The Big Review: Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E Sassafras & HSS FR M

Two different flavours of HSS from Charvel’s ever-expanding Pro-Mod Series.

There’s no doubt that Charvel offers an enormous amount of choice to the modern rock guitarist, and this no-nonsense duo comprises two of the most recent additions to the brand’s Mexico-made Pro-Mod Series. Though the model names may initially appear confusing, they are not too difficult to decode; the HSS HT E Sassafras is a hardtail in Satin Black while the HSS FR M is equipped with a Floyd Rose and comes in gloss Platinum Pearl.

Sassafras isn’t a tonewood that we encounter too often but it has pedigree, as it was used in very limited quantities in the early days of Fender. More recently, the company has been considering it as an alternative to the increasingly scarce swamp ash supply, which has been plagued both by climate change and the emerald ash borer beetle.

Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E Sassafras
Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E Sassafras

Sassafras’s aesthetic similarity to swamp ash is obvious and, here in the Charvel family, the HT E’s Satin Black finish accentuates its deep grain. This example is wonderfully light, too, with an overall weight of a little over 7lb. The 12-16-inch compound radius ebony fingerboard suits the modern string-stretcher’s needs and black hardware completes the stealthy look.

Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E Sassafras
Back in the saddle: the sassafras model sports Charvel’s HT6 string-through-body hardtail bridge

The FR M shares the hardtail model’s compound radius fingerboard geometry and its slim C neck profile with a hand-rubbed satin urethane finish and rolled ’board edges, but this time the fretboard is maple. The recessed Floyd Rose 1000 Series double-locking vibrato bridge comes with a brass block and, naturally, a locking nut to match. Hardware is chrome, which combines with the Platinum Pearl finish to give this instrument a much fresher and less overtly metal aesthetic than its sibling. However, the additional hardware and alder body add an extra half-kilo in weight.

Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E Sassafras
Locked and loaded: the HT E features Charvel rear-locking tuners

In use

Seymour Duncan is the designated pickup provider and both models have the ubiquitous JB TB-4 in the bridge, with Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 single-coils in the middle position and reverse wound, reverse polarity versions at the neck. It’s no surprise, then, that we head straight for the Diezel VH4 preset on our Axe-Fx III.

Plugging in the HT E, the tonal properties of sassafras manifest themselves immediately. It’s a kind of a middle ground between alder and swamp ash but with additional low-end heft. This depth becomes more apparent on the neck pickup and, in conjunction with slight spike in the upper mids, we find ourselves firmly in Nuno Bettencourt-style percussive rock rhythm territory. Switching to the bridge, we’re treated to full-throated rock, which again favours the upper mids. But that sense of depth lingers and lead sounds simply sing without the need for any additional boost.

Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS FR M

Somewhat predictably, the Floyd Rose model has a little less sustain than the string-through HT E, while the FR M’s alder body and maple ’board project a trebly snappiness that requires a little taming. Through like-for-like amplifier settings, the HT E delivers the more strident rock tone but, once we dial in a little more gain, the FR M proves that it can get equally mean. Meanwhile, on cleaner settings, it delivers some pretty authentic Hendrix-style tones in the neck position. And, if you want to expand the palette further, positions two (bridge inner coil and middle pickup), three (bridge outer coil and neck pickup) and four (middle and neck pickup) have plenty of spank on tap.

Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS FR M
Nut job: the FR M is equipped with a Floyd Rose 1000 Series locking nut

Both instruments feature the currently fashionable no-load tone control, which removes itself from the circuit entirely when wide open and doubtless contributes to the unbridled sonics on offer from either instrument. In contrast, the volume controls have a much lower friction feel, and it’s easy to roll off a fair bit of gain by accident until you get used to the position of the controls.

Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS FR M
Raise the bar: nothing says ‘rock’ quite like a Floyd Rose

That minor quirk aside, both HSS instruments look set to be popular additions to the Pro-Mod Series and the sassafras model in particular brings something genuinely new to the table. Ultimately, whether in a recording or live environment, these guitars demand to be heard.

Key Features

Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E Sassafras – 9/10 (Editor’s Choice)

  • PRICE £959
  • DESCRIPTION 6-string double-cut electric guitar, made in Mexico
  • BUILD Sassafras body, bolt-on graphite-reinforced maple neck with 12-16” compound radius ebony fretboard, 22 jumbo frets, black plastic nut
  • HARDWARE Charvel die-cast locking tuners, Charvel HT6 string-through-body hardtail bridge
  • ELECTRONICS Seymour Duncan JB TB-4 humbucker (bridge), Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 single-coil (middle) & Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 RWRP single-coil (neck), 5-way blade selector switch, master volume, no-load tone control
  • SCALE LENGTH 25.5″/648mm
  • NECK WIDTH 43.6mm at nut, 52.7mm at 12th fret
  • NECK DEPTH 20.0mm at 1st fret, 21.3mm at 12th fret
  • STRING SPACING 52.7mm at bridge, 36.8mm at nut
  • WEIGHT 3.2kg/7.05lb
  • LEFT-HANDERS No
  • FINISH Satin Black
  • VERDICT In every sense, the Sassafras body adds new depth to the San Dimas Superstrat sound

Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS FR M – 8/10

  • PRICE £1,059
  • DESCRIPTION 6-string double-cut electric guitar, made in Mexico
  • BUILD Alder body, bolt-on graphite-reinforced maple neck with 12-16” compound radius maple fretboard, 22 jumbo frets
  • HARDWARE Charvel die-cast tuners, Floyd Rose 1000 Series double-locking vibrato bridge and locking nut
  • ELECTRONICS Seymour Duncan JB TB-4 humbucker (bridge), Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 single-coil (middle) & Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 RWRP single-coil (neck), 5-way blade selector switch, master volume, no-load tone control
  • SCALE LENGTH 25.5″/648mm
  • NECK WIDTH 44.4mm at nut, 53.6mm at 12th fret
  • NECK DEPTH 20.1mm at 1st fret, 21.1mm at 12th fret
  • STRING SPACING 52.9mm at bridge, 36.2mm at nut
  • WEIGHT 3.7kg/8.16lb
  • LEFT-HANDERS No
  • FINISH Platinum Pearl gloss
  • VERDICT A consummate 1980s rock machine with Charvel’s customary scything tone
  • CONTACT charvel.com

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