Charvel 2B Bass
A Japanese bass with an American background on sale in Britain. Confused? You won't be, as Dave Burrluck explains the whole thing...
America's guitar industry — past and present — would make one helluva soap opera. You can see it, Gramps Leo and Miss Ellie Fender surrounded by their whizz kid families committed to one thing — the American Guitar! However, the family would be split. On one side those who believed in the all American guitar and on the other those with looser morals — the ones who'd taken a Japanese bed partner to stay in business!
Jackson/Charvel would appear to be two of the latter sons now with an expensive and custom range, Jackson, made of course in the States and a cheaper range Charvel made now exclusively in Japan. I was reliably informed that no Charvel brand instruments are made in the States anymore so don't be fooled. Mind you fact and fantasy seem blurred — IMC, a large Stateside distributor who handle the Jackson/Charvel product in the States announced that it's bought the whole Jackson operation lock, stock and machinehead! Suddenly it would seem that Jackson/Charvel is in the big league.
The 2B bass on review is the middle priced bass out of three that Charvel currently offer. On the six-string side the line runs from a basic single pickup guitar with standard tremolo to the Model 6 which is the Charvel equivalent to the Jackson Soloist, as used by many top pros including Jeff Beck.
This Charvel bass is a very good example of the 'refined design' principles that apply to so many American instruments. While the Jackson range may feature many outlandish shapes and paint jobs the Charvel catalogue is more conservative — the pointed headstock married to a Fender derived body. Each aspect of this bass design has been carefully considered; what's considered unnecessary is done away with resulting in a simple instrument free from visual distractions — a musician's bass.
The Precision-styled body is made from Poplar which has a good middle weight without being too heavy. It's well shaped with all the contours in the right places and a pretty good pearl-white opaque finish. All the Charvel range feature bolt-on necks. On this sample the neck is held via the usual four screws through a hefty neck plate which looks pretty solid. However the 'neck wrench' test (hold the top horn and try to move the neck sideways) does reveal some slight movement illustrating that the neck hasn't been fitted as well as it could.
Still, the woodworking on the satin finish clear lacquer neck is super. To facilitate the angled head, the maple is spliced at the 2nd fret and another piece is added. While the timbers haven't been matched that well in terms of colour and grain the joint itself is barely noticeable. The shape of the neck is as you might expect — wide, thin and with a flat oval section. I prefer a thinner, more Jazz bass-style neck. I didn't find this one uncomfortable but it may cause a few people problems who are used to a rounder and thicker neck.
A lovely dark slab of Rosewood is used for the fingerboard which is thick at 6mm adding a lot in terms of strength and sustain to the construction. The board is slightly longer than the neck allowing an extra 21st fret to be fitted. Judging by this bass Charvel certainly know their business when it comes to fretting. Each wide and flat fret is perfectly installed and polished to a mirror finish. The resulting feel is fast and easy, the flat cambered board is very responsive and the set-up is frankly immaculate.
Charvel pride themselves on having 'the best truss-rod available today'! It's adjustable at the nut end of the neck and is a dual action truss rod which 'truly functions to accurately adjust the neck and keep it straight'. While Charvel are keen to point out how good their rod is they omit to mention how it functions mechanically. Still I wouldn't expect any problems — with a neck as thin as this Charvel either know their design works, or they're stupid — and I don't think they are stupid; however that may not be too strong a word to describe the headstock design. Undoubtedly the most fashionable shape at the moment, the pointed headstock not only looks totally out of place with the rounded and lumpy Precision style body but also raises some technical questions. Firstly the long head does add extra weight giving the bass a slightly top-heavy balance especially when resting on your leg. Secondly there is the potential problem of a weak spot at the thinnest point of the neck — the nut. By having the truss-rod access at the nut valuable timber is lost at this weakest point (although the spliced neck construction does compensate for this with an improved grain structure.) Thirdly there is the thought that a 'poke up the bum' with this headstock could lead to 'a lot of harm done!' Joking? Well yes, but this hasn't stopped Def Leppard's guitarist from having his headstock rounded off, concerned about the safety of the singer! On the plus side of course the head is very striking (visually) and its angled back design ensures a good behind-the-nut angle, aiding sustain. All in all it is a very finely built instrument, the attention to detail is apparent from the nicely cut phenolic plastic nut to the quality finishing of the paint work and fretboard.
All the present Charvels feature Jackson hardware with the exception of tremolos where Kahler Standard and Fulcrum systems are offered. Presumably this is all made in the States although at the time of writing I was unable to confirm this. However the hardware fitted on this bass was finished in a heavy black chrome and while it wasn't particularly innovative in design it is certainly sturdy.
