The USA Snake DeMartini Charvel guitar goes back to RATT’s mid-80s music videos.
Check out “Slip Of The Lip” and “Body Talk” from 1986’s Dancing Undercover. And then “I Want A Woman” from 1988’s Reach For The Sky. That early version of the Snakeskin guitar is a more traditional non-Floyd Rose bridge. Jump forward a few years to the video for “Nobody Rides For Free” and you can see a variation with a chrome Floyd Rose. That song can be found on the the 1991 “best of” Ratt & Roll 8191. For you fans of Thor, Avengers, and the MCU, it’s also on the Point Break soundtrack.
The USA Snake is one that I first had the chance to check out several years ago. A store had the Charvel Snake and a Jackson PC1. Appearances aside, the feel and playability and just the overall vibe of the Snake comes off as more impressive. Most impressive. LOL! Believe it or not, the store makes a much better deal on the PC1, which is an excellent guitar and one that I still have to this day.
US vs Pro-Mod
This is the inevitable comparison that comes up. A few years back, Charvel releases a made-in-Mexico Pro-Mod version. With assurances from people with hands-on experience with the Pro-Mod, I grab one. It’s a good guitar, to be certain. But it is a different body. There is less meat between the end of the bridge and the butt of the guitar where the strap pin live. This shifts the “feel” of the guitar out of place and it never really gels quite the same.
Those are both presented as found from Charvel, with sizing to fit the same footprint. Now pay attention to where the 12th fret rests. And now the pickups and the bridge. They are both 25-1/2″ scale necks. If you scale the Pro-Mod neck to the same position, the Pro-Mod is a shorter body.
The USA-made DeMartini guitars actually aren’t all that common. They are made-to-order and the current wait can be well over 6 months. Sometimes you can find a store (or two) with some in stock. Even then, it is whatever the store is ordering for their inventory. Believe it or not, there are a few out in the wild not long ago. So I jump on one. Good thing too, because the MSRP jumps up several hundred dollars less than a month later.
The USA Snake comes with it’s own case. Not just any case for a USA DeMartini. But a snakeskin case. Pretty cool. The more practical side does wish the case is one with a custom fit. Which is to say it’s not a terribly snug fit. If you gig or travel, you might want to invest in your own hard case for this one. Inside the case is some fun case candy, including a very presentable Certificate of Authenticity.
The retailer is one that likes to perform a “set up” on guitars. In this instance, they think the Floyd Rose needs to be a little lower. The issue is that they are making the adjustment with the bridge in-tune at full tension. NOTE: I don’t care what YouTube or Google says, this is a cardinal sin. Period. As is the case here, the pivot points on the posts are now dull and the knife edges have premature wear. I will forego that soapbox, but I simply replace with new parts from my own inventory.
The input jack is a little crackly, so I put a new Pure Tone 1/4″ jack in it’s place. There is also an issue with the mounting of the locking nut. No need to belabor the point and Charvel has no reason to be thrown under the bus. I have to say that it it awesome that Charvel was quick to step up to the plate to own the situation. They maintained an ultimate professionalism while the issue meets the final resolution. That’s for the best, as the neck is the star of the show on this guitar!
The neck selection on this USA Snake is of a virtually ideal quartersawn piece of maple. I cannot find in the official specs if this neck has the same type of neck reinforcement rods as the Jackson LE SD22 or the EVH Gear Bumblebee. But after an initial tweak, it has not moved in the slightest. If I have to stick a pin in the neck thickness, I might suggest it’s a little thicker than a Wizard at the 1st fret and about standard Strat thickness at the 12th.
The feel of the neck is a revelation. One of the most natural-feeling necks to spoil my digits. This happens with the application of Emmet’s Good Stuff urethane gel. You can also find necks from John Suhr and Grover Jackson with this finish. On this USA Snake, I am initially wondering if there is anything on there at all! LOL! It is so light and natural to the touch that a close inspection reveals you can actually feel the grain in the walnut skunk stripe.
The fingerboard has a 12″-16″ compound radius and Jumbo nickel frets. And I do mean Jumbo frets. I am still a fan of the old-school Jumbo that passes today as more of a Medium-Jumbo. Ye olde Fret Rocker reveals one slightly taller frets along the low E side down around the 11th-12th fret area. The frets are level and straight as an arrow everywhere else. The fret dressing is top notch and definitely world class.
We are looking at alder for this USA Snake. Pretty standard fare for the target genre for this guitar. The specs show this to be a San Dimas shape, but it comes off a little closer to a Soloist in my experience. The sharper round-over gives a most sultry vibe. For controls, there is a single volume and a single 3-way toggle. Control position is in the fairly standard Jackson/Charvel placement.
