If you can’t tell by the dirt on the neck, this guitar is my weapon of choice. The playability of an Ibanez and the look of a Fender Stratocaster, for me, this guitar is the perfect combination of old and new. As much as I love the sound and feel of my Ibanez guitars, their styling is a bit too aggressive to be applicable to all gigs. Whipping out a pointy, neon yellow axe at a session or live gig can scare the audience or client, and turn everybody off – even if it does sound good. At the same time, you don’t want to show up with a knife to gun fight, and bringing a vintage Strat to a modern sounding gig can be just as bad. Hence the best of both worlds – the Charvel San Dimas, the original “super-Strat.”
Charvel was started in the 1970s by Wayne Charvel, a former Fender employee. Emerging out of “Charvel’s Guitar Repair,” Charvel eventually started making complete guitars. By the late 1970s, the company became most well-known for its invention of the “super-Strat,” modernizing the traditional Stratocaster configuration with humbucking pick ups and tremolo bars. These “super-Strats” were perfect guitars for the popular heavy rock and metal of the period and earned Charvel an association with Eddie Van Halen, Shawn Lane, Richie Sambora and many other top players of the era. Fast forward, in 2002 Charvel was bought by Fender Corp. Today, Charvel operates as a major manufacturer and full custom shop, producing lower-priced Japanese made guitars, more expensive American made axes, and taking individual custom orders.
This guitar is a Snow White San Dimas model, part of the “Pro-Mod” series, made in Japan – but don’t let that turn you off. The Japanese Charvel luthiers are expert craftsman who easily rival any domestic makers, and although it does shave off some $ signs, these guitars don’t carry the stigma of, let’s say, Mexican made Fenders. At $900, this guitar is all business, using the highest quality materials and parts to make a no-nonsense, professional axe at a reasonable price. First, unlike any other comparable guitar in its price range, the San Dimas has a real Floyd Rose Tremolo system, not a “Floyd Rose Authorized” knock-off. Along these same lines, it comes stock with a Seymour Duncan ’59 PU at neck position and JB PU at bridge, not Seymour Duncan “authorized” PUs. It also comes with Grover tuners, chrome hardware and Dunlop Straplok strap buttons – amazing features that almost always need to be added post purchase.
But the real bread and butter of Charvel is their compound radius necks. Neck radius is the amount of curvature on the fretboard – low radius being more curved, and high radius being flatter. Fenders typically have a low radius, while Ibanez use a higher one. Although just a preference, low radius necks are said to be better for bends and chords, while a high radius is optimal for legato and tapping. Of course few of us are tapping and using legato at the 1st fret – that’s why Charvel invented the compound radius neck. Charvel necks have a low radius at the lower frets, and slowly increase radius(get flatter) towards the higher frets – 12″ to 16″ radius to be exact. This gives the feel of a Strat at lower frets, and the feel of an Ibanez up high – perfect for rhythm and lead. Aside from that, Charvel necks are unfinished, giving them a very smooth texture that wears in nicely. Also, the neck shape is licensed by Fender, so it is literally the exact same headstock you would find on a Strat – cool!
Ultimately, you can’t beat this guitar in its price range – or maybe even at all! With the highest quality parts, fantastic compound neck, and classic look, it’s the best of all worlds. You may note the lack of a tone knob – there is only a volume knob and 3 way selector switch – but I have never desired one while playing this guitar. Any EQ alterations I have needed could be done on an amp, and believe me, you won’t want to change this killer tone much. For Rock, Blues, Metal, Pop and even Jazz, I’d say this guitar can’t be beat. Also, it comes with a TSA approved hard case, perfect for air-travel – no more stressing about your axe during the flight! Need I say anything more . . .
For more on Charvel, check out the Charvel website.