As you may know, Carvin sells directly to the customer, and new Carvins are not available in music stores. As a subscriber to Guitar Player magazine for the past 17 years, I have read many reviews of Carvin guitars, and am always favorably impressed by the high praise they receive. Is it possible that these reviews were influenced by the large ads Carvin has placed in the magazine over the years? Maybe, but my experience with Carvin makes me think that they earn the praise. Besides the apparent integrity of GP's staff, I have read many testimonials to Carvins on Harmony Central, and they overwhelmingly agree with the stellar Guitar Player reviews. So anyway, to buy direct, one needs a catalog. You can call or mail for one (I recommend it), but you can also look over the entire catalog on the web at Carvin's website. This is a great option because you can use the "shopping cart" to conveniently price your options.
The first step in buying a Carvin guitar is deciding which model of instrument you want. The company offers a wide array of options concerning wood, color and hardware, but they only offer a handful of distinctly different instruments. All of their guitars, share the following characteristics, unless otherwise noted:
For your convenience, I will describe each of Carvin's strictly electric six string guitars (they also make acoustic/electrics and basses) below, with links to the appropriate section of Carvin's site. The following descriptions include the specs straight from Carvin, and also my personal observations and ideas. Remember that except for my own, I have never seen or touched any of these guitars.
"This is supposed to be a Les Paul-type guitar. It has a single cutaway, with a tune-o-matic bridge, and the selector switch on the upper horn. On the plus side, it is probably lighter than a Paul, and has a neck-thru-body, which should make for better sustain. The only problem is that I think it is ugly. It looks like a half melted combination of a Tele and a Les Paul, and I would feel like a doofus playing it."
How time changes things! While the guitar does have some Les Paul type attributes, I now think that it is very attractive, and would love to play one. I now recommend it.
Since 2000, Carvin has added three more solid-body guitars to their lineup. The DC-150 is a 22-Fret, through body neck instrument, whose looks just don't appeal to me at all. Also, two new bolt-on models have appeared, the Bolt + and the Contour 66. These last two feature rear mounted pickups, and fancy tops without pickguards. As usual there is a wide array of pickup combinations available. The Contour 66 has a figured maple top, but the veneer is very thin; 0.5mm compared to the 1/2" of the neck-through models. Nowadays, many companies are offering budget models with "figured wood" tops, but these tops are very thin veneers, like the Contour 66 uses. I think it is better tone wise, and also self-esteem wise, to have a thick maple top.
After a couple of month's careful thinking and research, I placed an order on July 1, 2000 for a specially tricked out Carvin DC127. Here are the specs:
In the end, including a cloth strap, 5 sets of strings (Carvin strings, but amazingly priced at $12.95 for 5 sets), a form fitting SKB case and $20 shipping, the package comes to $1005.85. While this is a lot of money, it seems like a great deal for the features. I carefully priced guitars from smaller builders like McInturff and Melancon, and larger shops like PRS, and for the woods used in my guitar, I would have paid much more. I think that this guitar is most comparable to a PRS, which lacks a bound fretboard, often has a simple inlay, has the same scale length and can share the same woods (though not often ebony fretboards). The Carvin was much less money than a PRS in 2000, and while PRS has since come out with their cheaper, Korean models since then, they don't compare in features to the Carvin.
The order process was okay. I've never enjoyed going to a guitar shop to try out guitars, as I am often uncomfortable playing in such a public setting, and I feel pressured to buy something if I am going to take up someone's time. So buying over the phone eliminated that problem. On the other hand, it is weird to buy a guitar in the same manner one buys a ring on QVC. My salesperson, Carl (randomly assigned because he answered the phone), was pretty helpful, and certainly didn't pressure me to buy something I didn't want. He was also rather empathetic about the difficulty of buying a guitar without playing it first--especially when I told him I'd been thinking about it since 1987! The guitars are "built to order" at Carvin's plant in San Diego, and Carl said that the boys take extra special care with the quilt tops, which led him to give me an estimate of 8-9 weeks of build time. Three years later, Carvin has improved their custom shop, and now builds guitars in less than 4 weeks. I was somewhat nervous having to wait so long, but Carvin offers a 10 day in home trial with no strings attached (so to speak), which is less than the 30 days they used to offer, but plenty of time. My expectation was a physically flawless guitar that sounds great and is comfortable to play. Were my expectations met?
Yes! I got the guitar on August 21st, 2000, two days early. When I first opened the case, I laughed out loud at how beautiful the guitar was. The quilt is almost perfectly bookmatched, and it looks like sheets of fire on the top of the guitar.Click the pictures below to see up-close details.
The guitar is the best playing instrument I've ever touched. The neck is perfect, and with the flatter radius I can play faster and bend further than possible on my Strat. The humbuckers sound very full, and when the coils are tapped, I can get a very good single-coil sound. The Sperzel tuners keep the instrument at pitch for weeks on end without needing any tuning, and string changes are a breeze. My Carvin is beautiful, sounds great, and is easy to play and maintain. What more could you ask? I heartily recommend Carvin guitars if you are looking for a new axe.
Feel free to download an MP3 of my band playing Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street." All the lead guitar work is me on my Carvin.