by George Mangos
Over several months back in 2006, I
had been working with Michael Charvel of Wayne Guitars on a
custom guitar I have wanted for over 20 years now. During my many
conversations discussing guitars and Wayne guitars in general, I found
myself wondering more and more about the mythos of the guitars that bear
Michael's family name in one way or another. Michael was generous enough
to take time out of his busy guitar building schedule to share his
thoughts on guitars and the Charvel family legacy.
Many thanks to Michael Charvel of Wayne
George Mangos - How
did you first get involved with guitars in general?
Michael Charvel - My
Father (Wayne Charvel) founder of the Charvel Guitar has been build
guitars forever. I used to hang out in his shop as a kid 7-8 years of
age just missing around with guitars and just took to the whole
Music/guitar building thang.
- What were some of your first memorable experiences with working on
MC - A
lot Rock n Roll guys were always hanging out at the shop: Paul Gilbert
of Racer X; Mark ST John of Kiss; Michael Angelo…etc. I was very young
and wanted to have guitars like they were playing, so I would take my
dad's good plywood and cut out little guitars like Flying V's. The
coolest one was a double neck like Michael Angelo's double ax. Then I
would spray paint graphics on them. They did not play. They were air
guitars that looked cool. My dad was not happy when he found out I was
using his good plywood to make these guitars! In retrospect, they were
very crude but at 12 years old I thought they were very hip.
Do you have any particular favorite guitars you built and can you give
MC - I usually like to
build guitars that are one-of-a-kind. Below is a picture of one my
favorite guitars. It is made out of Swamp Ash and is very light, with a
TV Jones Pickup and Grover Banjo keys. It has a Very old Skool Rat Rod
What is your favorite guitar, either custom built in your shop or
something you saw growing up, and why?
MC - At
this time I do not have a favorite guitar. I like a lot of different
styles of music from Heavy Metal to chicken pick’in to Surf Blues.
Different styles require different sounds, therefore it's hard to have
one favorite guitar. I like guitars that our built to my personal
spec's. That makes it hard to buy a guitar
off-the-rack because there's always something that I don't like. So I
just build my own and that way I get exactly what I want.
GM - The
Wayne Guitar operations are handled by you and your dad, Wayne. Do you
both trade guitar building duties back and forth, or do you have
specific functions? Can you give some details?
MC - We are a small 2-man
shop, just myself and my dad do all the work. You have to wear a lot of
hats. We both do whatever it takes to get the guitar finished. I do all
of the paint work and attend to the phone calls, emails and web
site…etc. We both share duties on routing out bodies and necks. He
does the final Setups and Assembly. We our one of the
last guitar manufacturers who actually has the owner build the guitars.
With most of the big companies, the original owner is either dead or no
longer owns his own company. If he owns he owns the company he is not
building the guitars. That is what is neat about our company: Wayne
Charvel actually builds the guitar you buy.
GM - Any
plans in the not so distant future for exotic styles such as the
shell-plated guitars once offered?
MC - No. We stopped making
the pearl guitars because the dust from the shells is very toxic.
GM - Any
plans for the Floyd Rose Speed Loader version of the Wayne Rock Legends?
MC - 99% of all the
customers who call-in and order a guitar want the Original Floyd Rose. I
have installed the Speed Loader just to try it out and I like the
Original Floyd better. At this time we are not offering the Speed
GM - How
is the technology today more accommodating to what materials you use or
techniques for building guitars?
MC – Today,
most manufacturers are building guitars with
CNC Machine Routers being run by computers and using robotic machines to
buff out guitar bodies just so they can get the job done faster and make
more money. We build guitars the same way my dad was doing it in the old
days: with overhead pin routers etc. Guitars built by the corporations
are very sterile, and they do not have the love and passion that is put
in to a guitar that is built by hand. That's the reason our guitars are
very organic and have tons of mojo/vibe.
Do you do "ghost" guitar building of existing guitars like Les
Paul's or PRS?
MC - No.
We only build Wayne Guitars with our specs.
Do you build guitars for many others in different music genres, or
primarily rock and roll musicians?
