Hey everyone, it’s Brian here from World Music Supply again, to bring you yet another round of guitar reviews. Today we have a special treat, and that is because today we’re reviewing Charvel guitars Desolation, Skatecaster, and So-Cal series of guitars. Charvel Guitars was started by Wayne Charvel after working for three years at Fender in the early 70’s. Wayne Charvel left and started “Charvel’s Guitar Repair” to repair and refinish older Fender instruments. The shop earned a reputation among local musicians for its custom finishes, and handmade upgrade parts. After a number of foreign manufactures began to copy and sell Charvel style parts, Charvel made the decision to start producing complete guitars.
First up on the block today is the Desolation series, which are Charvels more modern shred ready guitars, available in single and double cutaway variants as well as a soloist version. They all feature sleek body shapes, a thin, and very fast neck profile, as well, most of the models in the desolation line come loaded with either active Seymour Duncan, or EMG humbuckers, and are decorated with abalone binding and inlays. For my review I picked a nice representative of the line, in the guise of the DS-1 Standard in transparent “blue smear”.
Aesthetically, this guitar is fantastic, with its majestically sculpted body, and the stunning wood grain on the flamed maple top and headstock cover, this thing really does look great. Sonically this guitar is also a treat, as its Seymour Duncan pickups sound far different and much more natural than many other active pickups I’ve heard thus far, with much more clarity and “spank” then you would expect from a guitar like this.
With the Desolation running through a clean rig, this guitar had all of the body and brightness, as well as the dynamic response that you would expect out of a passive guitar, but with all of the volume and clarity that you would expect out of an active system, meaning my clean tones were huge! The neck is the right kind of thin to where you can still chord on it, without your hand cramping up, but you can also shred on it, without your hand likewise cramping up. The tone was lively and surprisingly jazz friendly, with all of the sparkle and shimmer that you need to play really smooth, all without ever losing its low end definition or bite. Chording on the neck was surprisingly comfortable, and the tone was always lush and complex.
Switching to a dirtier channel, it felt like the guitar “woke up” so to speak, it suddenly had all of those big searing distorted tones that you would typically expect out of an active guitar, but it also has all of the definition of its clean setting counterpart. This means that your dirty tones have all of the bite and punch that you want them too, but also so much clarity that you can still play big chords without it sounding muddy. Lead lines are bold and easy to play with the thin neck profile, and they always had a big warm edge to them thanks to the mahogany body and neck through design. Overall the Charvel Desolation series seems like they’re a real contender when it comes to the modern guitar market, and should not be overlooked. Thanks to their superb construction, jaw dropping good looks, and sweet sounds, the Desolation series earns itself a well earned 10 out of 10.
Next up, is the Skatecaster, a slick re-imagining of Charvels famous Surfcaster guitar, which was one of their more famous models of the 90’s and early 2000’s. The Skatecaster is Charvels attempt to breath new life into an old guitar, by taking all of the things that made the Surfcaster smooth, and vintage looking, and seemingly replacing them with a modern, hard edged, metal attitude. The first and most strikingly obvious differences are the lack of a pickgaurd, and a hollow body, making it actually more closely related to the Jackson Outcaster, but I digress. The lack of the pickgaurd makes it look less like the Italian guitars it once resembled, like Eko or Galanti, and more like a Jazzmaster that has been left in the sun too long, which if I’m honest, is still a pretty cool shape.
The lack of its hollowbody seems to be purely based on functionality, because now that this guitar has been redesigned for hard rock and metal, a hollow body would just feed back at the volumes this guitar has been designed for. For my sound test, I’ve decided on the SK-1 FR in Flat Black, which seemed like exactly the point of this new line, shear, shred metal power. With its hot EMG pickups, the SK-1 had a clean tone that was expectedly smooth and dark, with all the tones I have come to expect from these wonderful pickups. Everything I played was exaggerated, all of my highs were higher, and all of my lows were lower, all of my chicken pickin’ was snappier, and all of my jazzy chording was wider and more complex.
Turning up the gain on the amp however, and yet again I was assaulted by that familiar EMG 81/85 shout, with all of the snarl and aggression they were designed for. The best part about this guitar however, was by far the neck, which was lightning fast, and with the handsome abalone inlays, was just as good looking as it was sounding. The Floyd felt like a nice addition to this guitar, as it gave the guitar a slightly different personality than the guitar it is succeeding, the Surfcaster, which had a two point non locking trem. The lead tones to this guitar are searing and poignant, with the right amount of high end to cut through the mix, but never sound sharp or “buzzsaw” like. In the end, I like the Skatecaster, it takes the fun loving, guitar for guitarists vibe of the Surfcaster, and paints it black, loads it with active humbuckers, a floyd rose, and tons of abalone, all of which I whole heartedly approve of, for that fact alone this guitar easily grabs a 10 out of 10.
Last up is an old friend, the So-Cal. Based off of Charvel guitars that were in production during the hair metal heydays of the 80’s, this guitar would have reigned like a king, with its candy colored finishes, its overpowered pickups, and of course its Floyd Rose. Through a clean setting, its Dimarzio pickups have a specific kind of chime and character that is surely different from any other on the market. The So-Cal feels familiar to almost anyone who has ever picked up a Fender guitar at any point in their guitar playing life, except with a compound radius neck of 12 to 16 inches, and a slightly different color combination than a normal Fender style guitar.
Playing it on a clean setting, the So-Cal has a rather dark character with a particular emphasis on the mids, which suits jazz, and the few clean toned 80’s riffs I know just fine. However, we both know what this guitar was designed for, and with that though in mind, I plugged this guitar into a Randall RT503, and let it rip. The So-Cal did its job, letting loose tons of EVH style riffs, all with a tone that could more than comp the feel of almost anything that came out while Reagan was in office.
The So-Cal is a throw back to an American classic, and just like the Corvette, or a Charger, it just gets better with age. Sure you can’t climb up to the 24th fret, and your only controls are a pick up switch and a volume knob, but that’s all you really need for most things. The So-Cal is what was great about guitar in the 80’s it was fun, and straightforward. For the fact that the So-Cal is designed as a catch all of guitars, and built from the ground up to be a machine of rock and roll fury, the So-Cal earns a deserved 10 out of 10