Charvel Guitars: Built For Speed
Of course, custom and sometimes wild paint jobs remained a highlight of the Charvel/Jackson guitar lines. Numerous graphic artists worked to bring customers’ visions to life on Charvel and Jackson guitars, the first of which was Ernie Predrigon. Probably the best known and currently active of them were Dan Lawrence and Glen Matejzel. These artists painted everything from hot-rod flames, zebra stripes, snake skins and lightning bolts to skulls and blood, camouflage, and artist-specific paintwork. Lawrence says, “After Eddie’s stripes and Randy’s polka dots, graphics became the most popular way for someone to truly personalize the instrument.” Adds Matejzel, “Fans sometimes didn’t know a player’s name, but immediately associated a certain graphic with a band.” Among the most recognizable and requested paint jobs were George Lynch’s Bengal Tiger stripe and Warren DeMartini’s Japanese-themed Rising Sun graphics.
Even with the great demand for Charvels and Jacksons during the early and mid Eighties, the company was barely in the black. Jackson says, “I didn’t understand money. I was just thinking about product. I wanted to push the envelope. If I could do something better, I threw every nickel at it. There wasn’t enough margin built into the price, and we just weren’t turning a profit.”
In an effort to save the company and expand operations and distribution, Grover merged with International Music Corporation, a multi-product distribution and investment company based in Fort Worth, Texas. In return for giving up sole ownership of Charvel/Jackson, he received a 12 percent share of the larger company. Like many outside investors, IMC was primarily interested in shaking every dollar out of the company’s potential profitability.
The first change was to move all standard Charvel production to Japan, while Jacksons and custom Charvels continued to be made in Glendora. The newly funded company launched eight new Japanese Charvels, simply denoted as a Model 1, Model 2, and so on. By far, the most popular of these were the Model 4 and Model 6: the Model 4 was a bolt-on guitar with a humbucker and dual singlecoil pickups and a Floyd Rose–licensed tremolo; the Model 6 was a set-neck version of the Model 4, making it, essentially, a Japanese-built Jackson Soloist. Both models featured Jackson’s own active pickup system, an onboard gain-boosting preamp and a bound rosewood fretboard with shark-fin inlays. By any standards, they were exceptional guitars for the money and set the early standard for overseas guitar production. The neckplates on the Japanese Charvels replaced the San Dimas address with “Fort Worth, TX” a nod to the location of IMC’s headquarters. That soon changed. In 1986, in an effort to cut costs further, IMC moved Jackson production from Glendora to a facility in Ontario. With Charvel production situated in Japan, the Ontario facility was to produce Jacksons exclusively, although it did produce a few Charvels to satisfy a backlog of custom-ordered instruments.
The following year, as sales boomed, the Ontario facility reached its peak size with 135 employees, 28 of whom worked around the clock winding pickups, thereby making Charvel/Jackson the world’s largest pickup manufacturer—even if it was just making pickups for its own guitars. Both brands continued to sell extremely well for as long as metal ruled the airwaves. However, IMC wanted to lower costs further, and in 1989 the company decided to fire 80 percent of the Ontario staff and move the bulk of Jackson production to Japan. Grover unceremoniously sold his interest in the company and grudgingly moved on to other ventures. In doing so, he lost the right to use his name on a guitar, just as Wayne Charvel had 10 years before when he sold Charvel to Jackson.
Charvel After Grover Jackson
Charvel continued forward after Grover’s resignation, but the popularity of guitar music was waning in the growing shadow of grunge. Musicians revered for their virtuosity just a few years before were now accused of overplaying the instrument and lacking “feel.” With Jackson production moving to Japan, the Ontario plant was becoming a ghost town. In 1990, Tim Wilson recalls, “we began to experience severe layoffs in Ontario. We went from 107 employees to about 35 by the end of the year.”
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