We reviewed Charvel’s relaunched San Dimas bass guitars a year ago, partly because we’re suckers for ’80s chic around here, and a day-glo finish always gets our collective heads spinning.
More importantly, they were and remain highly playable, fully-featured active basses that acknowledged their Bill & Ted-era roots, but added modern touches for today’s player.
They continue to occupy a mid-market position in the low four figures, too. Now the five-string San Dimas has been beefed up with a new Area J DiMarzio pickup in bridge position, hence its reappearance, with new black and white finishes that are a little more mature than the vivid options of last year.
First off, Charvel and the brand’s owner Fender are presumably keenly aware of the value of these instruments’ legacy from the late ’70s, when real men wore denim and a flannel wristband was as essential as a cab the size of a fridge to any self-respecting bassist.
However, rather than simply clone the old basses, stick a $4,000 price tag on them and sell them to nostalgic “business leaders” in their 50s, they’ve kept the cost down to a relatively manageable level and added the power and tone range that your modern bass player requires.
What this means in practice is an alder body for familiar tones and weight, a graphite and maple neck that is almost comedically fast under the fingers, and a focus on general practicality that should make the San Dimas easy to work with. There may only be 20 frets, so very high-register playing is out, but at least you can get up there with ease thanks to the deep lower cutaway.
There’s a range of solid hardware – a hi-mass bridge, open-gear tuners and heavy-feeling controls – that are designed to work without any fuss, and a heel-mounted truss-rod adjustment wheel for that quick pre-gig tweak.
Sounds and Playability
18 volts of power has almost become the default in today’s look-at-me-on-YouTube era, but never fear, the 9-volt battery we have here is capable of powering some monstrous tones.
Make sure the volume pot is pushed down to the body, so you’re in active mode, and roll on any of the three EQ controls. The treble and mids pots perform in a bitey, aggressive manner that you can (and should) use to irritate your drummer, while the bass boost is truly huge, especially when you hit hard on the low B string.
There’s a pickup blend control that actually makes an audible difference, quite the revelation given that such controls often have little value, which brings us to the new DiMarzio bridge pickup. Zero in on it and you’re rewarded with a subtler performance than this otherwise enjoyably over-the-top bass might suggest.
DiMarzio themselves caution that this pickup is not intended for high overall volume; instead, it allocates punch to the center of the tone. In use, this means that it gives you clarity and a precise feel, which adds some edge to the overall sound you get when you add in some input from the much bigger-feeling split-coil.
This is a very playable instrument, with a neck profile that players of basses by Jackson and other shred-friendly marques will recognize. The slippery, flat maple neck gets flatter as you approach the heel, and the rolled fretboard edges really help you get from bottom to top at speed.
Fun as this slinky feel is, you might prefer an old-fashioned sticky baseball-bat neck if you want to play slowed-down reggae or soul – although there’s no reason why you can’t use any bass for more or less any genre of music nowadays, is there?
For around $1,100, or £1,100 if you prefer, you’re getting a lot of bass. The new San Dimas five is solid, sleek, and professional, and offers 99 percent of all the tones you would ever need.
It looks and feels great, and plays flawlessly, with the only possible hesitation before purchase being the fact that there are hundreds of other, equally tasty basses available at this exact price point. In that case, your incentive to buy it is the Charvel name and heritage, both assets that should help with its value retention and (admit it) bragging rights.
- PRICE: $1099.99 / £899
- MADE IN: Mexico
- BODY: Alder
- NECK: Maple, graphite reinforcement
- NECK JOIN: Bolt-on, four bolts
- FRETBOARD: Caramelised maple, 20 frets
- PICKUPS: DiMarzio Area J DP551 at bridge, Charvel Split-Coil P in middle
- CONTROLS: Three-band active EQ, pickup blend, master volume with push/pull selector for active/passive modes
- HARDWARE: Charvel tuners and hi-mass bridge
- WEIGHT: 9 lbs / 4 kg (approx)
- CONTACT: Charvel