Published March 2008
by Henrik Hjortnaes

Charvel import guitars 1986-1991

Guide to the first Charvel imports from Japan

Charvel Japanese import guitars


Series overview
Year of manufacture
Made in USA? (neckplates)
Headstock cap
Inspection card
REFERENCE CHART — Charvel 1986-1991
Serial database



charvel model 2

Chushin Gakki Japan

Chushin Gakki Charvel

Charvel Model Series guitar on the assembly line in Japan at the Chushin Gakki factory 1985-1986. Photo supplied by Grover Jackson.

This comprehensive Charvel guide will enable you to determine the year of production and verify any of the legendary Japanese made Charvel guitars, designed by Jackson Charvel and built by the Japanese Chushin Gakki factory back in 1986 through 1991. The guide will also show you both the original configuration of the guitars and the evolution they went through.

Series overview

During these six years of production, close to 80 different variations were offered and the best way to get a proper overview of this bunch, is to categorize them. Below is how Jackson Charvel defined the series back then. Clicking the links will take you to the relevant catalogue scan.

Model Series 1986-1988
Classic Series 1989-1991
Fusion Series 1989-1991
Contemporary Series 1989-1991
Professional Series 1989-1990
Charvette Series[1] 1989-1991

The Reference Chart further down uses the same categorization.

[1] The Charvette Series guitars were initially not in scope for this article, due to mainly being built in Korea, but I have included all the Charvel categories for the sake of completeness.

Why focus on these six years?

The 1986-1991 Charvel imports were the very first Charvel imports and they have become legendary due to their build quality vs. price ratio in the second hand market.

The guitars have proven themselves to be a fantastic alternative to the higher priced American made Jacksons and Charvels and having played both, you probably realize how great these vintage Japanese guitars really are.

Get all the details on the Charvel import guitars by also reading the Jackson Professional History article.

Chushin Gakki

1986. A Japanese Chushin Gakki worker at the Charvel assembly line, installing hardware on a 1986 Charvel Model 2, 3 or 3A (confirmed by the Kahler™ Fulcrum tremolo and white dot rosewood fingerboard). Photo supplied by Grover Jackson.

Charvel Chushin Gakki

1986. Another view inside the old Chushin Gakki factory. Photo supplied by Grover Jackson.

Year of manufacture

Year of manufacture, Charvel Model 1 - 4 [copy link]

A quick and dirty way of determining the year of manufacture for the bolt-on Model Series 1 - 4, is to look at the combination of trademark symbols used on both the headstock and the neckplate. Furthermore, the presence or absense of a neckplate gasket will also help you find the year. The serial on these guitars can't be used directly to find the year. Study the following table to determine the year.

Year matrix, Charvel Model 1 - 4

1 - 4
Neckplate gasket Neckplate symbol Headstock symbol Serial start, approximate
1986 No TM TM 222000
1987 Yes TM ® 250000
1988 Yes ® ® 275100
Charvel dating
Year of manufacture

Year of manufacture, Charvel Model 5 and 6

  • Charvel Model 6

Serial number on the back of the headstock under the clear coat, on a 1986 Charvel Model 6.

  • Charvel Model 6

The serial on a 1987 Charvel Model 6, stamped into the last, blind fret of the fingerboard.

The Charvel Model 5 and 6 have a neck-through design and unlike the Model 1 - 4, their serial number directly reveal the build year. The serial syntax is CXXXXXX. For example, C800210 is built in the year of 1988. C701212 would be 1987.

When the Charvel Model 5 and 6 were introduced in 1986, the serial number was found on the back of the headstock under the clear coat, in the form of a plastic decal. Later on, around mid 1987, the factory abandoned the decal on the headstock and began stamping the serial number into the last, blind fret of the fingerboard.

Logo trademarks on the headstock of the Model 5 and 6 should be the same as the bolt-on models.

There are exceptions to the above, but the guidelines here are generally accepted and works for the most part in dating your instrument.

