Are Charvel Guitars Good (Best Metal Guitars)?

Charvel set out to make a particular type of guitar in the late ‘70s and have kept their goal the same ever since

To make guitars that are a dream to shred on!

Charvel electric guitars are known as some of the best metal guitars, and are built exactly as a shredder’s dream guitar. With super thin necks, jumbo frets, punchy humbucker pickups, and slim contoured body designs – they have become extremely popular with metal enthusiasts.

As with any company that’s been around awhile, a lot can change over the years. So let’s find out whether the guitars once played by Eddie Van Halen still makes amazing guitars to play metal on.

Charvel electric guitar headstock

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Charvel guitars are VERY popular with metal guitarists. On paper, these guitars are designed for lightning fast playing, made specifically with shredding in mind. 

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that every metal guitar player on the planet has heard of Charvel guitars as they are commonly referred to as the ‘cream of the crop’ of the hair metal era in the ’80s. 

What makes Charvel guitars so popular with metal players are their thin necks that allow for super fast shredding and their humbucker pickups that let you crank up the gain without worrying about buzz. 

To this day it is hard to find a definitive list of the best metal guitars without Charvel being mentioned once or twice with so many guitarists both amateur and professional swearing by them. 

Which Artists Play Charvel Guitars?

Throughout their history, Charvel has had some huge artists play their guitars on tour. 

Throughout the ‘80s some of the biggest names in metal exclusively played Charvel guitars on stage. Charvel became the guitar for face melting shredding and personality.

These names include:

  • Eddie Van Halen
  • Randy Rhodes
  • Richie Sambora
  • Allan Holdsworth 
  • Warren DeMartini

Today Charvel guitars are still the go to guitar for some of the most sought after guitarists in the metal genre.

Charvel Warren Demartini Signature Snake Pro Mod Electric Guitar

Artists that currently perform exclusively with Charvel guitars include:

  • Satchel (Steel Panther)
  • Justin Aufdemkampe (Miss May I)
  • Rick Graham
  • Joe Duplantier (Gojira)
  • Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats) 

Guitar Player Opinions

Opinions of Charvel guitars can vary depending on what aspect of the guitars you’re talking about, as well as when the guitar was made. However, guitar players generally look at Charvel guitars favorably (especially guitarists that play a lot of fast moving licks!) 

The biggest compliment you’ll often find made about Charvel guitars is that their bodies are a shredder’s dream. Charvel guitars have been described as combining all the best bits of other guitars into one perfect metal machine! 

A recent Charvel model, the Charvel Pro-Mod has been described by players as taking the fast and thin neck of an Ibanez, the iconic shape of a telecaster with a more comfortable contour, and the firey humbucker tone of a Gibson for under $1000. At this price point, it’s no wonder so many intermediate guitarists still love Charvel guitars.

Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 Hh Fr E Electric Guitars
Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Electric Guitars

Charvel also gets a lot of praise from guitarists for the positioning of their output jack. A lot of their guitars are plugged in at the bottom of the body. This keeps your guitar cable away from anywhere that your hands might end up while playing. 

How Good are Charvel Necks for Metal and Shredding?

Playing metal and shredding is where Charvel guitar necks shine brightest! Unlike a Fender or a Gibson that have thick necks; Charvel stands out to metal players because they feature some of the thinnest necks on the market. 

The main difference between thick and thin necks is that thick necks offer a more full bodied tone when playing chords. This makes them favorable to blues and rock players. Thin necks give the guitarist better action which means you can play faster. 

Another huge shredding advantage of Charvel guitars is that they all come equipped with jumbo frets. 

Jumbo frets are favored by metal guitarists because you feel less of the fretboard beneath your fingers. This makes bending strings easier while you play and gives you more room to maneuver riffs and nail lead guitar work. 

Were the Japanese Charvel’s Better than US Models?

Charvel has had an interesting history of guitar manufacturing that has resulted in rises and falls in the quality of their guitar models. When they started all of their guitars were hand-made and custom designed each guitar for their customer’s needs.

