Charvel Guitars and the term “gear-head” are integral to the advancement of any technology. I am referring to the sort of individual who is rarely satisfied with stock options. While most of us simply buy carefully, play, and let be, gear-heads tend to view new acquisitions as blank canvases rather than completed masterpieces. Not content with simply expressing themselves through the manipulation of strings, their imaginations extend to the structural features of the instrument, itself. However bewildering these folks may seem to non-tinkerers, it is through the alteration of standard models that we get new musical tools with which to create. Thanks to tinkerers, we have Charvel guitars.
Rethinking and Retro-Fitting the “Strat”
Most gifted inventors have spent some time on the assembly line. Wayne Charvel started out working for Fender in the early 70s. In 1974, he set out on his own, applying his hard-won expertise to the repair of Fender guitars that were no longer covered under warranty. Gradually, he began tooling his own parts and mixing custom finishes. Word got around, and others began to copy his designs. Not one to be outdone by imitators, Wayne began outfitting bodies that he’d sourced from Boogie and Scheter with his hardware.
Ironically, Wayne only built his namesake guitars for a few years. In 1978, he sold the line to one of his employees, Grover Jackson, who rounded out the parts production by building bodies and necks, too. Indeed, the first complete Charvels were built by Jackson, and he was the one who truly established the brand. His Superstrats were perfectly suited for an era in which music kept getting louder and heavier. The formula was relatively simple: a Stratocaster body with an unfinished maple neck, a single high-gain pickup in the bridge position, and an increasingly complex tremolo system. These instruments were hot-rods. They were made to shred.
When Metal Reigned Supreme!
As metal reigned throughout the 1980s, a Charvel guitar became the ax of choice amongst numerous superstar virtuosos. Randy Rhodes, Eddie Van Halen, Richie Sambora, Allan Holdsworth, and Warren DeMartini all played Charvel guitars. Charvel became synonymous with blazing leads, San Dimas style, and hard rock swagger. Their catalogue expanded, and they began offering Asian import instruments, priced low to high, to meet the strong demand. By 1989, they were sold completely to the Japanese instrument manufacturer, IMC (International Music Corporation).
In 2002, things came full circle, and Charvel was bought by Fender. The hot-rod, prodigal guitars finally returned home. It was through this re-union that Charvel blossomed into the powerful line that it is today. They currently offer an extensive catalogue of guitars geared towards high-velocity playing. Contemporary shredders such as Joe Duplantier and Angel Vivaldi happily embraced the American resurrection of Charvel.
Their DK-22 and DK-24 models are offered as a part of the USA Select, and more affordable Pro-Mod Series. These instruments feature specially sculpted heels, speed necks, and back carves that allow for maximum comfort and higher-fret access. The 12”-16” compound radius makes your finger feel like their riding jet-skis. Their classic and artist designs are equally appealing. Many of their San Dimas style and So-Cal models harken back to the rugged simplicity that established them, and their Guthrie Govan signature model offers unprecedented tonal versatility without dulling that sharp, Charvel edge.
Back to the Helm of “Heavy”
These days you’d be hard pressed to find a used Charvel guitar, as their owners tend to grow quite fond of the stock models before graduating to the Charvel custom shop. At this point, Joe Duplantier, Angel Vivaldi, and Warren Demartini all have signature models. They offer all sorts of guitar models and options with a price high to low and low to high. That said, one of their most popular combinations is still the double humbucker, style 1 hh. After all, if you’re going to go heavy, what settle for less artillery?
We love all styles of music here at Midwood Guitar Studio, and Metal and Heavy Rock are certainly among them. From a technical perspective, the gear requirements are vastly different when you’re really trying to move some air around and rumble some skulls. For example, you need a guitar that’s light weight enough for power slides and stage dives (the “DK’ dinky). You’ll probably also need a Floyd-rose double-locking bridge for dive-bombs (available on most Charvel models). A relatively flat radius-ed and perhaps even scalloped fretboard will help your fretting hand achieve top velocity as your tearing through scales and arpeggios. The pickups themselves should be merciless to the point that if you get your hand to close they’ll devour your pick. The finish should tow that delicate line between badass and gaudy. Black is always admissible, but purple zebra-striped is better. Lastly, everything needs to be sturdy and well put together enough to endure the rigors of the studio and stadium. They call it an “ax” because it needs to be ready for battle.
A Charvel guitar satisfies and exceeds all the expectations of what a heavy metal guitar should be. The only questions that remains is which one is best for you. Some covet the retro-chic style of the original Charvel, which can be found in the So-Cal and San-Dimas style 1 and 2 guitars. Some like the minimalist/maximalist aesthetic of the dinky models, which graced stages across the world throughout the 1990s. For those on a budget, the Pro-Mod series offers classic Charvel tone, feel, and looks at a more modest price-point. For those willing to invest in the best, the USA select, artist signature, limited edition, and custom shop models will provide you with plenty of options to inform a large, lifetime purchase. Give us a call and/or set up an appointment today and we’ll plug you into the biggest amp with have and let you rip. If you intend to play it loud, you should test it out that way. We want you to leave us with a guitar case and a smile on your face, while the rest of our inventory finishes vibrating in approval.