Charvel Guitars: Built For Speed
Unfortunately, parts and repairs didn’t bring in much money, so Charvel tried to expand into building guitars. For funding, he teamed up with an investment firm called International Sales Associate. Not much happened, however. By 1977, Charvel still wasn’t building its own guitars and was facing severe financial problems. In the early months of that year, an Anvil Case employee named Grover Jackson came into the shop to purchase a Telecaster body. A skilled guitarist, Jackson had been trained in guitar building by an Atlanta luthier named Jay Rhyne. However, it was his business skills that interested Charvel. The two men got to talking, and over lunch that day they decided to work together. In exchange for helping to turn around the company, Jackson would receive a 10 percent share of Charvel’s Guitar Repair.
Over the next year, the new partners worked together but disagreed vehemently about how to move the company ahead and begin building guitars in-house. In November 1978, after months of growing frustration, Charvel decided to sell the business to Grover for a total sum of about $40,000, which included Charvel’s debt load of nearly $33,500.
Grover Jackson Takes Over
On November 10, 1978, Grover took sole ownership of Charvel, with the monumental task of turning a faltering repair shop into a thriving guitar production facility. To begin paying off the company’s debt, Jackson borrowed $7,500 from his parents. He recalls, “My father said, if you piss this away, don’t come home again!”
Time was of the essence, and not only for financial reasons. The guitar world was finally becoming aware of Charvel: one of the first guitars built under Grover’s leadership was Van Halen’s yellow-striped, black Charvel superstrat. Van Halen’s first album had just been released, and guitarists were eager to get their hands on a guitar just like Eddie Van Halen played. Suddenly, everybody wanted a Charvel.
Unfortunately, Grover had no means to mass produce the instruments and get them to market. So he began to assemble a team of gifted young guitarists who were willing to learn the trade, some of whom had backgrounds similar to Grover’s, in furniture building and woodworking. A young guitarist named Mike Eldred was Grover’s first hire. He had initially and serendipitously come into the shop to commission a superstrat like the one his friend Eddie Van Halen showed him weeks earlier. Soon to follow were Tim Wilson, Mike Shannon, Todd Krause, Pat McGarry, Steve Stern, Mark Gellart, Pablo Santana and Kenny McCutchin, many of whom continue to work with Fender or Jackson today. This became Jackson’s dream team, and with it, he paved a future for Charvel.
While Charvel and his employees had built a few guitars, they had generally done so using parts from other manufacturers. That would quickly change under Jackson’s leadership. Grover recalls, “We had started making bodies for Mighty Mite and DiMarzio to stay afloat, but we didn’t know how to make necks yet.” With interest in Charvel guitars soaring, they had to learn fast. Says Jackson, “It was eight to 12 months before Charvels actually started rolling off the line.”
Charvel guitars debuted in Atlanta at the 1979 summer NAMM show. The relationships that Jackson formed at Anvil Cases helped him sell the first guitars to a handful of dealers, including Musician’s Supply, which became Musician’s Friend. Guitar Center in Hollywood, a hot spot for up-and-coming stars, soon became another major retailer for Charvel.
In preparation for the expected demand, the company quickly moved its operations from San Dimas to a larger facility in Glendora. Many players think that U.S.-built Charvels were made in San Dimas because they all had a neck plate bearing the company’s San Dimas P.O. Box number and address. In fact, almost every American-made Charvel built after Jackson bought the company came out of Glendora. He simply continued to put San Dimas neck plates on Charvels because the company’s San Dimas P.O. Box was close to his home and spoke to the company’s roots.
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