About Paul Gagon - continued

There were many projects to be undertaken at Jackson. First up, design a line of guitar and bass pickups. Since I had just spent 5 years at Fender R&D working on pickup design, I had a good background to work with. That experience, coupled with tearing apart every single pickup that was on the market at the time to extract their specs, gave me a pretty good place to start. My goal was not to design what I thought was the best sounding pickup but to design what the arena of rock stars that regularly marched through the Jackson plant wanted. The needs of all these heavy metal gunslingers varied quite a bit, so we decided to make several pickup models that would cover 90% of what they wanted. I regularly carried two briefcases with me that each contained around 30 humbucking pickups. One briefcase held pickups that used alnico magnets and the other briefcase held pickups that used ceramic magnets. These pickups varied in their magnet wire gauge and number of turns. I can’t even begin to tell you how many hundreds of hours I spend soldering in pickup after pickup in countless artists' guitars to find that “Magical One."

Jackson Electronics pickups

magnify glassIn '85, we launched our line of Jackson Electronics pickups.

After Grover and I had defined what our line of pickups would be, we hit the road and visited our Charvel/Jackson dealers all along the west coast from Seattle Washington to San Diego California. We conducted clinics we called “Jackson Pickups…..what you should know.” These clinics allowed music store owners to bring in their customers so they could ask us questions about how pickups work and why they sound the way they do. During this adventure, I realized just how little most players really understood about the most important part of an instrument's sound: the pickups.

JE 1000 Peak Select Preamp

magnify glassThe JE-1000 Peak Select preamp was featured
in the Neal Schon guitar.

The next project was a line of guitar electronics that included buffer/preamps with pickup loading controls, treble/bass boosters, and mid-boosters. These, along with the new line of pickups, were all placed under the banner of Jackson Electronics. We also made active direct boxes, signal distribution systems, tube preamps, and a 150 watt rack-mount power amp. A few of these items never went into large scale production, but they were all important to the learning process of the company just the same. One of my lesser known designs was a distortion pedal. This pedal had 5 controls on it: gain, volume, treble, mids, and bass. I only made a dozen or so of these units and all of them ended up in the hands of the guitarists that visited the Jackson plant throughout the mid to late eighties. Although this pedal never went into production, I always loved it and felt like it deserved a proper chance. This distortion pedal was to eventually make a re-appearance some 20 years later as the BBE Crusher.

Towards the end of the eighties Charvel/Jackson merged with IMC of Texas. This merger gave me the additional assignment of developing a line of both tube and solid state amplifiers. I started by designing 50 and 100 watt tube heads that were based on early Marshall amps.


magnify glassEarly prototype of the Jackson 100 watt tube amp


magnify glassBottom of the prototype Jackson 100w amp

These amps were paired up with straight and slanted 4x12 cabinets that were marketed under the banner of Jackson Amps. The solid state line of amplifiers covered the range from a 200 watt bass head, 120 watt channel switching guitar amp, and went all the way down to a tiny little 5 watt screamer. The solid state line carried the name of Charvel.

Charvel Amps

magnify glassCharvel amp launch at NAMM; I believe this was in '87.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many hundreds of hours I spent soldering in pickup after pickup in countless artists' guitars to find that “Magical One.”

Every single one of these early proto types I hand built in my garage over the course of 6 months. These amplifiers were in the product lineup for many years and I can still remember the sales figure of their introduction at the NAMM show in Anaheim. Just over 5,000 units sold across the entire Tube/Solid State product line. By the end of 1990 it was looking like my time at Jackson was coming to a close. IMC had already pushed Grover out of the organization and since I was not willing to move my family to Texas, I was released as well. Next stop BBE Sound Inc.