The bridge is a solid piece with individual saddles which locate firmly into grooves in the bass plate effectively locking the saddles when the strings are fully tensioned. Each saddle is of course adjustable for height and intonation in the usual manner. The strings are held at the back of the bridge base although there are four 'key-hole' shaped holes in the bottom of the base as well. However no timber has been removed under these holes making them useless. Normally this alternative fixing is offered so the strings can be fitted from either the back or the bottom of the bridge. This option provides a slight difference in tension and sustain and the holes at the bottom of the bridge would, if they could be used, provide a quicker method of changing a string — important for on-stage use.
The four-in-a-line machines are Schaller copies with the Jackson logo on the barrel. No surprises here, they work very well, and have slotted posts as well as tension adjustments. Two standard black 'V' strap buttons are fitted although moving them slightly could improve the balance.
Again Jackson pickups are used although you wouldn't know it to look at them. Unlike every other aspect of the guitar these units don't sport a logo! Still the company do let us know they are made in America and are keen to offer full spec on the units. The bridge unit — a Jazz bass type — is a Jackson J150 — 'magnetically corrected vintage type, copper shielded, single coil' using Alnico V magnets. The Precision type is a J20 'specifically designed for mid-positioning' as one would expect. Again it features Alnico V magnets. Each pickup has a black textured plastic cover and is adjustable in the usual manner.
The control circuitry is simple and passive — the active circuit is reserved for the 3B. We have a master volume, pickup pan-pot with centre detent, and furthest from the strings, the master tone. The output jack is mounted on the side of the body. Charvel are keen to point out how well their instruments are shielded using conductive paint in the cavity to which a metal lug is attached to the pickup grounds. However on inspection of the cavity I was a bit concerned to find an untidy mess of wires and a rather hasty looking application of conductive paint. The components are all standard Jap stuff so if you are ever offered a Charvel instrument and you're not sure it's original I suggest you look in the control cavity — you wouldn't find this mess in the American-made instruments! To be honest, screened pickup and output cable, and a foil-backed cover plate would be just as effective if not more so than the rather dubious screening offered here.
By the nature of this bass's appearance it is obvious that it has been designed for the Rock player and one would expect a fairly uncompromising tone. In fact the instrument is fairly versatile both in terms of sound and playing styles. Slapping styles are easily accomplished as the strings sit high above the face of the body, although I did sense that I should lower the strap a bit and use a plectrum...
Tonally the 2B left me a little confused. This was due to the choice of the pickups. The mid unit — the J20 — sounded great; deep and growling — while the bridge unit — J120 — sounded positively thin, weedy and shrill. With the pan-pot in the central position the best compromise was achieved, but adding any more of the bridge pickup into the mix reduced the overall volume and increased the tinniness. I'm not saying that the bass sounded bad, just that the best sounds lay between 'both pickups on' and just the middle pickup alone. The pan-pot of course makes this subtle variation possible and I can't think why anyone wouldn't fit this type of pickup selector on any bass.
Each of the pots has a black chrome, domed and knurled metal knob which I find quite smart and very easy to handle. However the volume pot itself was a mite slack — being so close to the strings it is apt to get knocked. The screening wasn't as bad as I'd thought although testing it in a studio showed up its drawbacks. The studio has a strange habit of making the most heavily screened instrument hum in certain areas depending where you stand. Standing in the worst part of the studio the Charvel hummed like a good 'un, not as bad as a stock Squier Precision but nowhere near as good as my EMG'ed guitar. If Charvel are pushing 'the pro's bass' angle then they should improve the shielding.
I think the solid construction, whether apparent to the eye or not would certainly be apparent in the quality and character of the sound. The overall response was excellent and access and sustain good. The clear white dot markers would be visible in the gloomiest of situations and the feel of the neck improved with familiarity.
Bearing in mind all the pros and cons of this instrument I'd say it was slightly over priced — £300 would be a more attractive proposition. Despite its American legacy it is still a Japanese-made instrument and there is room for improvement. It would seem that Charvel would be happier if this was an all-American guitar as only a small (easily removed) 'Made in Japan' sticker shows its country of origin — the American address of the company is, on the other hand, engraved on the neck plate! I certainly hope there won't be any dubious practices going on as to the country of origin. There is still a great deal of (snob) value attached to an American-made guitar, so don't be fooled. Charvel are made in Japan and you should compare this with other similarly priced Japanese instruments. A 'name' is one thing but the end product and its performance should be the only important consideration.
Charvel 2B - RRP £349
Review by Dave Burrluck
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!