This was when Charvel operated solely out of a shop in Glendora, California during the mid ‘80s, and went by the name Charvel Jackson (one day to split into 2 companies Charvel guitars, and Jackson Guitars). 

Attracting a lot of attention for their unique designs Charvel decided to introduce a series of pre-made guitars that brought together all of the most popular aspects of their custom models, and they wanted these guitars to be built in Japan. 

This dream was realized in 1986 when these Japanese import guitars began arriving in the USA. This series of guitars featured 6 different models which are to this day considered the golden era of Charvel. 

This was also the time when Charvel Jackson split into 2 companies. Charvel were the Japanese produced guitars whereas the guitars they continued to manufacture in the USA were called Jackson Guitars 

The Japanese models are renowned for their built quality and are considered by many as the best series guitars that Charvel makes. To this day the guitars they make in Japan are known to have smoother neck action and higher built quality than those made in the US.

Sometimes the made in Japan models are actually cheaper than the USA models. So if you’ve got the option of both we recommend a MIJ model. 

Are New Charvel’s as Good as Older Models?

Most people that have played Charvel guitars for a few decades would agree that the quality of Charvel guitars dropped off during the mid ’90s when they started ramping up mass production of their guitars. 

In fact, this led to a huge market for “fake” Charvel guitars. People would take the mass produced models and replace the backplate and headstocks with the ones used on the Japanese made models!

Charvel is having a resurgence in quality though. Their Pro Mod Series brought the production of these guitars back to the USA and Japan, and according to many reports from players of the original guitars they’ve brought back the quality with them. 

Comparing Charvel guitars from different eras can be a little bit difficult. If you’re looking at the guitars they built before the mid ‘80s each one will be slightly different due to the small-scale custom workshop builds they began with.

Comparing their mid ‘80s series to their modern offerings is a bit easier though.

The guitars they build today take some of the specifications of these designs and attempt to modernize them. The most comparable model would be the difference between their Japanese made guitars of 86 to the new Pro Mod series that’s been in production for the last couple of years.

Online we were lucky enough to find the specs for some of their original guitars. As well as some insights from people that have played Charvels from both eras, old and new. 

One Charvel enthusiast had this to say about the differences:

“I’ve had plenty of the older import Charvels, and I have 6 of the new ones. They are two totally different guitars, mostly because of the neck profile. The Model models from the 80s had a slightly thinner neck profile than the current models.”

This matches up with a question I asked about whether the current series of Charvel guitars were inspired by their output in the ‘80s where I got this response. 

“The current neck profile is based on an average of the most common San Dimas-era Charvel neck (which, being all hand-made and mostly custom-ordered, those old USA necks could vary widely).”

One of the downsides of some of the new Charvel models is the absence of pickup and control configurations. This means you can’t modify how the pickup switcher or tone knob behaves. This was a hallmark of old school Charvel guitars that is missing from their new models. 

What really made old model Charvel guitars shine was that each was mostly handcrafted which gave each guitar a uniqueness to them. 

Their new Pro Mod series has been getting fantastic reviews though and are built with their heritage in mind. Made to replicate their classic designs this affordable series of guitars is one of the best you can buy for playing metal today. 

Are Charvel Guitars Good Value for Money?

A brand new Charvel guitar will set you back between $899 and $3699 USD with their most popular model the Pro Mod So-Cal Style priced at $999. 

Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Electric Guitars
Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Electric Guitars

For that price, you’re getting one of the best guitars available for shredding and playing metal. While most other guitars around this price range aim to bring you a good all-rounder guitar, Charvel (after over 40 years!) still makes guitars aimed specifically for shredding. 

Some purists believe that the true golden age of Charvel was during the mid-’80s and that their new models just don’t live up to the build quality and functionality of those guitars.

Fortunately, Charvel made in Japan models are still available to purchase for reasonable prices if you’re searching for the original models.

Some people make mention that the necks on modern Charvel guitars aren’t as thin as they used to be but this is a difficult fact to prove as the guitars they are referring to were usually custom builds that varied guitar to guitar. 

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main image credit: shixart1985 (CC BY 2.0)