review

Samick LaSalle JZ 4

Review by Mark Starlin

Samick LaSalle JZ 4

When I was taking guitar lessons, my teacher had a beautiful, natural finish, Gibson jazz guitar. I didn’t pay attention to the model number — it was probably an L-5 — but I loved the look and the sound of that guitar. Of course, wanting to be a rock guitarist, I dreamed of Les Pauls, not jazz boxes. A few years later I did get my Les Paul Custom, and it is still “home” to me after all these years, but in the back of my mind I have always thought it would be cool to have one of those big box jazz guitars also. The only problem was price. A real, carved top jazz guitar can run thousands of dollars.

Many years passed and about two years ago I began investigating lower priced laminated alternatives. There are plenty of choices from many manufacturers in the under $1000 price range, so I began my hunt. One line of guitars I kept coming back to were the Samick LaSalle series (JZ-2, JZ-3, JZ-4.) They are beautiful guitars and, while not cheap, they are still reasonable. I watched eBay for used models for about a year, when eventually a small music store in my home state listed a brand new JZ-4. I talked to the owner and he explained that in his area, jazz guitars just didn’t sell, so he was trying to find a home for it via eBay. Well the auction price was below what most used ones were going for, so I placed a bid at the opening price. I figured if no one else bids on it, it was meant to be, and I’ll get a great deal. It was meant to be.

Features

The JZ-4 is a beautiful guitar. Mine features an Antique Natural finish, which is sort of a faded Amber, almost yellow, color. It has a laminated Spruce top with laminated quilt Maple sides and back. It has a bound, Mahogany neck with a Rosewood fingerboard and bone nut. The body has a single Venetian (rounded) cutaway and F holes with attractive binding throughout. The JZ-4 model features a Duncan designed mini humbucker that is neck mounted, so it doesn’t affect the vibration of the guitar top. The headstock is larger than normal Samick headstocks, to better match the size of the guitar. The headstock style is unique, but it is growing on me. Tuners are Grover and all hardware is gold plated. The pickguard is see-through tortoise shell and also is bound. The volume and tone controls are mounted on the pickguard.

The JZ-4 comes with two bridges, a Rosewood bridge and a Tune-O-Matic bridge, which are held in place by string tension and can be easily swapped. It comes with a very nice, brown, hard case with plush lining.

Construction/Setup

Overall, the construction was very good with a few minor exceptions. There was some excess glue visible on one spot inside the body of the guitar; some of the frets had rough edges where they met the fretboard; and the screws that hold the pickup in place were screwed in on an angle (not flush.)

The guitar shipped with the Rosewood bridge installed. Unfortunately, I instantly realized that the high E string groove was about 1/16th of an inch too wide. It was no big deal to take a razor knife and cut a correct new groove, but it really shouldn’t have shipped this way. It was obviously wrong.

I should also point out that the neck contains a scarf joint where the headstock joins the neck. This shouldn’t be a problem, but the neck is not one-piece. In fact, a third piece of wood is part of the neck/body joint and a fourth piece runs under the fretboard where it overlaps the body. The neck inlays are very neat, although fairly plain looking. The quilt Maple back is striking and even the top is nicely grained. Everything about the guitar is very attractive — except the tailpiece, which is gold plated, but still looks cheap and out of place on this guitar.

Setup was another disappointment. The neck was ruler flat and string buzz was prevalent above the seventh fret. A quick truss rod adjustment solved the problem. The wiring for the volume and tone controls (which are mounted on the pickguard) were squeezed up under pickguard against the top of the guitar. I had to remove the pickguard to free them so they could go straight into the F hole without touching the top of the guitar.

While the Rosewood bridge looks very attractive, it doesn’t allow intonation adjustments, and tuning was off quite bit moving up the neck. Reluctantly, I swapped it out and put the Tune-O-Matic bridge in its place, adjusted the intonation and was good to go. The tuning is improved, but the old-fashioned looks are diminished.

JZ 4 Headstock

The unique Samick headstock is oversized to match the guitar.

Playability

The guitar is a joy to play and the neck feels great. It is comfortable to play sitting or standing. Although being a wide, hollow body guitar with a floating bridge, it may require some playing adjustments. Those used to anchoring their picking palm on a fixed bridge will have to alter their playing style, since picking that far away from the pickup produces a tinny, not very jazz-like, tone.

