I wrote a fairly in-depth review for this guitar on Sweet Water and it ended up getting butchered after I submitted an update. So I thought maybe I should stop slacking on my blog and write this up properly. So sit back, grab your favorite beverage of choice and read on!
To start with, I’ve always loved the Charvel brand. From the iconic players from the 80s, to the no-BS hotrod super-strat ideology, even the cheesy, yet totally badass logo, I love it all. I had been eyeballing the newer San Dimas guitars for a while, but the few times I picked one up, I was not impressed. Something about the neck carve and giant vintage spec’ed heel just doesn’t do it for me. I always really liked the design of the Guthrie Govan guitar and this heavily inspired one of my favorite Warmoth builds. I had seen the splash Fender/Charvel made with the newer DK24s, but I generally avoid 24fret instruments and wasn’t really interested. This whole thing started by me being curious about the 5150 amps. At a local store I grabbed a DK24 to test it out. …..and Wow! What an amazing guitar. The amp was fine, but I was so blown away by the guitar that I quickly became disinterested in the amp. Then I made the mistake of checking out Sweet Water’s stock and found one with gorgeous wood grain. …..so like any good husband, I started begging my wife. :)
I was so blown away by the feel and acoustic experience with this guitar that I bought one. I usually tell almost immediately if I’m going to like a guitar just based on how it sounds and resonates acoustically. This DK24 is absolutely incredible at passing this test. It’s seriously amazing. This is also my first experience with FMIC producing an instrument of this quality from the Mexican factory. Oh my, how far the quality has come since the 90s and early 00’s. This guitar was selling for $1300 (SW knocked $100 off for me), and could rival the ~$2500 range. Pretty great right?!
Apart from how the guitar resonates and sounds acoustically, maybe my favorite thing on this guitar is the feel of the neck. I don’t over analyze neck specs like carves and thicknesses, I just know this one feels amazing. I image there’s a finish on it, but it doesn’t feel finished, which is my preference. I won’t play guitars that have a tacky finish on the neck – life is just too short for that! The fret board feels great and nicely rolled edges. The roasted maple w/ carbon fiber rods seems to be a great combination. I’ve also never had a guitar with glow-in-the-dark side inlays. That’s a really nice touch that would have been really helpful 20yrs ago to me when I used to play on dark stages. All of this works together to make a guitar that’s very satisfying to play.
The setup. I really like how this guitar played straight out of the box. I didn’t find it necessary to tweak the factory setup at all – which was surprising to me. For most of my life I’ve been playing 10s, but as I’m getting older I have a new found appreciation for 9s. The one nitpick here is the guitar didn’t hold it’s tuning very well. That was easy enough to fix though. I added a couple globs of chapstick to the tremolo posts and polished the nut slots w/ 800 grit sandpaper. Now it holds the tuning perfectly.
I also really love the wood used on this particular guitar. The pieces of mahogany almost have “stripes”. Not only does this look great, but it also cleverly disguises the three piece body joints.
What’s not so great
Quick disclaimer: The specs on paper look almost perfect, but in practice some fall short for me. Yes, I know I’m about to dive into subject topics/opinions, and I fully realize that my views are just that, my views.
The heel joint. Ibanez, Suhr, Anderson, (insert your favorite company) have all mastered comfortable heel joints. Fender does have plenty of examples of really nice designs. The DK24 is *so* close to being perfect, but they fail because the screw ferrules aren’t properly recessed. The carve is beautiful but unfortunately the edge of the ferrule sticks out and is pretty sharp. I’ve seen some of these models that don’t have this problem, but mine does. It stinks because my palm feels pain if I slide up the neck quickly and hits them. This issue is easily available and it’s hard for me to imagine the brands listed above doing this.
