Charvel doesn’t do futuristic or faux-’50s, but if you’re looking to shred with the crowd at a hip club down on Sunset then they have the tool for the job. Review by Richard Purvis.
Something big happened to rock in the early 1990s. Out went spandex, hairspray and garish album covers; in came tattoos, pierced nostrils and deathly rage. It was a revolution, but nobody told Charvel, who had been on top of the metal world when Eddie Van Halen and Richie Sambora were flashing their superstrats all over MTV. In the aftermath of grunge the guitars’ aesthetics stayed pretty much the same, but their reputation for quality did not – a recipe for going out of fashion and staying there.
Maybe now we’re far enough away from the 1980s to look at this sort of bold, highcontrast styling as an acceptable kind of retro. Things have been looking up since Charvel was bought by Fender in 2002, and rumour has it the quality of their current offerings is right up there with the good old days. These two models are from the Japanese-built Pro-Mod series, and they look like serious bits of gear.
SO-CAL STYLE 1 HH
This whiter-than-white Strat-type with maple fretboard, black scratchplate and all-black hardware has a non-pointy headstock, which is a welcome update. The alder body is generously chamfered to accommodate the ageing rocker’s beer gut and screwed to a one-piece neck of quartersawn maple – thus extra-strong and stable. The C-shaped neck is not too skinny but it’s carved to a compound fretboard radius, moving from 12″ to 16″ for choke-free bends. The frets are chunky blighters, immaculately dressed. The rolled fretboard edges are supposed to help your fingers glide effortlessly up and down the neck, but as the actual fret ends clearly can’t be scalloped they just stick out more between the dips.
Access to the upper frets is as good as can be expected from a trad Fender-type heel design, though the 4mm-thick neck plate doesn’t help. The hardware is sound – small Grover tuners, a locking nut and a well-installed Floyd Rose – and the passive DiMarzio humbuckers have only a volume pot and a strangely sticky-out three-way switch to get past on their way to the front-recessed jack socket. Tone controls are for wusses, dude.
The So-Cal’s acoustic sound is not exactly zingy but it’s full and well balanced. The DiMarzios are dark but there’s a surprising amount of snappy, thrappy character, especially on the middle setting – it responds eagerly to aggressive picking and, all in all, sounds a bit like a ’72 Thinline Tele. The neck pickup is prone to woolliness on the low E string, but you’ll soon forget that when you crank the gain and summon up those old Bon Jovi licks. Sustain is excellent and the honking midrange is polished up perfectly by a strong, sweet pick attack. It doesn’t sound like a Thinline Tele now.
The Floyd Rose is Korean-made but seems to behave just as well as a ‘real’ one. Push right down until the strings flop like overcooked spaghetti, play a 10-minute glockenspiel solo with your other hand, let go and it springs right back into tune. These units are mighty sensitive, mind – the slightest bit of pressure on the top of the bridge can cause queasy upward wobbles, so take care with that right-hand technique.
There's no denying that those looks, not to mention the Charvel name itself, will be a big turn-o? to anyone who thinks poodle perms look best on poodles, but that's not what the Pro-Mods deserve. They're basically Japanese Strats with high-output humbuckers, and they're pretty good.
Website: Charvel Pro-Mod Series