Year of manufacture

Year of manufacture, Charvel basses

The year of the Model series bass guitars (1B, 2B, 3B, 4B) can be determined using the same method as for the guitars described above. The only neck-thru version of the basses were the Model 3B.

  • Charvel Model 3B

Serial on a 1987 Charvel Model 3B bass, which is neck-thru, hammered into the last blind fret of the fingerboard. Photo by Mike.

Neck plates

Charvel Model Series - made in USA? [copy link]

None of these guitars were made in USA. The neck plates on the bolt-on neck Charvel Model Series bear IMC's Fort Worth Texas address, despite the fact that they were all built in Japan. The address reads: Fort Worth, TX 76113, U.S.A. All the Charvel imports in the scope of this article (1986-91), are made in Japan (except the Charvette Series which is made in Korea).

IMC (International Music Corporation), who in 1985 merged with Jackson Charvel, was based in Fort Worth, Texas and having their USA P.O. address on the neck plate, was probably a sleek marketing trick to have us believe the models were made in USA.

In all fairness it should be said, that the bolt-ons had a small MADE IN JAPAN sticker placed on the back of the neck at the heel (not like in the picture to the right, where is has been moved to the neck plate). This sticker told us the true origin, but it was easy to remove or would easily fall off.

  • Charvel Model 2 neck plate

Neck plate on a Charvel Model 2 from 1987.

Neck plates

Charvel import neck plates 1989 onwards

  • Charvel 475 Deluxe neck plate

Neck plate on a Charvel 475 Deluxe from 1990. The Ft. Worth is gone.

The Ft. Worth PO stamp seemed to disappear from the neck plates, when the Model Series ended in 1989 and the other Charvel Series took over.

This was also around the time when IMC moved most of the Jackson production to Japan and Grover Jackson sold his interests in the company to IMC.

The picture to the right shows the neck plate from a late 1990 Charvel 475 Deluxe and the stamp is gone.

Neck plates

The Charvette Series - made in Korea

The Charvette Series neck plates looks quite different and plain compared to the Charvel plates. Some of them have the Ft. Worth stamp as shown in the picture.

The Charvette Series was introduced in late 1989 as low priced versions of the Charvel Series imports, with a suggested retail price range of $320 - $500.

My personal notes indicate that the production started with the 170 and 270 models.

They were initially made in Japan by Chushin Gakki, having basswood bodies, but soon the entire production of the Charvette Series was moved to Korea, introducing the use of plywood for the body.

So there are most likely both basswood and plywood versions of the 170 and 270 models out there.

  • Charvette neck plate

Neck plate on a Charvette from 1989, the Ft. Worth stamp still there.


Headstock cap

A low number of the very first Charvel Model Series released, did not feature a painted headstock, which is most common on these guitars. Instead, they had a thin black cap glued onto the face of the headstock, the cap being similar to a black fiber board or piece of phenolic plastic.

USA made Jackson guitars also used this cap around the same time, circa 1986-1988.

  • Headstock cap

Here's a Jackson labeled cap removed from a headstock. Photo by rjohnstone?

Inspection card

Inspection card

The Model Series Charvels came with an Inspection Card, typically hung by the low E tuner, presumably filled out by personnel at the Chushin Gakki factory.

This suggests to me that the Japanese factory did indeed keep logs of the guitars produced. Maybe not a comprehensive log, but rather a simple log where the serial number is related to a model, a color and a year. But no one has ever seen or heard of such a log.

  • Charvel inspection card

An original Inspection Card for a Charvel Model 2 guitar. Click here to see a picture gallery of the exact guitar this card came with.


Charvel Japanese Guitars 1986-1991

Made in Japan at the Chushin Gakki factory

is special info  •  For pop-up picture, hover your mouse over the model name. Click for catalog and full specs.
Price is list price when the model was introduced  •  Pc is Pickup configuration  •  All necks are Flatsawn

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