Uber axe

If your jaw drops when you see and hear Guthrie Go­van play then pre­pare for your wallet to open for his lat­est gui­tar

Guitarist - - First Play - Words Dave Bur­rluck Pho­tog­ra­phy Olly Cur­tis

Part of the Fen­der em­pire since 2002, Charvel’s rep­u­ta­tion was founded by mak­ing cus­tom gui­tars for great play­ers. It’s cur­rently sig­na­ture home to War­ren DeMar­tini, Joe Du­plantier, Jake E. Lee and our own Guthrie Go­van, who’s first sig­na­ture model ap­peared in 2014 af­ter two years of de­vel­op­ment.

Ear­lier this year two Charvel Guthrie Go­van Sig­na­ture mod­els were an­nounced with vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal fea­tures and price, the dif­fer­ence ly­ing pri­mar­ily in their woods. It means the full ti­tle of our re­viewed model is the, deep breath, Charvel Guthrie Go­van Sig­na­ture HSH, Caramelized Ash, Caramelized Flame Maple Fingerboard, Nat­u­ral – the other be­ing the Charvel Guthrie Go­van Sig­na­ture HSH Flame Maple, Caramelized Flame Maple Fingerboard, Nat­u­ral. Bonkers. But name length aside there’s noth­ing bonkers about the gui­tars: our caramelized ash body model is up there with the finest bolt-ons we’ve ever played. How so?

Un­like the bass­wood/flame maple top ver­sion, the con­struc­tion here is in­tended to

have a bit more char­ac­ter, at least tonally. The body is two-piece, cen­tred joined ‘caramelized’ ash (yet another word for tor­refied timber), which with its thin lac­quer fin­ish shows off the bold wavy-striped grain. It doesn’t ap­pear to be grain filled and is hugely tex­tured.

The sim­i­larly caramelized maple neck has a bold striped fig­ure on the back that’s only slightly milder on the sep­a­rate fingerboard. It cer­tainly adopts a thin depth flat ‘C’ and if the spec sheet didn’t tell is it was coated with a hand-rubbed ure­thane gel we’d sus­pect it was oiled. Un­der that fingerboard, how­ever, are dual graphite rods – to in­crease sta­bil­ity – and, of course, there’s a two-way ad­justable truss rod with body-end wheel ad­just­ment.

The fingerboard face has a com­pound ra­dius, 24 big stain­less steel frets and clear con­trast­ing po­si­tion dots and Lu­min­lay lu­mi­nous side dots. The neck is ex­tremely tight-fit­ting and held in place with four screws, each re­cessed into the con­toured heel.

The bridge, ini­tially, looks like an early Floyd Rose (with­out fine tuners) but is a USA-made Charvel de­sign that cen­tres around a thick brass in­er­tia block, steel top plate and large sad­dles into which the strings are locked via those long Allen key bolts; once in­to­na­tion is set each sad­dle is firmly locked in place. It’s back routed too and the whole unit is re­cessed into the body so the top of the bridge plate is flush with the top of the body. A Tre­mol-No is fit­ted so you can pre­vent up­bend, lock it in place as a fixed bridge or, as supplied, just use it as a free float­ing vi­brato with a huge range from floppy to an up­bend of ap­prox­i­mately a fourth on the G string (it’ll go a bit higher but we stopped there).

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly a typ­i­cal lock­ing nut is re­placed with a clas­sic bone nut and Sperzel lock­ing tuner,yet even straight out of the case the tun­ing sta­bil­ity was hugely im­pres­sive, not least with that wide range. Even the stain­less steel arm has been ‘tuned’: it’s a tight push fit into a plas­tic col­lar (with ten­sion ad­just­ment) but with zero free play.

Match­ing the caramel colour are the cen­tre sin­gle coil’s cover and bob­bin tops of the un­cov­ered neck and bridge hum­buck­ers – which are firmed screwed to the body with no in­tended height ad­just­ment; the middle sin­gle coil has a lit­tle more move­ment but not by much.

Like any HSH set up you have huge choice on ex­actly how you wire it – this is no dif­fer­ent. While the outer po­si­tions se­lect the full

hum­buck­ers, po­si­tion two voices bridge (slug sin­gle coil only) and the middle sin­gle coil; po­si­tion three gives us bridge and neck (both slug sin­gle coils); po­si­tion four of­fers the screw sin­gle coil of the neck pickup with the middle pickup. There’s no pro­vi­sion for voic­ing the solo middle sin­gle coil, or any way of coil-split­ting the two hum­buck­ers but via a ‘secret’ two-way mini tog­gle that is sim­u­lated by an old-school pas­sive fil­ter (a 0.1 mi­cro­farad ca­pac­i­tor). In­ter­nally the circuit fea­tures EVH 500k pots, and cap/ re­sis­tor in par­al­lel on the vol­ume con­trol.

The gui­tar is full of sub­tle de­tails. Along with those lu­mi­nous side dots we also get dome-topped Lu­min­lay con­trol knobs with clear lu­mi­nous num­bers around each base. A Strat-like dished out­put jack is placed close to the base strap but­ton so plug­ging in and thread­ing your lead through your strap is re­ally easy. Even the strap but­tons seem over-sized.

