Charvel introduced its Pro Mod series during the summer of 2010 with three San Dimas Style 1 and So-Cal Style 1 models in black, snow white and Ferrari red.
The concept behind the limited edition Wild Card models, says the company, is to ‘take the modified vibe of the Pro Mods a step further by offering features, options and configurations that change every three months’.
Every Wild Card model will come with finishes and pickups from Charvel’s Custom Shop, along with choice body, neck and fingerboard woods.
The ‘molten crust lava burst’ is one of these Wild Card models. The description evokes many mental images, some good and some not so good. I’m guessing the actual finish will provoke similarly divided opinions.
The yellow centre of the burst resembles a mid-’60s Fender sunburst; this morphs into a faded cherry, then around the periphery the cherry tint meets the blue of the back and sides, so the transitional edge of the burst is actually purple. With the lovely quilted maple veneer top I guess you could call it eye candy – with the emphasis on candy.
The three-piece San Dimas style body is alder with two ‘wings’ either side of an off-centre middle section. The grain pattern is attractive and it’s easy to see through the transparent dark blue gloss finish on the back.
The unbound 22-fret fingerboard is made from a thick slab of rosewood; an unusually attractive piece with grain and colour variation that almost looks Brazilian rather than Indian. It’s just a shame that such a lovely piece of rosewood is let down by white plastic marker dots.
The quarter-sawn maple neck is wide and shallow in the 1980s rock tradition, and it feels sleek and fast. It’s topped off w
ith a compound fingerboard radius that goes from 12" at the nut to a flatter 16" at the top end. The jumbo frets aren’t especially high, but they’re tall enough to get under the strings for easy bends and vibrato.
The all-black hardware includes Grover tuners with mini kidney buttons and a genuine Floyd Rose FRT-O2000 vibrato. Controls are frugal, with a single volume control and a five-way selector switch for the passive Seymour Duncan pickups.
This Superstrat configuration combines a JB in the bridge with STK4N and STK4M stacked single coils in the middle and neck positions. All three pickups are screwed directly to the body, and this hot-rodded rock machine does not feature a tone control or a coil tap switch.
Overall the quality of the finish is fairly impressive, but Charvel’s Japanese factory could have paid a bit more attention to the back of the neck.
The whole point of satin-finished necks is that they should feel super sleek and comfortable, but the Wild Card’s feels a bit rough and raw. It may well smooth out with use, but we might feel inclined to hasten the process with some 1200 grit wet and dry paper.
Once we had fixed the loose volume control knob it was time to start testing. The Wild Card doesn’t sound especially full or vibrant acoustically but string-to-string balance is very even all the way along the fingerboard, and the flat radius combined with the skinny neck make this guitar fast and easy to play.
The way ours is set up, though, means you need to use a light left-hand touch to prevent buzzing and choke-out on the unwound strings – regardless of whether you’re bending them.
As supplied, the Wild Card has a bit of a split personality: the volume mismatch between the single coil pickups and the humbucker is extreme. In the bridge position things are clear, articulate and very powerful, but switching to the neck and middle positions makes the guitar sound somewhat thin and underpowered.
With our test amp switched to Hot mode and the Gain control turned halfway up the bridge setting is crunchy, overdriven and vibrant, but the single coils sound almost completely clean.
Superstrats are all about versatility, and this configuration certainly provides that.
You can switch directly from burning solos and meaty power chords to snappy, funky tones with plenty of glassy treble. The compromise is that amp settings which allow the humbucker to do its clear, tightly-focused and harmonically-loaded thing tend to make the single coils a tad edgy and scooped through the midrange.
This is fairly effective for modern clean tones, but don’t expect the Wild Card to deliver classic vintage single-coil sounds and power-crazed rock without substantial amplifier adjustments.
We would have enjoyed the Wild Card more if the pickup heights could have been adjusted. Unusually, the humbucker sits directly onto the bottom of its rout, so it’s already as low as it can go.
The single coils could potentially be raised, but some springs or spacer foam would need to be installed first… and that’s not really our job.
Ultimately this is a fine-playing shredder-style guitar with a beefy, clean-sounding humbucker and eye-catching looks.
The single coils are underwhelming in this context, but if you spend most of your time playing on the bridge pickup, that shouldn’t put you off playing a Wild Card.