Guthrie Govan Signature MJ San Dimas SD24 CM Review
Charvel’s first Guthrie Govan signature model was released in 2014, after an arduous two-year effort to get the design just right. Since then, the guitar—now in its second edition—has become one of Charvel’s most coveted models. Unfortunately, its $3,699 price keeps the U.S.-made axe out of reach for many.
This year, though, the company released the Made-in-Japan signature MJ San Dimas SD24 CM, which sells for a slightly more manageable $2,799. Needless to say, that’s not cheap. But depending on your priorities, it’s a fair price for a very high quality, pro-level instrument.
Made for the Road Warrior
Govan is a seasoned touring and recording musician, to say the least, and real-world experience and practicality informs the SD24 CM’s design down to the smallest details. The knurled chrome knobs, for instance, are dressed up with glow-in-the-dark Luminlay numbers, which together with recessed position indicators on the body help you recall volume and tone settings fast and with precision. Crème-colored inlays and more glow-in-the-dark Luminlay side dots help you find your place on the neck on dark stages. The heel-mounted truss rod adjustment wheel, meanwhile, makes neck relief adjustments convenient.
The proprietary tremolo system is unique to the SD24 CM. It functions a bit like a conventional locking tremolo setup, but there’s no locking nut like you find on a Floyd Rose-type system. Instead, the SD24 CM uses Gotoh diecast locking tuning pegs and a Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut. The bridge does require an Allen wrench for string changes, but it’s not encumbered by fine-tuning knobs like a Floyd Rose. So, if you want to change tunings, you can do so quickly using just the tuning pegs
To facilitate pitch-up maneuvers on the whammy bar, the bridge is recessed into a body cavity. The resulting range of motion is considerable, and I was able to get the bar to go up a major 3rd on the G string. Needless to say, I was also able to dive-bomb to oblivion. Tuning stability is quite good—even when the guitar is subjected to excessive whammy bar abuse. By the way, at Govan’s suggestion, there’s also a foam strip situated between the springs and the spring cavity to eliminate sympathetic vibrations. Such issues probably wouldn’t cross the minds of casual guitarists, but they are peace of mind for players that like to eliminate all possibilities of weird vibrations or overtones from unwanted sources.
Another interesting design detail: The recessed input jack is located adjacent to the endpin. This uncommon placement was one of Govan’s ideas. It prevents accidental unplugging. But because most players wind their cables over the endpin, it also situates the jack closer to that point.
The SD24 CM comes with a hybrid gigbag/hardshell case, which is a nice upgrade from just a standard gigbag (or no case, which is an unfortunate new trend, even with pricey guitars). Needless to say, the guitar looks great, with a satin, 3-tone sunburst finish over a figured ash veneer that is mated to a basswood body. With wood-colored pickups and chrome hardware, it makes up an understated and classy instrument.
At the heart of the SD24 CM’s sound are pickups designed by guru Michael Frank-Braun (the mastermind behind Eric Johnson’s signature pickups). They are set in an H-S-H configuration and a 5-way selector switch activates either the bridge humbucker, the bridge’s slug coil and middle pickup, the bridge and neck’s outer coils, the neck outer coil and middle pickup, or the neck humbucker. Note that even though the middle pickup is a single-coil pickup, there are no single-coil-only settings available via the 5-way switch. There is, however, a 2-way, mini-toggle switch that splits the neck and bridge humbuckers and filters the output in what Charvel calls a single-coil “simulation.”
The bridge pickup has a modern, high-output signature that will make speed demons drool. Legato runs sound natural and feel easy to execute, and fast alternate picking lines sound alive and clear, especially in the single-coil simulation setting, which often sounds more articulate, more responsive, and makes single notes pop.
As hot and articulate as it can be, the SD24 CM isn’t merely a shred monster.
Interestingly, the neck pickup with the simulated split-coil setting is similar in volume to the full humbucker, which makes real-time changes sound more organic. I especially liked this setting for clean, funky 9th chord strums and Motown chordal stabs. Pickup positions 2 and 4 are slightly lower in volume, and both cleaner and leaner sounding than the simulated split bridge and neck pickups. This option offered some nice faux-Telecaster sounds. All of these settings benefit from a treble bleed circuit that retains high-end even as you reduce guitar volume.
As hot and articulate as it can be, the SD24 CM isn’t merely a shred monster. With the neck pickup engaged and tone knob rolled back, the SD24 CM is a convincing jazz machine that invites fingerstyle walking bass lines, chord comping, or blistering flatpicked bebop. Add a little overdrive and the neck pickup delivers a very creamy and rich lead sound.
Appropriately for a Guthrie Govan signature model, the SD24 CM is built around specs that facilitate fluid play. It features a 25.5″ scale, caramelized maple neck with 24 jumbo frets, rolled fingerboard edges, and a 12-16″ compound radius fretboard. The satin finish on the back of the neck adds to the guitar’s quick feel, and the contoured heel enables easy access to the highest regions of the fretboard. Playability is excellent and there are no dead spots anywhere along the neck.
Many people think of Guthrie Govan as a super shredder with phenomenal chops. While that’s true, Govan is also a multi-dimensional guitarist fluent in a staggering number of styles. His signature Charvel guitar reflects the breadth of his talent. It’s an amazingly versatile instrument that can cover virtually any genre. And while it doesn’t come cheap, it may be one of the closest things to a desert island guitar you’ll find.
Harkening back to the late ’80s when Charvel guitars were manufactured exclusively in Japan, we proudly introduce the all-new Guthrie Govan Signature MJ San Dimas SD24 CM. Exquisite in style, this MJ signature model blends Charvel’s unparalleled legacy of designing high-performance instruments with an assortment of Govan’s preferred top-end features.
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