Back in the early to mid-eighties, there was nothing that could touch the cool factor of a Charvel Strat. Played by a who’s who of metal guitarists ranging from Warren DeMartini to Jake E. Lee to George Lynch, the bolt-on, superstrat was king of the hill. I used to watch MTV and drool over the killer paint jobs, Floyd Rose tremolos and Duncan pickups that dominated the videos of the day, fantasizing that one day I’d be playing one on stage with my hair as high as the rafters.
An incredibly simple guitar by design—just one volume knob, one humbucker (maybe two) and a bolt-on maple neck with maple fingerboard— they were functionally solid and built to rock. Most bodies were constructed from alder or swamp ash and painted with wild custom colors and graphics, though to me, some of the coolest ones were the most basic, reminding me of an old Strat or Les Paul. Mind you, owning one of these guitars for most junior high students was just a mere dream—we tended to have guitars more like Memphis Les Pauls and Arbor or Hondo Strats. Owning a Charvel was being part of an elite and exclusive club for rock stars and that seemed worlds away from us kids in suburbia. I never did get one, but from time to time I was able to play a few that came through our local guitar shop for a setup. Damn, I wanted one of them!
Fast forward to October of 2002, when Fender Musical Instruments bought the Charvel/ Jackson brand, and all of their existing inventory--and began building US-made instruments and custom guitars for the brand in Ontario California. Over the course of time many variations of the original Charvel Strats were brought out, including the EVH-style guitars in three different color schemes (black/white, red/ white, black/yellow). Then, one of the larger dealers of Fender and Charvel, The Music Zoo, put together an exclusive deal with Charvel to create the “Natural Series” Charvels. These guitars are a no-frills affair with either one or two pickups (H/S, H/H), a volume knob or two, Floyd Rose or NOS Charvel bridge and—as noted by the name—no paint! In place of the wild colors and graphics is a simple, oil finish applied to either a mahogany, koa or swamp ash body. And of course it goes without saying that the fastest profile neck in the history of the guitar is bolted right onto that oiled body, duplicated directly from the original and now infamous early-Charvel necks.
The Natural Series model reviewed is a two pickup shred machine. Mahogany body, maple neck, chrome Floyd Rose, two Seymour Duncan humbuckers (Custom 5-bridge, PAFneck), single volume knob and 3-way toggle switch. Simple and effective. In a somewhat bizarre twist, this particular model has both chrome and gold appointments. While the tuners, Floyd and jack are chrome, the knob and strap buttons are brass and the selector switch is chrome with a gold tip! I’m not too sure what the thinking was behind that, but aside from the somewhat odd look it certainly doesn’t affect the tone—it’s just an appointment issue. The neck is bolted on and seems to have a very tight neck pocket that doesn’t slide around or show any visible signs of shimming or unnecessary voids. The guitar comes set up with 10’s ready to rock, with uber-low action and enough float in the Floyd to pull back at least a step and a half. Nice! Sadly, the original detail of necessitating a neck removal for a simple truss rod adjustment is present in this model, which is too old school for this reviewer’s taste. Then again, with the locking nut at the top of the neck and a humbucker right up against the 22nd fret, it seems unlikely that there would be any other place to put the truss rod adjustment. As long as the strings stay at the same gauge it’s pretty much a set-and-forget detail anyway. Moving on…