Ever since I laid eyes on the back cover of 1979’s Van Halen II with Eddie Van Halen debuting his brand-new Charvel “Bumblebee” guitar, I said to myself, “What the hell is a Charvel? Because I’ve gotta have one!”
Fast-forward many decades later and we now know Charvel has long since blazed an illustrious trail of producing and creatively refining what is commonly known to many as the “Superstrat” for players of all stripes, including marquee guitarists like Guthrie Govan and Jim Root.
It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of the brand and still own several in various colors and pickup configurations. So when tasked with reviewing yet another Charvel, it’s at this point that I realize it’s not a job but a privilege to disclose that Charvel is still the king in a world of Superstrats.
And if you ask me, the new Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 HSS FR E is proof that the company continually raises the bar in building hot-rodded electric guitars that combine the utmost comfort while elevating your playing to a whole new level.
I’ve touched on this before, but Charvel is well known for including high-performance upgrades like premium pickups, locking tremolos and flatter-radius fingerboards with jumbo frets that encourage dexterous playing.
And for this Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 HSS FR E, you’ll find all of it onboard – along with recent improvements. The guitar comes with Charvel’s sleekly carved So-Cal alder body, a bolt-on maple neck with a 12- to 16-inch compound radius ebony fingerboard, 22 jumbo frets and white dot inlays.
For its high-voltage voice, the guitar comes loaded with a Seymour Duncan Distortion TB-6 humbucking bridge pickup and Seymour Duncan’s SSL Custom Flat Strat single coil pickups in the middle and neck positions, which can be selected via a five-way blade switch and knurled flat-top volume and tone control knobs.
What’s new is that the guitar features a no-load tone circuit that acts as a standard tone control up until you click into its notch all the way up, where it bypasses the circuit for a clear and fully transparent sound.
There’s also a conveniently located heel-mount spoke wheel that allows for expedient truss rod tweaks; however, you’ll find those adjustments will be few and far between, thanks to its pair of graphite-reinforced truss rods.
In addition, the Floyd Rose 1000 Series double-locking tremolo system will be familiar to dive bombers who want to keep everything in tune after some high-altitude whammy-strafing. Finally, the guitar is available in Ferrari Red, Lambo Green Metallic and Pharaoh's Gold finishes.
While Charvel has been often recognized for its boldly graphic finishes found on the Satchel and Warren DeMartini artist series and custom shop guitars, the Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 HSS FR E is elegantly understated with a black pickguard, black hardware and pickups, and a bright finish (Pharaoh’s Gold, in this case), making this guitar an easy fit for guitarists willing to wield this all-rounder for weddings or Wembley.
One of the most important aspects of whether a guitar speaks to you or not is usually revealed once you grasp its neck.
Charvel’s speed-carved neck lives up to that moniker for its slim and stress-free profile along with a hand-rubbed satin back, and smoothly rolled fingerboard edges that allowed me to execute complex chording and fast runs with ease and relaxed comfort.
The high-output Seymour Duncan TB-6 and Flat Strat pickups offer the requisite variety of tonal options in an HSS configuration and are well-suited for this guitar. The TB-6 humbucker handles both the punch and distorted aggression for metal but retains all the clarity and upper midrange bite needed for hearing single notes cut through without muddiness for any musical style – especially with the no-load tone circuit activated.
The overwound Flat Strat single coils pleasantly complement the bridge humbucker in the notch positions, and on their own, sound fat with juicy compression for bluesy solo excursions, whether overdriven or clean.
The Floyd Rose 1000 trem has often been criticized for its tottering throw but I found Charvel’s spot-on setup made it a smooth ride, whether I decided to throttle away or gently nudge it. The Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 HSS FR E is a solidly versatile guitar, and you’d be hard-pressed to nitpick it for just about anything outside of its polite appearance.
- PRICE: $1,099 / £899
- TYPE: Solidbody electric guitar
- BODY: Alder
- NECK: Maple, bolt-on, reinforced with graphite and finished with hand-rubbed satin urethane
- SCALE LENGTH: 25.5"
- FINGERBOARD: Ebony, 12"-16" compound radius with rolled edges and dot inlay
- FRETS: 22, jumbo
- PICKUPS: Seymour Duncan Distortion TB-6 humbucker (bridge), 2x Seymour Duncan SSL Custom Flat Strat (neck, middle)
- CONTROLS: Volume, no-load tone, five-way blade selector switch
- HARDWARE: Floyd Rose 1000 Series double-locking vibrato, Charvel-branded die-cast tuners (black)
- FINISH: Pharoahs Gold (as reviewed), Lambo Green Metallica, Ferrari Red
- CONTACT: Charvel