There is a subtle tactile distinction from the satin finish, but the aspect appears more lethal. The matching headstock finish puts the detail over the top. The hue of the snakeskin and the matching graphic on the head are one of the key visual difference between the US and the Mexico variations.
It’s not Ratt-n-Roll if there’s not a Floyd Rose! The USA Snake goes all out with the official German Floyd Rose tremolo system. That includes a German R3 locking nut. This one comes with a 37mm sustain block, but I’m finding it’s not long enough and the springs are rubbing the cavity and trying to pop out of the block. I have a 42mm block on hand which resolves that issues. I do not know if the cavity was not routed deep enough or if the wrong block size was selected during assembly.
With regard to the sustain block, I am finding that the guitar has a good voice and good vibe with the stock block. I am suggesting players give it a go as-is for two reasons. One. Trying a beefier-sounding brass block might be a but much for the bigger character of the stock pickup selection. Two. A thicker block will not fit in to the top of the guitar without modifications. I don’t know about you, but a $35 block isn’t worth hacking a $3800 guitar to me. HaHa! Maybe an official tungsten block from Floyd Rose, but I maintain that you should give it time with the stock block.
The tuners are Gotoh 6-in-line with vintage style posts. I’m a noob to putting the string ends down in to the shaft of the peg, but it’s easy to maneuver and has a secure feel to it.
If you watch all the old RATT footage, it’s hard to catch a neck pickup in use. But for these signature models, a Duncan Quarter Pound SSL-4 single coil is in the neck. This one has that flat pole radius, which is suitable for the relatively flatter 16″ radius at the 22nd fret. In this application, the SSL-4 brings enough power and beef to mate up will with the RTM.
Guess the beans are already spilled on the Seymour Duncan RTM bridge pickup. LOL! To be thorough, this is a pickup that DeMartini developed to go with his signature line of Charvel guitars. In the 1980s, DeMartini was using a JB model Seymour Duncan and Marshall amps. And RATT plays loud! That is from personal experience! HaHa! So it’s no secret that long term exposure to high volume has affected Warren’s ears. He’s also more prone to play something like a Soldano amp. What you end up with is all those factors working together to a more recent interpretation of what Warren wants from a pickup. In other words, it’s not a JB with an Alnico 2 magnet. LOL!
Color: Snakeskin Graphic
Body Shape: San Dimas Style 1
Body Material: Alder
Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan RTM
Neck Pickup: Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound
Switching: 3-way Toggle
Bridge: Original Floyd Rose – German
Hardware Finish: Black and
Tuning Machines: Gotoh Sealed Die-Cast
Control Knob: Dome Style
Switch Tip: Black
Neck Material: Quartersawn Maple
Fingerboard Material: Maple
Neck Construction: Bolt-On
Neck Finish: Hand-Rubbed Satin Urethane
Fingerboard Radius: 12″ – 16″ Compound Radius
# of Frets: 22
Fret Size: Jumbo
Nut: Floyd Rose Original Floyd Rose Locking
Nut Width: 1.650″ (R3)
Position Inlays: Black Dot
Side Dots: Black
Truss Rod: Heel-Mount Truss Adjustment Wheel
Headstock: Licensed Fender Stratocaster
What a cool guitar! Cool to play! Cool to look at!
If you are in to the staples of 1980s riff rock, this USA Snake is ready to fit your needs! Screaming-hot big-and-bold bridge humbucker. Single coil neck for cleaner amp settings. The one and only German Floyd Rose, capable of delivering all the flash you require. The neck is set up for playability and for tone, with truly drool-worthy fret finishing. And the controls are simple enough that even a guitar player can figure it out! HaHa!
In an era of top-tier players using eye-grabbing graphics to stand out from the pack, the snakeskin is identifiable without pushing it over the edge.
What about the inescapable likening to the Pro-Mod version? Is the USA Snake a higher quality instrument? Most definitely! Is it $2250 better? That’s up to the customer to decide. For me, I prefer the “regular” scale body, or not one at all. And the effortless navigation of the US-made neck is bliss. But I do get it. There are plenty of alder bodies with maple necks out there. Maybe you could even cobble together similar specs on a DIY project for 1/3 the cost. Although I think we know what’s on paper and what’s in your hands are seldom the same.
For reference, this Charvel Warren DeMartini USA Signature Snake guitar evaluation was conducted with a Fractal Axe-Fx II XL+ featuring Celestion Impluse Responses and Fractal MFC-101 MIDI Foot Controller. Real cabs in use are Marshall 1960B, Mojotone British, and Peavey 6505 cabs loaded with Celestion Classic Series Vintage 30s and Classic Series G12M Greenbacks.
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