MC - We built guitars for
Country artist and Blues artist. Most of our artists are hard rock.
GM - Do
you work with other guitar companies such as Gibson or Fender Custom
Shop, or BC Rich, and can you share with us a high level of the services
MC - My
dad used to work with Fender back in the day before they had a custom
shop, and worked for Gibson in 87-88 designing
guitars for them. In 85-86 He also worked for B.C. Rich designing
guitars and set up their wood shop making templates and tooling for
their production guitars. Currently, we only
build our own line of guitars.
How did the current Wayne logo come about?
MC - My
dad designed the original “Charvel” logo
with the guitar font. Since
we can't use our last name on a guitar, I thought it would be cool to
use his first name “Wayne”. Since my Dad designed the Star guitar, I
thought it would look cool and make sense to use his first name and the
star shape. That's how the logo came about.
GM - Do
you anticipate the "Charvel" brand name ever being returned to
the rightful owners, your family?
MC - More
than likely it will never happen. Since we’ve
been doing the Wayne guitars for the last 9 years, we have the
reputation of building a high-quality guitar. I don't know that we would
even want the name back.
GM - What
are your thoughts on the somewhat absence of guitar solos in music
MC - I miss the guitar
solos, but that's coming from a guitar player. Everything goes in
cycles, and I think the solos will come back someday. Will it be like it
was in the early 80's? Only time will tell.
A lot of folks value the earlier versions of guitars, Charvel, Fender or
Gibson. How would you describe the quality of some of these older models
to the newer versions?
MC - The quality of my
dad’s original guitars was good, but he has had 27 years of honing his
skills as a guitar builder, so without question the new stuff we’re
building is far superior. Even 9 years ago when we started the Wayne
line, we have improved the line. For example, we’re shielding the
complete guitar, even the trem cavity using shield braided wire to the
jack using a Switchcraft jacks. All of our necks now have the truss rod
adjustment at the top of the neck so you don't have to take the neck off
the body and adjust the truss rod. We’re also using a compound
radius now and offering a contoured heel so the player can get better
fret access to higher frets. So we’re always pushing the envelope to
get the guitar to play and sound better.
GM - Do
you customize other musical gear such as effects or amplifiers, and if
so, can you give some highlights?
MC - I just started my own
web site, www.michaelcharvel.com.
I will be taking a small amount of repairs and refinishing work as well
as do some custom graphics for people.
GM - Wayne
guitars used to be sold through authorized dealers, now they are only
available direct. Has technology helped or hindered promoting the
MC - Technology
has helped a lot. The Internet has been a blessing. It allows you to get
your name out there with very little money. In the old days, you would
have to run ads in the magazines which was very costly, and still is
very costly. We stopped going to dealers because we've been burned by a
few of them, so we decide to go direct. That way we talk directly to the
customer and find out exactly what he or she wants in a guitar.
GM - You
have worked with your dad to keep the guitar building business moving
along in recent years. Are other family members involved as well?
MC - At
this time, no. My brothers might help out some day,
but as of right now they’re just playing.
GM - Any
tips for folks looking to getting in the guitar building business?
MC - I would say just learn
as much as you can about the business. That way you get the whole
picture. For example, work at a music store, do repairs for a music
store, go to work for a big guitar manufacturer, play out a lot. The
more you know the better. Buy books on building and DVD or tapes. When
my dad started building back in 1959, there was nothing. Nowadays,
there's a ton of stuff out there.
GM - Anything
else you would be interested in sharing with us?
MC - I think the future of
guitar playing is in the youth. We have to encourage these kids to play
so we can keep Rock N Roll alive!!! Nowadays, it seems like we’re an
instant gratification society and we want it now, better yet yesterday.
I think that's part of the reason why we don't have the young 18-19 year
old kids tearing it up on the guitar like you would see in the early
80's. Also, kids growing up 20 years ago had fewer distractions as well.
Here is the Guitar that Wayne
and Michael Charvel built for me. Although mine did come with a
case, it did not come with the model in the picture on the
2006, 2007 by George Mangos. All Rights Reserved.