You look at that picture, what do you see? Do you see 80’s metal? Do you see an instrument indicative of an antiquated style of playing? These can be some of the emotions evoked by Charvel’s return to the guitar market. However, don’t be fooled. The only things Charvel about this guitar are the neck and the logo. The rest is made, pretty much, by everyone else. Seymour Duncan humbucker, Floyd Rose floating bridge and nut, Fender Strat body. Hell, Charvel and Jackson were bought by Fender, so they can cut the corners on the design process. So all in all, it’s a pretty standard looking guitar.
But when you pick it up, plug it in, and your fingers hit that board…
…you feel something that can only be described as magic.
The Specs: Alder body, Seymour Duncan TB14 humbucker, Standard Fender Strat body, bolt-on hard rock maple neck, ebony fretboard, 22 jumbo frets, original Floyd Rose, all wrapped up in the classic Charvel package. This is the essence of the words “Superstrat.” It is a simple guitar with one pickup, one volume knob, and a bridge that really looks like it’s floating there. There’s no pocket routing, and all of the electronics are from the back. The only thing on the front of the body is the pickup, one knob and a bridge. This is bauhaus minimalism, folks.
The neck: The first thing I do when I touch a guitar is wrap my left hand around the neck. I get a feel for how thick it is, how round it is, how flat the fretboard radius is, the finish on the neck, and the action of the frets. I’ll tell you, i’ve played 3 of the San Dimas 1Hs, and every single time I wrapped my hand around that neck, I didn’t let go. I picked it up and sat there for an hour with it every time. The neck that they put on this thing seems to epitomize perfection in neck form. It’s not paper thin as to make you want to flatten your hand, and it’s not bulky thick. Think about a fine line between an ibanez Wizard and an Ernie Ball Music Man. And now that I think about it, my descriptions can’t do it justice. My hand just seemed to have a mind of its own when I played this guitar. The action was perfect, the frets were finished perfectly, and they didn’t blast up and down the neck, they glided. As always, i’ve got to have my gripes. Usually, I love the feel of a through-neck guitar, but the bolt on seemed to fit perfectly here. However, the one neck complaint is the fact that there are only 22 frets. This is a super strat with plenty of room there with the lack of a neck pickup, so put 2 extra frets for that extra octave without risking a string-breaking bend.
The electronics: For what the electronics are, they’re perfect. The Seymour Duncan TB-14 was designed for Jackson/Charvel style superstrats, because they know what the buyer had in mind when they got one. They wanted to be able to move fast, and they wanted it to be comfortable, and they wanted tone to match the style. This TB14 fits perfectly with this guitar. I’m trying to avoid using a poetic cliche` to describe the tone of the guitar; Guitar magazines do it, and I can’t believe their advertising induced wordings, but this guitar truly sings. That’s it. It’s meant to be overdriven and played loudly, and these electronics fit extremely well. A coil tap might have been clever, but since they were going for the most you can do with the least stuff, they did extremely well. Granted, it’s not very versatile, but it’s not like this is going to replace your Joe Pass signature hollowbody in your jazz quartet (not unless you really want to shake things up). This is meant for speed, shredding, leads, and pretty much everything synonymous with lead playing. Simply put, this guitar was meant to take the lead.
Hardware: Perfectly finished frets resting in an ebony fretboard, simple Gotoh-style tuners. Charvel wasn’t exactly trying to reinvent the wheel here. Despite my hatred for floating bridges, nothing else would’ve fit on this guitar. It wouldn’t have had the same pinache on that rack with through-body bridge ferrules. So you’ll spend an hour restringing the thing, re-calibrating the bridge, and tuning it, but whenever you start to play it, you won’t care that you just spent over two hours making your guitar perfect again.
The Whole Shebang: Simply stated, this guitar is magnificient. When you pick it up, it tells you exactly what you’re going to play on it. You’re going to want to play Eruption, Hot For Teacher, or some sort of 80’s shred fest with some sort of galloping rhythm. And since it is a very expensive guitar for something so simple as a standard alder Strat body with a maple neck and ebony fretboard, you’re going to get it perfectly set up. The Floyd Rose will be parallel to the body, new strings, perfectly tuned, ultra-low action, and perfectly intonated. You’re going to realize it’s got limitations without a neck pickup, 24 frets, a fixed bridge, a tone control, or a through neck. But trust me on this, you’re going to forget every single one of those things whether you’re playing it through a 15 watt Crate or a Marshall JCM 900. Every one of those possible flaws I felt I could never get over, just seemed to disappear. Amazing, this guitar makes you not care about anything that might be wrong with it. That’s powerful stuff.
The Pros: Perfect neck, perfect frets, looks gorgeous, perfect tone for that guitar, feels perfect. Absolutely perfect.
The Cons: It’s about as versatile as a drag racer, but you only get a drag racer for one reason. 22 frets? No tone knob? No fixed bridge? No thru neck? No one cares.