A supreme shredder’s signature 6-string dazzles with versatility.
This immaculately built guitar sounds great and can do it all.
The more affordable price is still out of reach for many guitarists
Charvel MJ San Dimas SD24 CM
Charvel’s first Guthrie Govan signature model was released in 2014, after an arduous two-year effort to get the design just right. Since then, the guitar—now in its second edition—has become one of Charvel’s most coveted models. Unfortunately, its $3,699 price keeps the U.S.-made axe out of reach for many.
This year, though, the company released the Made-in-Japan signature MJ San Dimas SD24 CM, which sells for a slightly more manageable $2,799. Needless to say, that’s not cheap. But depending on your priorities, it’s a fair price for a very high quality, pro-level instrument.
Made for the Road Warrior
Govan is a seasoned touring and recording musician, to say the least, and real-world experience and practicality informs the SD24 CM’s design down to the smallest details. The knurled chrome knobs, for instance, are dressed up with glow-in-the-dark Luminlay numbers, which together with recessed position indicators on the body help you recall volume and tone settings fast and with precision. Crème-colored inlays and more glow-in-the-dark Luminlay side dots help you find your place on the neck on dark stages. The heel-mounted truss rod adjustment wheel, meanwhile, makes neck relief adjustments convenient.
The proprietary tremolo system is unique to the SD24 CM. It functions a bit like a conventional locking tremolo setup, but there’s no locking nut like you find on a Floyd Rose-type system. Instead, the SD24 CM uses Gotoh diecast locking tuning pegs and a Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut. The bridge does require an Allen wrench for string changes, but it’s not encumbered by fine-tuning knobs like a Floyd Rose. So, if you want to change tunings, you can do so quickly using just the tuning pegs
To facilitate pitch-up maneuvers on the whammy bar, the bridge is recessed into a body cavity. The resulting range of motion is considerable, and I was able to get the bar to go up a major 3rd on the G string. Needless to say, I was also able to dive-bomb to oblivion. Tuning stability is quite good—even when the guitar is subjected to excessive whammy bar abuse. By the way, at Govan’s suggestion, there’s also a foam strip situated between the springs and the spring cavity to eliminate sympathetic vibrations. Such issues probably wouldn’t cross the minds of casual guitarists, but they are peace of mind for players that like to eliminate all possibilities of weird vibrations or overtones from unwanted sources.
Another interesting design detail: The recessed input jack is located adjacent to the endpin. This uncommon placement was one of Govan’s ideas. It prevents accidental unplugging. But because most players wind their cables over the endpin, it also situates the jack closer to that point.
The SD24 CM comes with a hybrid gigbag/hardshell case, which is a nice upgrade from just a standard gigbag (or no case, which is an unfortunate new trend, even with pricey guitars). Needless to say, the guitar looks great, with a satin, 3-tone sunburst finish over a figured ash veneer that is mated to a basswood body. With wood-colored pickups and chrome hardware, it makes up an understated and classy instrument.
At the heart of the SD24 CM’s sound are pickups designed by guru Michael Frank-Braun (the mastermind behind Eric Johnson’s signature pickups). They are set in an H-S-H configuration and a 5-way selector switch activates either the bridge humbucker, the bridge’s slug coil and middle pickup, the bridge and neck’s outer coils, the neck outer coil and middle pickup, or the neck humbucker. Note that even though the middle pickup is a single-coil pickup, there are no single-coil-only settings available via the 5-way switch. There is, however, a 2-way, mini-toggle switch that splits the neck and bridge humbuckers and filters the output in what Charvel calls a single-coil “simulation.”
The bridge pickup has a modern, high-output signature that will make speed demons drool. Legato runs sound natural and feel easy to execute, and fast alternate picking lines sound alive and clear, especially in the single-coil simulation setting, which often sounds more articulate, more responsive, and makes single notes pop.
As hot and articulate as it can be, the SD24 CM isn’t merely a shred monster.
Interestingly, the neck pickup with the simulated split-coil setting is similar in volume to the full humbucker, which makes real-time changes sound more organic. I especially liked this setting for clean, funky 9th chord strums and Motown chordal stabs. Pickup positions 2 and 4 are slightly lower in volume, and both cleaner and leaner sounding than the simulated split bridge and neck pickups. This option offered some nice faux-Telecaster sounds. All of these settings benefit from a treble bleed circuit that retains high-end even as you reduce guitar volume.
