A History of Charvel Electric Guitars

Sep 14, 2015


Humble Beginnings - The 1970s

Wayne Charvel didn’t originally set out to start his own guitar company. At least, not on the scale it eventually became. Starting his career at Fender, Charvel eventually left to run his own, individual guitar repair shop. He was perfectly content to help other people fix up their Fenders that were out of warranty or needed an upgrade. It was the upgrades that put his shop on the map.

Charvel knew a lot more about guitars than just the simple fixes, and his shop eventually earned a reputation for producing components of outstanding quality. He even had to deal with companies making cheap, knock-off imitations of his work, and that’s when Charvel decided to go into business for himself. No longer just a simple guitar repair shop, Charvel decided to become a brand.

In 1978, Wayne Charvel sold the company to Grover Jackson, and ceased working on the Charvel brand. Jackson continued to expand the company, especially focusing on the custom upgrades and revamps of Fender Stratocaster designs, commonly using the maple fingerboards that still make Charvel famous today, as well as the particularly creative finishes.

A Golden Age of Rock - The 1980s

In the early 80s, Charvel began to get much more attention. Randy Rhoads, a guitarist who played with Ozzy Osbourne, commissioned a specific guitar from the company, the Rhoads model that gained intense popularity. It was so popular that Grover Jackson made his own ‘Jackson Guitars’ company, and mass manufacture of Charvel guitars was sold out to Asian companies.

Randy Rhoads wasn’t the only famous guitarist to go in for Charvel in the early 80s. The specific Superstrat design that Charvel had become famous for, with its iconic neck shape and its choice of maple wood fingerboards, made Charvel incredibly popular with the rock and heavy metal guitarists of the 80s. Their most famous users include: Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora; Vinnie Vincent of KISS; Eddie Ojeda of Twisted Sister; and the legend Eddie Van Halen.

Of course, the switch to mass production in 1986 came with a few downsides. No longer could you count on having a custom built Charvel guitar, it would instead be a factory produced model. They also began to change in other ways, and the marks that were traditionally associated with Charvel, such as the “San Dimas, CA” stamped neckplates and the “Charvel - Made in USA” gold labels changed. In 1989, Jackson sold Charvel in its entirety to the Japanese manufacturer IMC.

The Fender Renaissance - The Modern Day

Between the 80s and the beginning of the new millennium, not much was heard from the Charvel brand. The traditional Charvel Superstrat design was out of favour, especially thanks to the mass manufactured design. However, in a twist of irony, Charvel was bought in 2002 by Fender, the company which in many ways helped the brand become what it had been at its height. Coming full circle, the company which had given Wayne Charvel his job and education in guitar manufacture had finally reclaimed its offspring.

Fender brought Charvel back to where it belonged, opening up a custom shop in the USA, and bringing back the famous San Dimas stamp. Since the design is so similar to Fender’s own, it’s no shock that they know what they’re doing with it, and Charvel is seeing a new surge of popularity. The custom shop models capture the essence of original Charvel.

Much like they have with their own brand, Fender have helped Charvel enter a new renaissance, with all the hallmarks of traditional 80s guitars, as well as all the benefits of modern mass manufacturing.

Sounds Great Music are pleased to offer a flavour of both worlds, and you can get your very own Charvel guitar or custom shop model, on our Charvel Electric Guitars page. Or, call us on 0161 436 4799 and we’ll set you up with the instrument of your dreams.