Price paid: $ 649.99
Purchased from: Sweetwater
Sound — 8
So, on to the most important category. How does this guitar sound? Well, pretty awesome in my opinion. I play in a progressive band that is heavy, clean and in between, so I need some versatility in a guitar. I play through an Egnater Tweaker 40 combo with TC Electronic's FlashBack Delay, Hall Of Fame Reverb, Spark Booster, and Dark Matter Distortion. I also have the Vox Ice 9 Overdrive. With the combination of everything, I can get a ton of different tones. However, saying that I can get a ton of different tones out of a bunch of effects isn't really speaking for the guitar, is it? What I've noticed that this guitar brings to my equipment is a really thick, high output sound. It's very warm, even on the bridge pickup, and I am very fond of a warm guitar tone. Unfortunately, this has it's drawbacks. First off, on a completely clean setting on my amp, if I dig in too hard with my pick I will get a little bit of break up. I'm not saying that it is always a drawback, because I can use that, but it's not always a desired effect either. Second, since the Egnater is a very warm amp, when adding the warm character of the guitar on top of that things can get a bit muddy. The tone knobs don't do a whole lot to help counter act this. The volume knobs, on the other hand, seem pretty responsive. I can roll back the volume on any of my distortions - be it the amp, the Dark Matter distortion or the Ice 9 overdrive - and it will clean up very nicely. Also, I can roll back the volume on the neck pickup and use the three way selector to switch from a mild overdrive to full out distortion on the same channel. Pretty cool. As far as noise goes, I've found the Blackouts to be very quiet.
Overall Impression — 8
Overall, I'm very pleased with this guitar. I can't really give it a 9 or a 10, because it has a few issues, but all in all they are small gripes as far as I am concerned. I can see myself buying another one of these in a little while. It fits the style of music that I play very well, I would say it even over-achieves when it comes to the heavier stuff. If I were to buy another one, I would probably try to put some burstbuckers in it for a little less output and more versatility. I may end up upgrading a few things on this one too, such as replacing the plastic nut with a graphite or putting some locking tuners on it, but I'm not in any rush to do so. I'm chalking this up as a win for Charvel and for myself for purchasing it. If you are looking for a new guitar with some of these features, I highly recommend you go out and try one of these.
Reliability & Durability — 8
I wish I could give this guitar a 10 in this category, but the damned black nickel finish fading on the bridge leaves me no choice. Everything aside from that seems very sturdy and durable. The strap buttons on this guitar are monstrous things that provide nearly as much stability as a strap lock system with a decently made strap. I haven't had any troubles gigging with it and I would be comfortable not bringing a back up, though I tend to bring one anyway in case I break a string. It stays in tune pretty well, too, even with heavy bending. Aside from the hardware finish, it seems to be very well made hardware that will last for years and years to come. I could see the finish wearing off of the guitar itself much later down the line, but not anytime soon. That's something that you'll have with pretty much any guitar, though.
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
I feel like the fit and finish of this guitar was pretty excellent. I had it shipped from Sweetwater.com (where they do a 55-point evaluation before it leaves the warehouse) and it arrived in great shape. The action was very comfortable, low with not a hint of a fret buzz to be found. Pickups were adjusted nicely. I did tweak them a little bit, but then pretty much reset them to factory afterwards because it sounded better before I messed with them. No noise in any of the pots or pickup selector.
Features — 8
I bought this guitar because I was looking for a fixed bridge Les Paul style powerhouse at a reasonable price. I felt that this was the best option out there and I haven't been disappointed. It's a 2012 guitar manufactured in China - which may turn a lot of guitar enthusiasts away. However, if you are like me and would rather the instrument speak for it's quality rather than the country of origin, I think you will enjoy playing this guitar. Being that the guitar is under $700, some features had to suffer, but for the most part it's loaded with reasons to love it. First off, it has a pretty light weight mahogany body with a carved top. Mine is the transparent blue smear finish, which has a nice looking flame maple veneer with matching head stock. The head stock and the body both have a abalone binding. The finish is very expensive looking to my eyes and I get tons upon tons of compliments on it. The hardware has a black nickel finish which looks very nice, but has already discolored where my palm rests on the bridge. Unfortunate, but I can deal with it. The neck is a thing of beauty. I love how it plays, it felt very natural to me from the first time I picked it up. I was a little worried about making the transition to something like this since I've grown accustomed to the super fast Wizard neck on my JS-100, but my skepticism was for naught. It has 24 jumbo frets on the rosewood compound-radius fretboard, which is fitted to a mahogany neck that is lightly sanded and oiled (one of my favorite features of the guitar). Another selling point for me was that it is neck-through. One part about the neck that I'm a little confused by is that it is a Strat/Tele scale of 25.5" instead of the typical Les Paul scale. To me, it seems the balance while wearing the guitar is a little off because of this, but again - I'm not that concerned by it. The tuners are nothing special, but they work well. The bridge is standard-style and made to compensate for the compound radius fretboard. It didn't come with a case or gig bag. The pick ups are Seymour Duncan Blackout active humbuckers. I have a lot to say about those, but I had better leave some of that for the next section! Two volume knobs, two tone knobs and a three-way selector control the pick ups.