Note: this entry was already published in my old Spanish version of this blog, around April / 2011. I am just revisiting it here.
I've got a nice friend of mine that, after an urgent GAS attack, bought a Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Type 1 and, he was pushing me hard to test the guitar and hang some youtube demo, comparing this Japanese version to my American Charvel SoCal Type 1.
With this blog entry and that video, I hope to accomplish my friend's willing and, maybe this will be helpful to fight against the typical myth: "American guitars are best".
Charvel was born building Custom Guitars, at a very high price and, with high consideration among guitarists. Some day (I guess after it was bought by Fender), they decided to release some production series, at "affordable" prices and, such a production was started in USA.
In that moment, I was just looking for an "acceptable" guitar loading an "acceptable" Floyd Rose bridge and, after seeing the offer by Charvel I couldn't do anything else but bought one. It was a real bargain, just 1000 Eur for such a guitar!.
My guitar was part of the Production Batch number 6 and, if memory doesn't fail, last USA produced batch was number 7. It seems that costs were so high (man labour, I guess) in USA that they decided to move such a production to Fujigen factory, in Japan. Fujigen builds awesome guitars, as the Ibanez Prestige, by example.
You know, people started screaming "I don't want a Japanese guitar, I want it American!.
I've tested several Japanese guitars and, they always seemed to me very well finished and with awesome factory settings. Even Shur prefers Gotoh bridges to Original Floyd Rose!.
So, I was very confident that that new Japanese version of the Charvel Production series would have same or best quality than the American one but, things should be tested to be sure.
And, that's all about this blog entry. I've tested the Japanese version, compared it to my American one and, I wanted to share with you my impressions.
Are them so different?. Nah!. Just minor differences.
Respect of hardware, both are mounting exacting the same.
Wood type is the same and, apparently both of same density, because they both weight barely the same.
Neck is barely the same, and that's the key piece in a Charvel.
Peghead looks the same and, size and shape of body is exactly the same.
Neck joint is the same.
So... which are the differences?.
First difference is that the model SoCal has a pickguard, while the San Dimas one hasn't it.
Well, I prefer myself pickguards, because it allows you to mod the guitar without having to route the wood.
The SoCal body is being routed to accept an H-S-H pickup layout (humbucker - single - humbucker) so, It could support any potential pickup arrangement, different from the stock one. To change pickup configuration in San Dimas will need to route the wood.
To add any new toggle switch or pot in San Dimas will require new routing also, in SoCal only the pickguard will be affected and, if you change your mind, you can go for a new pickguard, always.
That's why I usually prefer pickguards in guitars.
Second difference is the finishing of the border of the fingerboard.
Those borders are being carved, in a way that resembles me fret' scalloping but, instead of to scallop the whole fret horizontally, just the border was scalloped vertically.
Well, one of the drawbacks I have with my SoCal is that when performing extreme dive bombings, often the first string gets trapped in that border, when releasing the FR tremolo. This never happened when testing the San Dimas, maybe this is the function for those carved borders, at the end.
Appart of that, radius, finishing, feeling, everything looks the same in both guitars.
Last difference are pickups. SoCal comes stock with Dimarzio's (Bridge ToneZone and Neck Evo), while the San Dimas comes with Seymour Duncan's (Neck '59 and Bridge JB).
To be honest, both sets of pickups work awesome in their respective axes. They were very well selected for both models and, you will have no issues using one or the other. But, when I bought the SoCal, I also ordered a set of BareKnuckle's Nailbombs to load the SoCal, because I am not a fan of Dimarzio pickups (even that the Evo is probably my preferred Dimarzio's Neck).
Usually, I prefer Seymour Duncan's or Bareknuckle. Custom SD's are often expensive than boutique Barenuckle's here, in Europe.
'59 and JB are probably the most mounted set of SD pickups of all the times. If you think in a couple of SD humbuckers, those are always the natural election. The '59 is a very rich sounding PAF-alike pickup, very vocal and with some kind of rawness that I love but, It can go blurred and undefined when pushed hard. The JB is a hate/love pickup. While the '59 works practically in every axe, the extreme EQ of the JB (bump in mid-highs) can sound harsh and even piercing in some axes but, the JB works awesome in Strato-alike guitars and, it's a perfect choice for this San Dimas. I was gratefully surprised about how nice both classic SD's deliver in this axe. Sure, a hot driven JB has no competence and, sounds way better than the ToneZone (which is the closer Dimarzio's model to SD JB).
And now, the big surprise. The Japanese axe comes with a hard case!!!!!!!!.
The American hadn't even a soft case!.
The San Dimas case is similar to Ibanez cases (well, it is made in Fujigen).
I can play with same comfort as the American version, it sounds awesome and, I didn't had the sensation to be playing an inferior quality axe in any single moment.
I worked hard the Floyd Rose tremolo and, the guitar kept its tune without issues. Bridge is an Original Floyd Rose, since Fender bought the brand some time ago. Both mount exactly the same Original Floyd Rose. If you wonder where it's being made, I bet this is not a German FR but, it's Original FR, don't doubt it. Fender owns FR.
I would say that that carved border in the fingerboard makes even more comfortable that neck. And, first string doesn't gets locked under the border with extreme dive bombs (what happens often with the SoCal).
In my honest opinion, if you are a so picky snob or do you think on a possible greater value when reselling this guitar, go for the American one but, be sure of this: THEY ARE BOTH EXACTLY THE SAME (and this hurts me, since I've payed around additional 300 Eur for the American version, that comes without a case).
You will save a lot of money (around 300 Eur) with the Japanese version, to get exactly same quality and, they will give you a hard case for free, instead of a cardboard box.
If you are buying it second hand, you will probably do a better score. Probably, the Japanese version will be cheaper in the second hand market than the American version. So nice, so good for you. I am sharing with you this secret: they are both the same, get that cheaper Japanese one!.
I know American people will still think that the American version is better, just because it was made in America. Here in Europe, we are not fooled with that patriotic feeling.
Having weighted, examined and played both, there is no doubt: both are the same, Japanese is the cheaper one and includes a hard case. End of discussion.
Just compare which kind of guitars, mounting an Original Floyd Rose tremolo, you can find for such a price. You will see that there is no real competence.
Alright, the review is over but, to completely satisfy my friend's willing, I wanted to record a video explaining the differences and to demo this guitar.
You will see that it can be played with same comfort as the American version and that the OFR works equally well.
If you find something wrong or ugly in this video, that's me, not the guitar.