Charvel guitars became popular in the 1980s due to their association with famous rock and heavy metal guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Warren DeMartini (Ratt), Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne), Vinnie Vincent (Kiss), Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister), George Lynch (Dokken), Criss Oliva (Savatage), Allan Holdsworth, Shawn Lane, and others. Modern Charvel players include Mike Orlando (Adrenaline Mob), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats), Joe Duplantier (Gojira) and Angel Vivaldi (Angel Vivaldi)
Having worked at Fender for three years in the early 1970s, Wayne Charvel started "Charvel's Guitar Repair" in 1974 to refinish and repair out-of-warranty Fender instruments. The shop earned a solid reputation among performing artists for its repair work, custom finishes, and upgraded parts manufacturing. When Asian companies began copying Charvel's parts and selling them at a discount, Charvel decided to begin building complete guitars. Charvel guitars were constructed from wood components outsourced to Boogie and Schecter bodies, and various Charvel and aftermarket hardware. Wayne Charvel sold the company to Grover Jackson in 1978, and ceased all working associations with the brand name from that point forward.
After purchasing the company, Grover Jackson tooled to produce guitar bodies, which he sold to Mighty Mite and Dimarzio. He used the proceeds to fund an expansion into making necks. During this time BC Rich, SD Curlee, and Music Man approached Charvel to contract manufacture various wood parts. The income from these sales provided the Charvel shop with additional tooling and experience that gave Jackson the footing required to grow the Charvel brand.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Charvel popularized custom revamps of the Fender Stratocaster design - often consisting of a Strat-shaped body with a single humbucking pickup and Fender style tremolo bridge systems. This modernized Stratocaster configuration (commonly referred to as the superstrat) was particularly well suited to the heavy metal style of music that was very popular at the time. Charvel guitars became renowned for its use of creative graphics, unfinished maple necks, and various innovative appointments.
In 1980, Grover Jackson met Randy Rhoads, who had recently joined Ozzy Osbourne's new band as a guitarist. They worked together to develop a guitar to complement the polka-dotted Flying V built for Rhoads by Karl Sandoval. The prototype was not angular enough for Rhoads, but the second design produced a shape that Randy referred to as the Concorde. Jackson worried that the radically styled neck-through guitar was too different from Charvel's familiar 'Superstrat' theme, so he labeled the instrument with his own name on the headstock in case the design proved unpopular. Contrary to Jackson's concerns, the visual impact of this guitar spawned the "Rhoads Model" that soon became iconic in the industry and inspired Jackson to found Jackson Guitars.
Charvel (and Jackson) guitars remained in production at the Gladstone Street shop in Glendora, California until 1986. In 1986, the manufacturing facilities moved to Ontario, California, and production of U.S.-built Charvel guitars ceased shortly thereafter.
The success of Charvel in the 1980s led to Jackson's planning to mass-produce popular configurations in Asia. Each California-produced Charvel guitar was essentially a hand built custom instrument—but the Japanese assembly line versions that appeared in 1986 were categorized into model numbers.
In 1989, Jackson sold Charvel/Jackson to the Japanese manufacturer IMC (International Music Corporation), who made Charvel brand guitars exclusively in Japan from 1986 to 1991.
The Japanese made Charvels that appeared in 1986 are easily distinguished from San Dimas instruments by several distinct differences:
- Neck plates circa 1982-1986 stamped "San Dimas, CA" (then briefly "Ontario, CA") changed to a plate that read "Ft. Worth, TX", the location of IMC's U.S. offices. This confused many consumers—as, without exception, all guitars with the "Ft. Worth" neck plate were made in Japan.
- The gold label, "Charvel - Made in USA" affixed to the headstock of the San Dimas era (U.S. made) instruments changed to a white logo that read "Charvel - By Jackson/Charvel."
- Instead of the unfinished maple bolt-on neck that was a hallmark of the U.S. instruments, the imported instruments had a Japanese neck with a clear satin finish.
2002 - The rebirth of Charvel
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation bought Charvel in 2002, and the Charvel brand entered a renaissance, with several U.S. made "San Dimas" models—named to recapture the original association of the Charvel name with high-quality, American made professional guitars. Charvel offers several series of guitars, including both lower-priced Mexican made and boutique-priced American made instruments, and operates a full-service custom shop. Perhaps the most notable product of Charvel's present custom shop is the Eddie Van Halen signature "Striped Series" model short run of guitars paint stenciled by Van Halen. These guitars are known among collectors, Vendors and Industry People as "CharBel" with a "B", due to the B letter located in the body of the guitar and the hard cases. This is a Homage from Wayne Charvel to Grover Jackson, known as "GroB".
