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This article was originally published in issue #11
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Charvel is back with a bang - but without the big bucks. Tom Quayle gets his pointy head round the pointy headstocks of two new Desolation models.
Since Fender took over Charvel in 2002, the Arizona-based guitar giant has slowly been diversifying the Charvel range to expand on the brand's classic shapes. The Desolation series sees Charvel strengthening its historic association with hard Rock and metal instruments, bringing some new ideas into the mix, as well as reinvigorating some of its classics.
Two such classic shapes are the 'Star' DST model and the 'Soloist' DX that have been sleekly modernised in this new range. With a reputation for superb quality Rock and metal guitars, stemming from the legendary San Dimas 'super-strat' models of the '80s, I had high hopes for the Desolation series.
Both review models shared the same basic construction, featuring mahogany bodies, maple through-body necks and rosewood fingerboards. The DX-1 ST had a very pretty flame maple top to boot and very detailed, multi-ply binding running all the way around the body, neck and headstock. Abalam shark tooth inlays adorn the fretboards and a compound 12-16" radius ensures easy chordal playing in the lower register and screaming bends in the upper register with no fretting out. A compound radius is impressive at this price point and really aids playability, helped further by the jumbo frets.
Hardware is also high quality, with active EMG 81 and 85 humbucker pickups and either a Floyd Rose, or a fixed bridge with string-through construction for better sustain. Our sample DX-1 ST had a fixed bridge and locking tuners for greater tuning stability, while the DST-1 FR had an authentic Floyd Rose bridge and locking nut with standard nickel tuners. Each model can be bought with either configuration and in a number of different finishes with flame tops or opaque paint jobs. Your choice in which model to go for will be determined by your taste and bridge requirements, as the basic construction is the same throughout the range. A single volume knob and three-way switch completes the set-up.
Construction quality of both our samples was high and the flame topped DX-1 was stunning to look at. The only problem I could find was the where the paint finish stops on the back of the neck there is a significant ridge instead of the smooth taper that you'll usually find on through-necks. It's very easy to feel this as your hand passes over it and whilst it won't cause any problems for the guitar, it doesn't feel as 'high-end' and well finished as you would expect for what are quite highly priced guitars.
Playability-wise both guitars are super fast and easy to play and came with great set-ups from the box. The oiled finish on the necks makes for a smooth, non-sticky experience and the jumbo frets and comfortable slim neck profiles make fast, extended soloing a breeze.
Tonally, the active EMG pickups are perfect for modern Rock and metal styles thanks to their high output and aggressive characteristics. Clean tones, often lacking character in active pickups, are attractive and pristine with a roundness and fullness that is equally adept in chordal passages and single note runs. Distorted tones were crisp and accurate, with superb tracking during palm muted riffs and power chords. Lead tones on both guitars were fat and cutting, especially on the bridge pickup of the DX-1 where the added sustain of the fixed bridge really made the guitar scream. I wasn't as impressed by how the pickups cleaned up with the volume control but most of the time you'll be using these guitars with high gain tones, where they really cut it.
These two Charvels enter a very crowded and popular market with a lot of stiff competition from the many brands aiming at the Metal player but if you're after a through-neck design with great hardware, great pickups and playability, then I think these Charvel Desolations simply have to be checked-out. They may be just a shade highly priced considering their origins, but a quick check around the guitar shops reveals some attractive discounts, so on that basis, and after a lot of thought, we decided to award them four stars each.