Charvel Pro-Mod Relic San Dimas Style 1 – a near-perfect relic’d shredder ready to be put through its paces

Charvel Pro-Mod Relic San Dimas Style 1 – a near-perfect relic’d shredder ready to be put through its paces

When it comes to guitars built for speed, Charvel has been at the front of the pack for the better part of 50 years now. The company has changed a lot since Wayne Charvel started repairing and modding old Fender guitars in his California shop, of course, and nowadays the Fender-owned brand has earned a reputation for making some of the best electric guitars for shredders at a variety of price points.

READ MORE: Fender 70th Anniversary Player Stratocaster review – a worthy celebration of the most iconic guitar ever

It’s weird that we don’t see more shred-focused guitars with artificial ageing – Eddie Van Halen set the template for the whole thing using a series of beaten up and heavily modded instruments. Despite the relic thing becoming commonplace at almost every price bracket, the vast majority of high-performance instruments on the market are factory fresh and pristine.
Charvel is starting to redress this somewhat though – starting with the Henrik Danhage limited-edition signature model but now in a wider and more accessible fashion with the new ‘Weathered’ series of finishes on its Mexico-made Pro-Mod San Dimas guitar.
Photo by Adam Gasson /
What is the Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1?
Inspired by the SuperStrat guitars that Grover Jackson popularised when he bought the company in 1978, the San Dimas is a Seymour Duncan-loaded metal-ready axe with minimal controls and now, an alluring factory-weathered aesthetic. It’s a guitar that looks and feels as if you’ve spent hundreds of hours woodshedding on it.
Of course, the whole morality of artificially ageing new guitars has been a huge bone of contention in guitar culture for decades now, and for many this instrument will be tantamount to sacrilege. But the truth is, if people didn’t like and want to buy this sort of thing, companies wouldn’t have spent 30 years gradually getting better at the process.
Josh stated that the relic job Fender’s Ensenada craftspeople had done on the Mike McCready Strat was the best he’d seen on a non-Custom Shop instrument, and I’m similarly taken with the work done on the San Dimas’s alder body here.
Obviously, we’re dealing with a templated pattern of ageing here, as all three nitrocellulose finishes – the black shown here, plus white and orange – have the same pattern with very minor differences.
Photo by Adam Gasson /
Of course, the appeal of a relic’d guitar to many is that it’s uniquely battered and weathered, so this may steer more avid relic’d guitar lovers away from this model. But for those who just want something that looks authentically beaten up (at least without close inspection), this guitar might be perfect. Plus the nitro finish should mean that the guitar will keep ageing and wearing in a visually pleasing manner that is unique to your playing style – you could see this more as a head start.
More disappointing from a material perspective is the presence of a pau ferro fingerboard – with Fender moving most of its Mexico-made instruments back to rosewood, the anaemic colour here is a real shame.
Away from the board itself however, the specs are much more encouraging – the bolt-on maple neck sports graphite reinforcement rods and a hand-rubbed urethane gel finish that feels like it’s been nicely sanded down and oiled. The whole thing is designed for “lightning-fast playing and completely unhindered position shifts”, and you get rolled fingerboard edges for greater playing comfort.
Material aside, that fingerboard has 22 jumbo frets, and a 12-16” compound radius fingerboard for maximum fluidity, while you also get the always welcome truss-rod adjustment wheel at the end of the board itself.
Photo by Adam Gasson /
Electronics include a pair of Seymour Duncan humbuckers – a JB TB-4 in the bridge position and a ‘59 SH-1N in the neck – controlled via a three-way selector switch and the simplicity of a single volume control and nothing else.
Another key component of the classic shred recipe is a Floyd Rose of course, and here we get a double-locking 1000 Series unit for all your whammy-wiggling needs.
Photo by Adam Gasson /
How does the Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 feel to play?
Quite frankly, superb. It’s pretty hard to find any fault at all in how the Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 feels to play. For me, fretboard action is the most important test in this department – although string spacing, guitar weight and other factors come into play – but here this guitar passes with flying colours. The Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 is naturally geared towards players dabbling in quick leads and rapid sweeps, so perfectly dialled action – which the guitar certainly delivers – is a must.
Playing technically demanding styles is enough of a physical challenge without a heavy guitar putting strain on your neck and back, and so I was equally pleased with the San Dimas’ weight – even with the mass of a Floyd added to things, the guitar carried me through long playing sessions with little to no fatigue.
I’ve always been a sucker for a double-locking trem, but haven’t spent quality time with one in a while – as a result I probably spent an inordinate amount of time giving the Floyd Rose 1000 Series bridge a workout.
Having to meaningfully retune a Floyd guitar is also a notorious pain, so I was impressed that after literally hours of some of the most gratuitous divebombs I could muster, the guitar has stayed perfectly in tune throughout – impressive stuff.
Charvel Pro Mod Relic Series San Dimas
How does the Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 sound?
Even though there’s a limited set of controls on the guitar itself – there’s no tone pots at all, and just one master volume knob – the classic set of Seymour Duncan JB TB-4 and ‘59 SH-1N humbuckers is such a well sorted and iconic sonic pairing it’s easy to see why Charvel decided that there was no need to be able to tweak things any further.
In heavily distorted settings – which, let’s face it, you’ll be spending a large proportion of your time – the bridge JB TB-4 offers an articulate tone with a savage bite, while the neck ‘59 SH-1N offers a luscious warmth that brings emotion and articulation to any lead line. It should also be noted that both pickups perform wonderfully with clean tones, too, maintaining top-quality articulation and an impressive dynamic range.
Even without the aged finish, the San Dimas Style 1 would be a fine and fun guitar for guitarists wanting a serious instrument for shred and heavy guitar styles. The looks will always be divisive, but it undoubtedly suits the pedigree and heritage of Charvel guitars and SuperStrats in general – and provides a cool and vibey bedrock for you to write your own story on.
Photo by Adam Gasson /
Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 alternatives
The Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 clocks in at $1,599/£1,259, which is a reasonable price point for the specs you get here, but fortunately for those with a little less budget to play with the shredder guitar market is very much alive and well. Not much cheaper, but bringing things under the £1,000 mark – at least in the UK – is the Jackson Pro Plus Series Dinky DKA, a six-string with a near-perfect spec list. There’s also a bunch of other options in both Jackson and Charvel’s ranges that offer shred-ready specs at notably lower price points. For example, the rest of Jackson’s Dinky Superstrat range features guitars that clock in as low as sub-£200. You do get what you pay for, however – don’t expect the level of performance that the San Dimas is capable at entry-level prices.
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