Input jack. Ok I admit the jack looks awesome on this guitar, but is it functional? Almost, but not really. Traditionally, the jack is either top mounted on a strat or on the edge of the instrument beneath the tone control. This works well enough but a few guitars have positioned the jack in a place that’s a bit more ergonomic and enables the cable to pass through the strap in a more direct manor. Again, the Guthrie Govan signature model gets this right, as does the Ibanez Jem. I thought it was an odd choice to have the jack on the back of the instrument, but I do really like how the jack is angled, allowing the cable to run up directly to the strap button. The problem I have with this execution is, even after six months of owning the guitar, I find it really awkward to plug the cable in. Most guitars you can do it by feel and it’s crazy easy. For some reason, I usually have to visually see the jack to get the cable at the correct angle. Perhaps the worst part is that I can feel the cable poking me if I angle the neck up. It’s not really painful or uncomfortable, but I can definitely feel the cable hitting me which just makes this whole thing a bit of a mess. It was a cool thing to try and test out, but I’m not sure why this made it into production. I put this in the paper cut category; it’s only a slight nuisance.
Potentiometers. Charvel seems to have added the most “tricked out” pots to this guitar, again great on paper, but less so in practice. A lot of Charvels avoid a tone pot altogether. They do ever so slightly darken the sound of the circuit and a huge amount of players ignore them altogether. I happen to be the type of player that uses the tone knob a lot – probably because of my jazz background. Charvel came up with a great compromise of the “no-loan” tone pot. It’s almost the best of both worlds, except the strong detent in the pot makes it too difficult to turn with your pinky. That doesn’t sound too painful except we have the opposite problem with the volume knob. These guitars use the Bourne’s frictionless pot in the volume position. Personally, I don’t care for these because they way too easy for me to accidentally bump and then all of a sudden there’s no signal. So by the default, the guitar has one pot that’s much too easy to turn and the other that’s much too difficult. It’s a bad blend. I after suffering with this for 6 months I replaced them with some Dunlop super pots. I haven’t used these before, they seem nice and have just the right amount of friction to be normal, which works much better in practice for me.
Pickups. The DK24 diverges from the classic Charvel formula of a Duncan JB & 59 pickup, and instead has the Duncan Full shred, SSL6 single coil, and an Alnico 2 Pro in the neck position. These are pretty cool pickups that I don’t have first-hand experience with. Vivian Campbell was a big endorser of the full shred and of Slash has been using the AL2P since the 80s, so this should be a pretty solid set. This was actually the first guitar I’ve owned that sounded *amazing* when played acoustically but terrible when plugged in. The bridge pickup was very thin, trebly, and not very loud compared to the neck. The neck position was crazy over powering and I just couldn’t get a good sound out of it. But how can this be? Charvel has doubled down on this formula and continues to offer more models with this combo. After asking wrestling with my sanity and selling vs modding the guitar I decided to try some different pickups. After spending a couple hundred dollars on a set, I found the problem. Seymour Duncan held up their end of the deal just fine, it was Fender/Charvel who made a pretty egregious error. They installed the full shred in the neck and the AL2P in the bridge on the guitar. <facepalm> I’m sure this wasn’t the first or last time for this to happen, but it’s the first time I’ve run into it. Once I discovered that, the world makes sense again. It wasn’t too difficult to swap them, but it’s a pretty bad mistake to make at the factory. I wanted to describe this problem a bit so maybe it will help others if they find the same scenario. I will also note that the guitar has some pretty trick wiring with a variety of split pickup combinations in the 2-4 positions. All of these sounded bad when the pickups were reversed. Now that I have them installed properly, the split sounds are all really nice and usable.
I did compare it to my shredder Warmoth (more similar to the San Dimas) and my Tom Anderson guitars. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Ultimately I think my Warmoth is a better guitar, but there’s no guarantee someone else will have the same experience. I believe the Charvels will be more consistent. Same with my Andersons; I definitely prefer the sound and feel of these guitars, but they cost 3-4x the price. Are they worth the money? Yes, no question. …but I will say I am still really impressed with the Charvel and I think it’s a great instrument.
Ultimately, I really like this guitar. It’s not without it’s flaws, but fortunately most people won’t have the same problem with the pickups being reversed like mine. The other items I don’t like on the guitar are very minor and unlikely to bother most guitarists. Two things that keep the price point down on this guitar is the three piece body and nickel frets. These two things don’t bother me at all, again, especially considering the price. I think it’s a great buy and I would recommend it for someone looking to get a performance guitar for under $1500.