REVIEW: Fret-King JD

Jerry Donahue is an almost unnaturally talented guitarist capable of dizzying feats of technique and melody. A few other companies (Fender and Peavey) have offered Jerry Donahue artist models in the past, and they were fine instruments. But Donahue says his new Fret-King trumps them all. Let’s check it out and see if he’s speaking the truth.

The JD is made of an extremely light two-piece centre-jointed American alder body with a bound ash top and a custom-profiled Canadian Hard Rock Maple neck. The fretboard is maple with a 1 1/4″ radius, but the fretboard curve feels shallower than it actually is thanks to its 22 well-finished medium jumbo frets. The scale length is a to-be-expected 25.5″ (648mm) to ensure nice spanky string tension. The nut is graphite for better tuning stability. The bridge is a Wilkinson WTBS unit with three intonation-compensated saddles carrying two strings each, and the tuners are Wilkinson WJ05s. A luxury Fret-King carry bag is included.

Like Donahue’s previous models, there’s more going on with the electronics here than meets the eye. There are two single coil pickups (Wilkinson WJDTn neck pickup and WJDTb at the bridge position), pretty standard master volume and master tone pots, and a five-way pickup selector switch. Position one is the neck pickup, voiced for a Strat-like sound rather than a Tele voice. Position two is the neck pickup with a special cap engaged to give it a tonal quality reminiscent of a full-body jazz guitar. Position three is the neck and bridge in parallel. Position four adds a capacitor and resistor four a controlled degree of reversed phase, and this setting is designed to give you the ‘in-between quack tone’ of a Strat-type axe. And position five is the bridge pickup on its lonesome.

Body: two-piece centre-jointed American alder with bound ash top.
Neck: custom profiled Canadian hard rock maple. Fingerboard: maple, 10″ radius, 22 medium jumbo frets, black dots.
Scale: 25.5″/648mm.
Nut: graphite.
Pickups: custom designed Wilkinson WJDTn/WJDTb single coils.
Controls: volume & tone, custom wired 5 way lever switch.
Hardware: Wilkinson WTBS bridge and WJ05 tuners. Luxury Fret-King carry bag included.

The JD puts up just a little bit of a fight, but not enough to be difficult. It has great sustain and attack, which will surprise those who subscribe to the ‘you need a heavy body to get a thick tone’ theory. This thing really packs a wallop but it’s light as a feather. The neck pickup responds very well to enthusiastic pick attack and it sounds gorgeous when played semi-clean. Position two is great for long bluesy bends and smoky jazz lines, and it masks some of the pick attack for a smoother feel. Position three is great for jazz fusion soloing and as a general clean rhythm tone, while position four excels at twangy country and scratchy funk. You can happily chicken-pick in this mode for hours and have a great time. Position five has some sting but it’s not a harsh kind of treble: more bell-like and musical. This pickup encourages you to really dig in and lay down some serious speed, since it tracks so incredibly well that every nuance of your pick attack is clearly translated. All positions are slightly microphonic, so if you tap on the body or yell into the pickups you will definitely hear it clearly through the amp, but this is also probably why the guitar has such great detail.

All of the JD’s different sounds are great when played clean and damn near revelatory when paired with a slightly overdriven amp. It keeps up quite nicely with full-on distortion too, although of course the noise level increases alongside the gain. It’s a very capable guitar which is a little easier to play than Donahue’s old Peavey model and a bit more unique than his old Fender.

Here’s a cool video review I found online: