’t send Zacky Vengeance after me to enact his namesake.
The pickups are Seymour Duncan Blackout actives, with a volume control for each and, a global tone control. There’s a three-way pickup switch which selects between each humbucker or a combination of both: no split coil settings here, so the Blackjack’s clean tones lean more towards Metallica than Dream Theater. Seymour Duncan describes the Blackouts thusly: “The ‘other’ USA-made active humbuckers use unbalanced inputs in a differential preamp. The problem is, an unbalanced differential preamp is not very effective at cancelling hum. Our engineers figured out how to capture the tone that players want in an active design, but using balanced inputs. The result is 12dB to 14dB less noise, plus more lows, more highs, and more output. Simply put, Blackouts have more tone than other active pickups.”
The C-1 Blackjack ATX FR plays like a much more traditional guitar than a shredder’s plank thanks to the combination of the arched top and the neck carve, which is deeper and rounder than the majority of guitars oriented towards the speedier side of axemanship. The Blackout pickups are an interesting spin on the expected active metal pickup sound. They’re a little blunter and a bit warmer than you might expect, with more midrange and ‘woodiness’ than traditional actives. You can really hear the personality of the guitar, which isn’t always true with actives. The bridge unit has plenty of articulation and chunk – you’ll hear plenty of crunch and grind, which is especially great for ultra-fast, muted thrash riffage, while legato techniques have a real sense of movement and dynamics as overtones jump out. The neck pickup sounds round and vocal, responding especially well to huge vibrato, and again there’s a very musical pick attack. You know the kind of pick attack that sounds like an integral part of the note, rather than just a percussive bassy thud at its beginning? Well that’s what this baby excels at. Awesome. Both pickups are ideal for metal, but due to the warmer character they can be used for softer styles too. You may turn a few heads showing up at an indie gig to plug the C-1 Blackjack ATX into a small Fender combo for some ambient jangle, but it’ll fit the bill sonically, no problem.
My only niggle is the placement of the controls. The neck pickup volume is closest to the strings, with the bridge volume in the middle and then the tone control. This makes sense from one perspective – after all, it mirrors the placement of the pickups themselves – but practically, the bridge pickup will probably get the most use and it’s difficult to turn it down with the control in the second position. Easy enough to flip around if you know what you’re doing though if it becomes a problem, but I think the vast majority of players would prefer it to be swapped around to begin with.
This is a very powerful, great sounding and playing guitar with killer features and construction. While some guitars lend themselves more to either rhythm or lead playing, the C-1 BlackJack AX seems to cover it all pretty easily. It takes a lot to drag me away from my beloved neon shred axes but this monster could well do it.
[geo-out country=””Australia” note=””]Musician’s Friend shopping links:
Schecter BlackJack ATX C-1 FR Electric Guitar Aged White
Schecter Blackjack C-1 Electric Guitar Black
Seymour Duncan Blackouts Active Humbucker Set
Seymour Duncan Blackouts Active Humbucker Neck
Seymour Duncan Blackouts Active Humbucker Bridge