Feel & Sounds

In many ways this feels more like high per­for­mance ri­fle, not a gui­tar. It gives

off a tuned-to-per­fec­tion vibe that’s like an in­stru­ment you’ve owned for a while, gigged, mod­i­fied and tweaked. Which in re­al­ity is ex­actly what it is only Charvel and Guthrie Go­van have done it for us.

The big sur­prise here is the neck which, cer­tainly in Fen­der terms, feels skinny with a depth at the 1st fret of 19.9mm and 21.1mm at the 12th. Yet it has a very com­fort­able, flat­tened ‘C’ pro­file with nicely rolled fingerboard edges that is hard not to like. No, it doesn’t feel like a big necked old-style Fen­der but it’s great for thumb around left­hand styles un­like some mod­ern shapes which seem overly flat-backed. The big frets (ap­prox­i­mately 2.79mm wide x 1.3mm high) keep the strings (and your fin­ger­tips) just off the face of the fingerboard and make for su­perbly slip­pery bends. It feels like its strung with .010s and has plenty of fight.

The com­pound ra­dius is far from vin­tage but just doesn’t fret out any­where – it just lets you play, ef­fort­lessly. For some­one like Guthrie there’s plenty of money up the dusty end and the ta­pered heel and rear con­tour on the back of the tre­ble cut­away al­low ef­fort­less ac­cess if you need.

How you drive it, of course, is up to you. But don’t dis­miss this as a vir­tu­oso rock shred­der axe. Yes, if your tech­nique is up to it, you won’t have a prob­lem there and us­ing just the bridge pickup you’ll prob­a­bly have all you need: big and ballsy, a hint of a cocked wah-like high end it’s cer­tainly in the JB area. But it’s off­set by a pokey PAF­like neck voice, tube-y and soupy but far from one di­men­sional. If that was it, we’d be smil­ing. But there’s plenty more...

The ‘sin­gle coil’ switch barely drops any vol­ume and gives a sub­tle but son­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant Fen­der-es­que tex­ture that moves the gui­tar into a dif­fer­ent space and style and with some light crunch fits right into that pow­ered Stones-y raunch, es­pe­cially if you pull back the vol­ume. Po­si­tion two, and es­pe­cially four, cer­tainly sug­gest a Strat, po­si­tion two be­ing a lit­tle more steely per­haps that again loves clean­boosted crunch. It holds up well to other Strats we had to hand but none matched this one’s playa­bil­ity, string-to-string bal­ance or in­deed even re­sponse right across the board.

But we’re not done yet. Switch to a clean Fen­der amp, knock the edge off the tone and the neck pickup does a more than us­able jazz box. Switch back to po­si­tion two and there’s pedal-steel like sheen.

Clean, crunchy or gained we couldn’t find an un­us­able sound; throw in the ef­fort­less playa­bil­ity and re­ally wide stylis­tic voice and this is a real blues-to-rock-to-metal to wher­ever you want to take it jour­ney­man gui­tar that is so hard to put down. We’re com­pletely ab­sorbed.


Guthrie Go­van’s vi­sion for an all round work­house that’ll stand up to the rigours of pro­fes­sional tour­ing is su­perbly re­alised in this sig­na­ture. Ev­ery de­tail is won­der­fully con­sid­ered: the over-sized strap but­tons, the Strat-like dished out­put jack place­ment, the hugely in­tu­itive drive, that secret ‘sin­gle coil’ switch, the im­pres­sive tun­ing sta­bil­ity (and star­tling range) of the vi­brato, not to men­tion the wood choice, graphite re­in­forced neck and a re­ally un­posh work­ing player’s vibe. Is there any­thing Guthrie hasn’t con­sid­ered?

Well, at £3k, a Fen­der style bolt-on in far from clas­sic liv­ery won’t wash with ev­ery­one. There are cer­tainly other top mak­ers out there that would at least al­low you a choice of fin­ishes with a sim­i­lar spec­i­fi­ca­tion at sim­i­lar or lower prices – Vigier, for ex­am­ple, springs to mind.

So, no, it’s not a cheap date but it’s an as­ton­ish­ing gui­tar: a player’s tool of the high­est cal­i­bre.

Nicely con­toured at the heel with in­set neck screws, com­bined with the rear cut­away con­tour top fret ac­cess is a breeze. 3

In­side the neck are dual graphite rods for ex­tra sta­bil­ity. The ‘su­per jumbo’ frets are stain­less steel while the side dots are lu­mi­nous by Lu­min­lay 1

2 This ‘secret’ switch ac­ti­vates a pas­sive fil­ter for the hum­buck­ers, cre­at­ing a sur­pris­ingly sin­gle coil-like voice that’s still hum­can­celling. All it takes is a sim­ple ca­pac­i­tor!

4 Charvel, be­ing part of the Fen­der em­pire, can hap­pily use that fa­mous head­stock shape. Note the lock­ing Sperzel tuners and the tra­di­tional bone nut

5 The Tre­mol-No means you can lock the vi­brato as a hard-tail bridge or limit it to just down-bends for those coun­try-style dual string bends Based on the orig­i­nal Floyd Rose the strings lock into those big block sad­dles but there are no fine tuners and there’s no lock­ing nut. De­spite the huge travel, tun­ing sta­bil­ity is ex­cep­tional

6 De­signed by ex-Fen­der guru Michael FrankBraun, the HSH lay­out pick­ups con­trolled by a 5-way, 4-pole ‘Su­per Switch’

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