As hot and articulate as it can be, the SD24 CM isn't merely a shred monster. With the neck pickup engaged and tone knob rolled back, the SD24 CM is a convincing jazz machine that invites fingerstyle walking bass lines, chord comping, or blistering flatpicked bebop. Add a little overdrive and the neck pickup delivers a very creamy and rich lead sound.
Appropriately for a Guthrie Govan signature model, the SD24 CM is built around specs that facilitate fluid play. It features a 25.5" scale, caramelized maple neck with 24 jumbo frets, rolled fingerboard edges, and a 12-16" compound radius fretboard. The satin finish on the back of the neck adds to the guitar’s quick feel, and the contoured heel enables easy access to the highest regions of the fretboard. Playability is excellent and there are no dead spots anywhere along the neck.
Many people think of Guthrie Govan as a super shredder with phenomenal chops. While that’s true, Govan is also a multi-dimensional guitarist fluent in a staggering number of styles. His signature Charvel guitar reflects the breadth of his talent. It’s an amazingly versatile instrument that can cover virtually any genre. And while it doesn’t come cheap, it may be one of the closest things to a desert island guitar you’ll find.
Harkening back to the late '80s when Charvel guitars were manufactured exclusively in Japan, we proudly introduce the all-new Guthrie Govan Signature MJ San Dimas SD24 CM. Exquisite in style, this MJ signature model blends Charvel’s unparalleled legacy of designing high-performance instruments with an assortment of Govan’s preferred top-end features.
There’s way more to it than simply mastering chords and scales.
- Understand the importance of structure and space within guitar leads.
- Learn the power and importance of articulation and motivic development.
- Construct leads that take the listener on a journey.
When it comes to creating an iconic guitar solo from scratch, structure is everything. Though the three classic solos named above are wildly different in tone, style, and nearly everything else, one thing they all have in common is a clear, concise structure. Structure can be dictated by a number of factors. For instance, the structure of your solo could be dictated by the form of the song itself. If the form in the accompaniment changes as your solo progresses, as it does in countless songs (including one of my all-time favorite solos, George Harrison’s lead on “Something”), the structure is pretty much laid out for you. It’s just a matter of letting the song take its course and following along.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are simply playing over a loop of a single riff or chord progression, the structure of your lead then falls entirely on your shoulders. How do you create a sense of structure where there is none?
The cornerstone of melodic writing is the motif, which is defined as a brief melodic or rhythmic idea used as the basis for a larger musical composition. When soloing, having a motif to develop over the course of your solo—or even just having one to fall back on after you melodically deviate from it—can come in very handy. By using a motif (or even several motifs), you immediately ground your lead and give the listener something familiar to recognize and latch onto. To be an effective and melodic soloist, it’s important to know how to skillfully develop a motif. Ex. 1 shows a solo over a 12-bar blues in the key of A, starting with a simple motif. Over the rest of the solo this motif is developed in several variations that get progressively complex.
You can also leave motifs as musical breadcrumbs—little ideas that pop in and out, with or without variations, to provide a sense of unity to a solo that is otherwise through-composed, or played without depending on motivic development. A great example of this approach is David Gilmour’s iconic “Comfortably Numb” solo, which features several pentatonic motifs with slight variations in the course of awe-inspiring through-composed blues phrasing. Ex. 2 is based around the chord progression from “Comfortably Numb” in the key of B minor. A simple pentatonic motif is introduced in the first measure, then is reintroduced and built upon in measure four. The rest of the solo between this motif and its variations is through-composed, à la Gilmour’s breathtaking lead.
When we think of melody, we typically think of the human voice as the instrument of choice. So naturally, a great place to start when learning to solo more melodically is to understand how vocalists interpret melody. Vocalists practically never hit a note straight on with no inflection. Good vocalists know how to embellish a melody through articulation. Great vocalists know how to control every aspect of every note to get the most out of it. To be a better, more melodic soloist, you need that kind of control.
