It must have been a Herculean task for Jake E. Lee to take over the guitar-playing slot in Ozzy Osbourne’s band after the singer’s beloved rising star guitarist, Randy Rhoads, perished in a plane crash back in 1982.
But that’s exactly what Lee did. With blazing riffs and ripping solos in songs like “Bark at the Moon” and “Rock N’ Roll Rebel,” Jake E. Lee became an overnight guitar hero for many aspiring guitarists who wanted to copy every nuance of his wicked vibrato and incendiary technique.
To perform those and other songs, he relied on heavily modified mid-Seventies Fender Stratocaster that many assumed was a Charvel guitar.
Affectionately dubbed “Whitey,” the guitar originally had a tobacco sunburst finish until Lee’s roommate, who worked as a painter at Charvel, shaved down the headstock and painted it white. The guitar’s most noticeable modification was to the middle and neck single-coil pickups, which were slanted in reverse, a Hendrix-inspired configuration that made it distinctively cool and which makes it all the more surprising that Charvel never seized an opportunity to offer the guitar as a signature model or a variation thereof, despite the company changing hands.
Since his brief tenure in Ozzy and with his own band, Badlands, Lee has kept a low profile, but he recently emerged with his new band, Red Dragon Cartel. Throughout his erratic career, what has remained consistent is the guitar with which he is most identified. Thankfully, this time around, Charvel is recognizing this iconic instrument by offering the Jake E. Lee Signature model with the same stripped-down sensibility and killer tones.
FEATURES There are plenty of well-established Strat-style guitars available but none come close to the Spartan refinement of the JEL. Unlike most “super strats” in this categorical arena, which commonly possess locking tremolos, extra frets and dual humbuckers, the JEL features only the bare necessities, including a hard-tail bridge design, 21 frets, a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker and two reverse-slanted DiMarzio SDS-1 single-coil pickups, which are controlled by a singular volume knob and five-position blade switch.
The guitar features an incredibly lightweight ash body and a very slim, quarter-sawn maple neck with a rosewood fretboard. The medium-jumbo frets are superbly dressed and crowned, and the 25 1/2–inch-scale neck is super fast, with a hand-rubbed oil finish that makes chord changes feel incredibly smooth. The pearl-white with lavender-hue finish, matching painted headstock and Gotoh pearl button tuners give the guitar the boldness of a white tuxedo at a black-tie affair.
PERFORMANCE The JEL is an expressive instrument because it warrants flying around the fretboard with downright ease. It’s no surprise Lee was able to wrangle wide-interval vibrato tricks that simulated the effect of a tremolo bar—the 12-to-16-inch compound radius allows for remarkable two-and-a-half-step bends without a hint of fretting out. The neck is rock-solid sturdy despite having such a sleek profile, which makes fluid sweep picking or wrapping your thumb over the top edge of the fretboard a cinch.
The Seymour Duncan JB humbucker is perfectly suited for this model, having all the midrange bite needed for a variety of musical styles without overwhelming the inherent sweet tone of its ash body. The reverse-slanted DiMarzio SDS-1 pickups have a slightly hotter output but are properly balanced for clarity. Having them inverted reveals a woolly nature on the high strings, where notes sound fatter with plenty of brawn. On the bass side, notes have a flutey bottom end and prolonged sustain. For all its simplicity, the JEL sounds huge and feels like a high-end custom instrument, proving less is truly more.
LIST PRICE $2,831.35
MANUFACTURER Charvel Guitars, charvel.com
The DiMarzio SDS-1 single-coil pickups have plenty of zest in this reverse-slanted configuration, which makes notes sound bigger.
Quite possibly the most comfortable, shred-worthy neck profile, which makes playing this guitar effortless.
THE BOTTOM LINE The Charvel JEL Signature is a stripped-down rock and metal machine with pure, raw tones and the most player-friendly neck.