Of course, being a hollow body guitar, it is susceptible to feedback. So if you want to play at higher volumes you will need to mike your amp and send it through a PA. There is no way you can stand in front of a loud amp with the JZ-4 without howling like a banshee.

Tone

Acoustically, the JZ-4 is loud enough for practicing but has a somewhat boxy tone. Mine has improved slightly with use, but it isn’t sonically as rich as a solid, carved top guitar. Plugged in is another matter. I had no trouble getting an acceptably fat, warm tone with the JZ-4 when run through am amp. Once you cut the treble and boost the bass and midrange on your amp, you’ll soon be in bebop land.

In Use

I got a chance to put the JZ-4 to the test during Christmas when I did a five night gig playing jazz versions of traditional Christmas carols for a Christmas production at our church. We also went to a recording studio and cut two songs to include on a CD given away to those attending the production. Our jazz combo included piano, drums, bass, and me on guitar. I played rhythm and single line leads, octave melodies, and improvised solos. The JZ-4 met the challenge with ease. I also got several compliments on its looks and its sound.

Final Thoughts

If you are in the market for a big body jazz guitar, but can’t swing the price of high-end models, the Samick LaSalle JZ-4 is a good alternative. It is not as acoustically rich as a big bucks jazz box, but plugged in the difference is not as significant, yet the price is significantly less. There were some minor construction flaws (none that affected the sound) and it required some setup before playing, but if you’re shopping for a jazz box, the JZ-4 should be on your list of guitars to try.

Reader Comments

Better Guitar encourages your input. Agree with this review? Think I’m crazy? If you have played a Samick LaSalle JZ 4, email me your comments and I’ll post them below. The more opinions we have available, the better our buying decisions will be.

Phil Steffen

Dynamite! Plays far better than my L-5. I bought it within five minutes of playing it in the store. Can't believe I only paid $700 for it.

David Smith

I just had to give you my own thoughts on the Samick LaSalle JZ4; I got mine about 2 months ago, just before Christmas (what a Christmas present!) After spending hours on the net looking at reviews etc., I already have an Epiphone Joe Pass, which I was delighted with, but I was keen to get a deep bodied archtop as I wanted that really “fat” sound; also I hoped for something I could get more enjoyment out of acoustically. I finally got my local guitar shop to get me one on trial, (I live near Perth, Scotland) and as soon as I played it, I took it! It hasn’t really fulfilled my desires acoustically — it’s better than the Joe Pass Emperor, and as good as any other archtop I’ve tried, but I don’t know how it compares with the hand carved archtops, as they aren’t stocked anywhere I know of in Scotland, and anyway, there’s no way I could afford one of those! But when plugged in, I was amazed at the rich, warm sounds it produced; my local guitar shop owner was so impressed he’s going to start stocking them from now on — he couldn’t believe the quality for the money!

I had the same problem with the rosewood bridge intonation as you, but I’ve solved it by angling the bridge so its further back on the bass side. I don’t know if that’s “the done thing”, but apart from giving a bit more rattle from the sixth string, it seems to have worked! I tried the other bridge and got it in tune ok, but I wasn’t quite as happy with the sound I got electrically — it seemed to be thinner and not as “woody” somehow. I love the action on this guitar — it really is a joy to play, and because I use it in my church worship band as well as at home for Jazz, I have found that the perfect compromise strings are D’Addario half rounds; they give that full, fat sound when needed and yet are bright enough for normal strumming as well. All in all, I have been delighted with my JZ4 and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good archtop at a reasonable price (let’s face it, not everyone wants to take out a mortgage to buy a guitar!) All the best.

stats

  • • Single Venetian cutaway
  • • Quilt maple hollow body, bound, arched
  • • Select spruce top
  • • Bound, mahogany set neck
  • • Rosewood fingerboard
  • • Gold Grover tuners
  • • Gold jazz tail piece
  • • Rosewood jazz bridge
  • • See-through tortoise shell pickguard
  • • Single Duncan designed suspended pickup
  • Positives
  • Very attractive; nice plugged in tone; reasonable price.
  • Negatives
  • Minor construction flaws and poor setup; boxy acoustic tone.
  • Estimated Street Price
  • $799
  • Rating
  • Performance: 8
  • Sound Quality: 8
  • Construction: 8
  • Overall: 8
  • Ratings Key
  • 0 = Worthless
  • 10 = Excellent

Site Information