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Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 & EVH Ltd Edition Wolfgang Special Sassafras review

Two shred machines from Fender-owned brands go head-to-head and reveal hidden depths

  • £1089+
  • $1399+
Charvel x EVH review
(Image: © Future / Phil Barker)

Our Verdict

Both touched by the influence of Eddie Van Halen, both capable of screaming leads and flash-bomb playing, these super-fun electrics are spec'd for big tones and big personalities. Shred? Sure, why not. Or just play to the edge of your abilities and see where that takes you.

Pros

  • The Charvel wears its relic'd finish well.
  • Floyd Rose units are very stable and expressive.
  • D-Tuna remains one of Eddie Van Halen's great inventions.
  • Charvel has a nice dual personality when it comes to tone.
  • Big, warm Wolfgang tones are voiced perfectly for rock.

Cons

  • No gigbags included.

What is it?

If it was the 80s that birthed the go-faster electric guitar, brightly coloured high-performance models for first-gen shredders, it's the 21-century in which these speedsters have reached evolutional maturity. 

We talk about the golden age of shred being in the 80s and yet there has never been a better time to find an instrument seemingly tailor-made to your particular requirements than now. There has never been as much choice with regards spec and – related – what you choose to play on such guitars. 

Perhaps this is the natural travel of guitar design. It is certainly not to say that the original mods, as pioneered by the likes of Eddie Van Halen and Grover Jackson et al, are out of date. Those remain and forever shall be core design principles; it's just that manufacturers really know what works now, and have the capacity to put out options and lots of them

The guitar buying public gets this. They can now look at the "shred guitar" and envisage a use for it outside of its original contexts. In other words, the shred guitar is a mainstream proposition, a type to be considered alongside the Les Paul or Tele. 

We've seen this maturity exemplified on guitars such as Charvel's Pro Mod DK22, and we see it in the new 2021 releases, with a wealth of pickup and hardware combinations catering for a wide range of sounds that skew far from the hair metal caricature hangover from the 80s. 

Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1

Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 (Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Take the Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 and EVH Limited Edition Wolfgang Special Sassafras. They share a lot of specs, and there's some crossover in the DNA (not least that EVH Gear and Charvel are Fender-owned brands).

Both come equipped with double-locking Floyd Rose vibrato units to facilitate all kinds of pitch-bending activity, from subtle wobble to divebombing until the strings go slack and bump up against the pickup magnets. 

They each have speedy necks topped with 12-16” compound radius fingerboards and 22 jumbo frets, a recipe that will be familiar to anyone who has spent some time across Jackson, EVH and Charvel's current lineup of six-strings.

EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras (Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

While both are very different guitars, they are built with similar considerations for performance, with Eddie Van Halen's influence writ large on their design.

What is Henrik Danhage's signature model if not a descendant of Eddie's souped-up Frankenstrat? Albeit with the sort of city mileage in its relic'd finish that would make Rory Gallagher's Strat look factory fresh. While the Wolfgang is an explicitly Van Halen design, bearing all the hallmarks of innovation that we might expect.

Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1

To the untrained eye, Henrik Danhage's Charvel looks like it has seen better days. Take a closer look, pick it up, and you can see it's all for show. The relic job is something new for the S-style Superstrat format, perhaps a subtle recognition that these guitars are now classics in their own right.

The ash-bodied Charvel has a little beef to it. It has a very respectable weight. The wood exposed by the distressed finish shows a lovely pattern, and it's something we should not take for granted given the trouble that Fender has had in sourcing ash for production line guitars. 

Its reverse Strat headstock on that White Relic finish gives it a sort of post-Apocalyptic Hendrix at Woodstock vibe, and if it weren't for the pickups, the locking nut, the Floyd Rose and little things such as the truss rod adjustment wheel at the summit of the fretboard, you could well believe that comes from that era. 

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Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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Charvel Henrik Danhage Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Danhage and Charvel have opted for a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker at the bridge position, with a hum-cancelling DiMarzio Area 67 single-coil at the neck. Controlling these you have a single Strat tone control operating as a volume control. It has a push/pull switch to select the pickups. Push it down for the bridge 'bucker, pull it up for the neck pickup.

If you want a mix position you've had it unless of course you enter into the spirit of the guitar and mod it yourself. If it is one thing that we have learned about the evolution of the shred guitar it is that the 'have it your way' DIY approach yields impressive results.

EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

By contrast, the Wolfgang is a box-fresh piece of work. You can see the open-grain sassafras underneath the black finish – and hey, it looks like ash – but it is pristine by design, with cream edge binding to tie it together.

While the Wolfgang shares the Charvel's 25.5" scale, it has the look of a more compact instrument, perhaps by virtue of the trademark 3x3 headstock. It is certainly lighter. At the risk of stating the obvious, the Wolfgang has a brand new appeal at odds with the Charvel's targeted dishevelment.

Where the Charvel has a standard four-bolt neckplate, with a square heel, the Wolfgang has a more ergonomically forgiving neck joint for those poking around the top end of the fretboard, while its baked maple neck and fingerboard is a luxury appointment that is very 2021.

It has set of EVH-branded Gotoh tuners and a recessed Floyd Rose with no upward travel, plus a D-Tuna for drop D tuning on the fly. There are two direct-mount EVH humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions, with a more conventional three-way toggle, volume and tone control setup.

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EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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EVH Wolfgang Special Sassafras

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Performance and verdict

It's hard to choose between the Charvel and Wolfgang when it comes to their neck profiles. Both invite speedy playing, yet enough support to maintain comfort over time. Both have rolled fingerboard edges, and while the Charvel's looks as if it needs a good clean (remember, it's maple, no lemon oil or any of that jazz), it's all part of the lived-in look.