The way you play a note is as important as the note itself. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to practice articulating your phrases in as many ways as your hands can conjure. For guitarists, this means incorporating techniques like string bends, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and vibrato. Ex. 3 shows a simple A major pentatonic (A–B–C#–E–F#) melodic phrase, first played without any articulation, then reinterpreted several times using a variety of articulations. Because the way these notes are played is completely different in every case, each lick has a slightly different flavor. Try this with any lick in your arsenal. Use these articulations in as many ways as you can dream up. Be creative.
The Final Frontier
Space is often the unsung hero of great leads. Brief stretches of musical silence not only emphasize the phrases that immediately precede them—thus giving listeners a chance to process what they’ve just heard—but they create anticipation for what is to come next. Many guitarists (myself included, until I came to the above realization) try to fill their solos with as many ideas as they can, leaving absolutely no room to breathe. This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach often leaves listeners cold because they’re never given a chance to process what they’re hearing. I liken it to listening to someone speak who doesn’t know how to end a sentence or stop to take a breath. You’re quickly going to lose the thread of what they are saying, and eventually you’re going to stop caring about what they had to say in the first place.
Guitarists are notoriously afraid of silence. When I was struggling with this problem in my musical adolescence, I was afraid that listeners would think I was running out of ideas if I wasn’t playing something at any given moment. But on the contrary, incorporating space into your leads shows that you have supreme confidence in your playing and musical choices.
The Arc of Your Lead
Think of your solo as a story you want to tell. Every good story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. A great solo is bound by the same rules. You need a starting point, some rising action, a climax, and ultimately a conclusion. This boils down to movement. If your lead languishes in the same place for too long, you risk losing the listener’s interest, so you have to build momentum in your solo.
There are a number of ways to do this, including speeding up the rhythm of your phrasing and guiding your phrases up or down the neck. A common arc in great solos finds the player gradually working up from a low point to a high point, either in terms of pitch, complexity, or rhythm, or some mix of the three. Jimmy Page’s “Stairway to Heaven” solo is a perfect example of this. He starts the solo in 5th position, briefly moves up the fretboard, then back down, then a little further up, back down, and so on in that fashion, inching his way up the neck a little further each time until he makes the triumphant leap up to the 17th position for that iconic 16th-note-triplet pull-off lick to finish it out. I’m pumped up just thinking about it!
If you were to transcribe Page’s solo and draw one continuous line through each and every notehead, the line would move up and down in a wave-like fashion, showing lots of melodic interest when you zoom in on any given measure. But if you zoom out and look at the lead as a whole, you would see the arc of the entire lead starts low, works its way up and up, fakes you out for a second by dipping down right before its climax, and then jumps to its ultimate peak. I honestly can’t think of a more impeccable command of compositional structure in all guitardom than Jimmy Page’s solo on “Stairway to Heaven.”
If you keep all these things in mind, you’ll be cooking up stellar leads worthy of your guitar heroes in no time!
A new tool for working on Floyd Rose and tremolo-equipped guitars.
The Tremolo Buddy is a lightweight, durable, and easy-to-use tool designed to simplify necessary maintenance tasks on a Floyd Rose or other tremolo systems! This unique design offers a simple solution to tackling the “BIG FIVE” problematic maintenance areas of a tremolo-equipped guitar by helping to keep tension on the bridge:
• String changes
• Intonation adjustments
• Bridge height adjustments • Spring claw adjustments
• Truss rod adjustments
Using two simple clamps, the Tremolo Buddy allows you to keep the strings on the instrument without having to loosen tension or place blocks under the bridge. This design also works as a stand to flip the guitar on to conveniently work on spring tension adjustments in an upright position. The tool is quickly unclamped by using easy-off triggers so you can get back to tuning or playing in a matter of mere seconds.
In addition to its intended usage for tremolo systems, technicians and musicians have found that the “third hand” is also handy for working on non-tremolo equipped instruments. A durable glass-reinforced nylon body provides lightweight strength, while the rubber TPE foot pads protect the guitar’s body and is safe on all finishes.
The Tremolo Buddy is a lightweight, durable, and easy-to-use tool designed to simplify necessary maintenance tasks on a Floyd Rose or other tremolo systems! This unique design offers a simple solution to tackling the “BIG FIVE” problematic maintenance areas of a tremolo-equipped guitar by helping to keep tension on the bridge.