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20 questions with Michael Charvel
by George Mangos (El_Jalepeno)

Over the past several months, I have 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 Guitars.

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 building guitars forever. I used to hang out in his shop as a kid 7-8 years of age just messing around with guitars and just took to the whole Music/guitar building thing.

GM - What were some of your first memorable experiences with working on guitars?

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.

GM - Do you have any particular favorite guitars you built and can you give some details?

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 Vibe.

GM - 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 Loader.

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.

GM - 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.

GM - 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 you offer?

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.

GM - How did the current Wayne logo come about?

MC - My dad designed the originalCharvel” 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.

GM - 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 all so 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, 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 “Wayne” brand?

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.

©copyright 2006, by George Mangos. All Rights Reserved.

1,801 Posts
AWESOME interview George!!!!! Really cool to get some insight into the daily goings on of one of the premier buiders in the world!!!! Love the fact that they do it "old school" style!!! Just the two of 'em!!!! Excellent read.....And i know you just LOVE your own personal Wayne guitar!!! Great job here brother, and thanks to Michael for a great interview!!!! Rock on fella's!!!!!:thumb:

· Yeah, so what?
1,553 Posts
Yeah it was about time for reading some new interviews, and you did a great job here EJ, very interesting questions & answers, thanks for posting it, I really enjoyed the read :)
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