Charvel San Dimas vs So Cal [Main differences]

You’re looking for your next superstrat and you can’t decide?

Maybe you played a friend’s Charvel and got sick of GAS? (Guitar Aquisition Syndrome)

To begin with, congratulations. These are amazing guitars and you are gonna be happy whether of them you choose.

Although the San Dimas and the So Cal are great and very similar instruments there are some subtle differences between them.

If you want the short answer, here it is:

The main difference between the Charvel San Dimas and the So Cal is that the San Dimas is backloaded and the So Cal is frontloaded. Backloaded bodies have more wood and direct mount pickups. This is said to improve sustain and resonance. A frontloaded body is what gives the Fender Stratocaster its sound.

If you want to go the long way, keep with us. In this article, we are going to tell you a bit about these 2 models. We will talk about their history and main features. 

After that, we will put the 2 side to side and talk about their main differences. 

Finally, we will give you some insights about which one you should pick.

Let’s get started!

Charvel San Dimas main characteristics

San dimas

The San Dimas is maybe Charvel’s most iconic model. It comes in 2 body styles. Style 1 is a stratocaster resembling body, while style 2 is telecaster shaped.

But don’t let the shapes fool you the San Dimas is by no means a regular Fender guitar. Perhaps popularized by 80s rock and metal guitarists, Charvel focused on superstrats.

These are strat-like guitars with more hard rock-oriented specs. The San Dimas in their most common configurations includes humbucker pickups and Floyd Rose floating bridges.

We say “most common configurations” because there are many models available nowadays, with very different specs. We are gonna center around what’s the original spirit of this model.

One of the main things about the San Dimas, that further separates it from a common stratocaster is that it is backloaded.

This means that its pickups are direct mounted and its other routings are done from the back. The San Dimas doesn’t have a pickguard where pickups should be mounted as in a traditional strat.

This subtle but noticeable characteristic may be its defining one.

Many players argue that the wood that’s not taken from its body to frontload it with a pickguard configuration makes for a difference in tone.

Also, there’s an argument made for direct mounted pickups having more sustain and a deeper connection with the wood of the guitar improving resonance.

Charvel So Cal main characteristics

So Cal

The So Cal is another beast of a superstrat. It’s aesthetically gorgeous and a really killer machine.

It comes in two body styles as the San Dimas, a strat and a tele. We are going to focus on the superstrat version, as we said earlier for it being the more iconic.

The So Cal, in particular, is more reminiscing of an original stratocaster. This is because it has a pickguard and is frontloaded.

You might think after reading what we said about the San Dimas that being frontloaded is a drawback, but that’s not actually a good conclusion.

Being frontloaded is just a characteristic, or are you going to tell us that stratocasters are bad guitars that could be improved upon?

Maybe that lack of wood in their front is what makes them them. Maybe there’s their character and tone.

Another advantage of having a front covered with a pickup is that if you are into modding, a frontloaded guitar’s pickups are easily replaced. Just get a new loaded pickguard for instance.

Hey, it can even have a different pickup configuration such as HSS. You won’t have to carve any wood from the body to install that.

Main differences between the Charvel San Dimas vs So Cal

The San Dimas and the So Cal Chavel guitars are conceptually very similar instruments, as you might have found out by now, but they have subtle differences between them.

We can briefly sum up these differences by noting that the San Dimas is backloaded while the So Cal is frontloaded.

A backloaded body has more wood and direct mounted pickups which are said to improve sustain and resonance. If you need a tonal reference, Gibsons are backloaded guitars.

On the other side, a frontloaded body is one of the things that made the stratocaster a historic instrument that remained almost unchanged over the years. There’s nothing wrong with having slightly less wood in the body and pickguard mounted pickups.

It might just result in a subtle tonal difference.

Also, as we said earlier, the world of loaded pickups is amazing for modding enthusiasts.

Which one should you choose?

In GearAficionado we don’t like pointing our readers blindly to one side or the other.

We encourage you to try every piece of gear before buying since there are tonal and feel particularities that could only be perceived in person. A blog post or a YouTube video is never a replacement for a trip to the music store.

Although, we can surely complement your experience by giving you some insights:

  • If you think that having more wood is better, get a San Dimas
  • If you’re into modding, maybe try a So Cal
  • If you really enjoy the sound of original Fender Stratocasters, look for a So Cal
  • If you lean more into the Gibson side of things, perhaps try out a San Dimas