Charvel Guitars: Built For Speed
Wilson stayed on as plant manager in Ontario for the next 12 years, before eventually joining his friends and many of his former Charvel coworkers at Fender. During that time, Charvel introduced several new lines, including the Classic Series, Fusion Series and Contemporary Series, as well as the semihollow Surfcaster, which had lipstick pickups. Most of these guitars were sleeker than their mid-Eighties counterparts and more like Jacksons in their body and neck styles. The logo was also changed during these years from the original guitar-shaped lettering to a whimsical and poorly received cursive style script that became known as the “toothpaste logo.”
Things weren’t entirely quiet at the Ontario facility. In 1993, Charvel began manufacturing a limited run of American-made San Dimas Series guitars for a store in New York City. Thanks to their popularity, IMC allowed Charvel to start taking custom orders. Although production quality had remained high throughout the IMC years, it began to suffer in 1998, when IMC sold the brand to the Akai Musical Instrument Corporation, which was a part of the Chinese firm, Semitech Global. The company shifted the remaining production to Korea and India, in the process severely crippling Charvel’s quality, reputation and what was left of its diminished sales.
In 2002, Fender purchased Charvel and Jackson from Akai and began a concerted effort to bring the guitar maker back to its original form. Marketing manager Mike McGregor says, “We are fortunate to have many of the original Charvel builders and employees with their hands on these instruments. We also had access to a plethora of original Charvel guitars and numerous dealers and collectors.”
Eddie Van Halen’s striped EVH Art Series guitars were the first instruments to come out of the newly reformed shop, located in Fender’s Corona, California facility. The company also made a limited release of EVH Frankenstein replicas from the Custom Shop. Next were a Warren DeMartini signature model, two San Dimas superstrats and a San Dimas Tele. Fender’s ownership makes it possible for these guitars to feature the Stratocaster headstock once again. In addition, the models sport an exact recreation of the San Dimas P.O. Box neckplate: although a Costco now sits on the space where the hallowed San Dimas shop once stood, Fender receives mail at the Charvel shop’s former San Dimas address. And considering that Wayne Charvel set off the custom shop revolution, it’s only appropriate that the new Charvel has its own Custom Shop. Adding to the authenticity of Charvel’s customs, Dan Lawrence and Glen Matejzel are again painting many of Charvel’s graphics.
In one respect, the Charvel story has come full circle: It was more than 35 years ago that Fender commissioned Wayne Charvel to do his first official custom work on a Stratocaster. In another respect, the timing is perfect for the reborn Charvel brand. Virtuoso guitar playing has been on the rebound for the past several years. And then there’s the nostalgia factor: a lot of those new players were inspired by guitarists who did their shredding in the Eighties on a Charvel. McGregor says, “I’m delighted that there is a whole new slew of shredders emerging, many of whom take direct inspiration from the Eighties players who invariably shredded on a Charvel.”
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