2011 Charvel guitars
- San Dimas Pro-Mods — Mexican/Japanese built guitars in various styles and colors. the series was originally made in Japan prior to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, after which production went on hiatus until 2013 when the series was re-introduced, now being produced in Mexico.
- USA Warren DeMartini Models — U.S. built reproductions of Warren DeMartini's original custom San Dimas guitars from the early 1980s
- USA Custom Built — Built-to-order and limited run custom guitars
Past Charvel guitars
- Star — DST-1 FR (Floyd Rose bridge, EMG 81/85 pickups), DST-1 ST (EMG 81/85 pickups), DST-3 FR 1H (Floyd Rose, one BooHeung BO-102JB pickup)
- Soloist — DX-1 FR (Floyd Rose bridge, EMG 81/85 pickups), DX-1 ST (EMG 81/85 pickups)
- Skatecaster — SK-1 FR (Floyd Rose bridge, EMG 81/85 pickups), SK-1 ST (EMG 81/85 pickups), SK-3 ST (Passive Desolation Humbucking pickups)
- Singlecut — DS-1 FR (Floyd Rose bridge, Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups), DS-1 ST (Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups), DS-2 ST (Active Desolation Humbucking pickups), DS-3 ST (Passive Desolation Humbucking pickups)
- Doublecut — DC-1 FR (Floyd Rose bridge, EMG 81/85 pickups), DC-1 ST (EMG 81/85 pickups), DC-2 ST (Active Desolation Humbucking pickups)
- Route 66 — In 1984, Charvel made a limited run of around 100 guitars called Route 66, which consisted of a Fender Telecaster style body in black, red, or sunburst, and fitted with chrome or black hardware and dice as volume knobs. The flashy styling and steep price tag ($1200) proved unpopular, and this basic style was later revived for Korean production under the Jackson brand.
- Surfcaster — See Charvel Surfcaster.
Other import models
In 1989, the Charvel line was expanded into a number of different series, including the Classic, Fusion and Contemporary.
- The Classic series included the 275, 375, 375 deluxe and 475 models.
- The Fusion series had shorter scale necks and included the Fusion Deluxe and Fusion Custom models.
- The Contemporary range included the Predator and Spectrum models.
- The Spectrum guitar was inspired by a Jackson guitar custom built for Jeff Beck, and was based on a Stratocaster style body, but with a reversed pointed headstock, an early 1950s Fender P-Bass-inspired pickguard, wild colors, and an active tone circuit that produced a wah effect. The three single-coil pickups were in fact stacked humbucking coils.
- The Predator guitar featured reversed pointed headstock and slanted S-H pickup layout.
The Korean-made Charvette brand also came into being to service the entry-level. In the 1990s, the Charvel CX series was imported as a lower priced instrument.
The collectible status and escalating market prices of early U.S.-made Charvels resulted in counterfeit "San Dimas Charvels" being misrepresented as genuine. These fakes were often created by swapping necks and/or "San Dimas"-stamped neck plates onto Asian-made Charvels or other inexpensive guitars, adding a reproduction San Dimas era "Charvel - Made in USA" headstock decal. The problem became widespread enough[when?] to become a frequent topic of discussion amongst knowledgeable collectors of early Charvel guitars.
Wayne Charvel since 1978
Wayne Charvel resurfaced in the realm of guitar manufacturing with varying degrees of success several times since selling the brand in 1978. He created a namesake model offered through Gibson: the Gibson W.R.C. Signature Model. Only several hundred were produced, and they were short-lived, mainly because of a lawsuit filed by Jackson. Gibson made the W.R.C. models from 1987 to 1988, in three standard colors: red, black, and white. Of those produced, 200 were 'show case' models that featured Wayne Charvel's signature on the bell and were accompanied by a letter from him. The WRC model came with a tan faux leather case with hot pink interior and combination locks. Earlier models had a Kahler Spyder tremolo, while later models featured a Floyd Rose Original. All featured a maple bolt-on neck with ebony fingerboard.
Today, Charvel and his son Michael Charvel own and operate Charvel Music, a full line music store in Paradise, California, and manufacture guitars as a joint venture under the name Wayne Guitars. Their houses and shop burned down in the 2018 Camp Fire.
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