The Charvel Speed profile neck is a thin D measuring a 19.3mm deep at the first fret and tapering ever-so-gently to 21.2mm at the 12th. By comparison, the Wolfgang's neck dimensions (19.9mm at the 1st fret, 23mm at the 12th) is a little fuller. Its thinner nut also contributes to a more conventional feel.

If the Charvel wears its Fenderisms on its sleeve, the Wolfgang is a little more removed. Its tone doesn't quite have the same enthusiastic snap that would cause some groans of deliberation in a blind taste test with an HSS Strat – as the Charvel might – but instead offers a fatter, more Gibson-esque tone. After all, wasn't that one of Eddie's original goals, to have a Strat that sounded like a Les Paul.

The contrast between the two voices is intriguing, but if we were splitting the difference overtones it is the neck humbucker that will have the casting vote. The Seymour Duncan JB humbucker is one of the best all-rounders for a rock guitar, and here, with the Charvel's build, it delivers a punchy upper-midrange bark. But it's a similar story with the EVH's bridge humbucker. 

Perhaps lacking some of the heat of the JB, the EVH's bridge humbucker would be an adequate stand-in, a do-it-all pickup choice for rock guitarists, with enough substance in the midrange to make it sing through a JCM800. 

Also consider...

Fender American Professional II

(Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)

Fender American Professional II HSS Strat
The American Professional II Series is reassuringly familiar yet manages to add subtle pockets of innovation and a fresh new look to Fender's flagship US models.

EVH Striped Series Shark
Seeing the Shark up close and realised in a production line model is a dream come true for Van Halen super-fans, and its high-performance and aesthetic radicalism does not disappoint when you play it loud.

Charvel Pro-Mod DK22
A sophisticated S-style that balances a hot-rodded hi-jinks and a shred-ready feel with a tonal range that invokes rock of all decades from the '60s onwards. Bravo!

At the neck position, however, that second humbucker gives the Wolfgang the option of some creamy classic rock tones, with some intriguing, funk-friendly bounce in the mix position, whereas the Area 67 has that bright, elastic attack of a Strat single-coil to offset the muscle of the JB. 

These pickup configurations work very well with clean tones. While Eddie Van Halen designed the Wolfgang with a certain sound in mind, that speedy neck and the warmth in the neck and mix positions would work well for fusion players. The Area 67 would excel as a hot and juicy blues pickup.

Coil-taps would have been a nice addition to the Wolfgang but one of the treats of playing both models is that they offer a blank slate for players. We'd play either without being conscious of having to fruitlessly imitate Eddie's style, or pursue a prog metal direction a la Henrik. 

The ride is exceptional on both, with their respective Floyd Rose units super-stable and capable of adding a level of expression to your playing that is sometimes overlooked amid the debate over floating vibratos and the faff factor. Sure, there is always a little screwdriver work involved when using an alternate tuning for example, but on balance, the Floyd Rose rewards you in kind.

Built for shred? Sure. But maybe it's best to say they are ready for shred. Popular music's timeline is fine just as it is, but just imagine presenting these to Duane Eddie, Scotty Moore or the Ventures to see what they'd have come up with back in the day. In the here and now, though, they're for the adventurous player.

MusicRadar verdict: Both touched by the influence of Eddie Van Halen, both capable of screaming leads and flash-bomb playing, these super-fun electrics are spec'd for big tones and big personalities. Shred? Sure, why not. Or just play to the edge of your abilities and see where that takes you. 

Hands-on demos

Damon Chivers (Wolfgang demo)

Charvel

Specifications

  • Charvel Henrik Danhage Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1
  • PRICE: £1,519 / $1,599
  • ORIGIN: Mexico
  • TYPE: Double-cutaway relic'd solidbody
  • BODY: Ash
  • NECK: Maple, graphite reinforced, ‘speed’ profile bolt-on
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Locking/43.1mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Maple, black dot inlays, 305-406mm (12-16”) radius
  • FRETS: 22, jumbo
  • HARDWARE: Floyd Rose 1000 series double-locking vibrato, Charvel logo’d die-cast tuners – chrome-plated
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 52mm
  • ELECTRICS: Seymour Duncan JB TB-4 humbucker (bridge), DiMarzio Area 67 DP419CR (neck), master volume (with ‘tone’ knob and a push switch to voice pickups: down, bridge; up, neck)
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.51/7.72
  • OPTIONS: None
  • LEFT-HANDERS: No
  • FINISHES: White Relic (as reviewed) – semi-gloss lacquer to body, handrubbed satin urethane to neck
  • CONTACT: Charvel
  • PRICE: £1,089
  • ORIGIN: Mexico 
  • TYPE: Double-cutaway arched top solidbody
  • BODY: Sassafras
  • NECK: Baked maple, graphite reinforced, Wolfgang profile, bolt-on
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Locking/41.5mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Baked maple, black dot inlays, 305-406mm (12-16”) radius
  • FRETS: 22, jumbo
  • HARDWARE: Floyd Rose 1000 series double-locking vibrato (with brass block), EVH-logo’d Gotoh tuners – black
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 52mm
  • ELECTRICS: Direct mount EVH Wolfgang humbuckers, 3-way toggle pickup selector switch, master volume (Bourns low friction) and master tone (Bourns high friction)
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.01/6.62
  • OPTIONS: None
  • LEFT-HANDERS: No
  • FINISHES: Satin Black (as reviewed) – satin urethane to body, hand-rubbed satin urethane to neck
  • CONTACT: EVH Gear