Carvin’s new generation of basses is led by the PB4, which combines modern features with a trad look – and you can pick and choose from a ton of upgrades to personalise the outcome. Review by Gareth Morgan
Description: Solidbody bass. Made in USA
Contact: RockStarGuitar 0121 439 9662 – www.carvinworld.com
The LC Kiesel Company was founded in California in 1946 and was re-christened Carvin in 1949 – a name derived from a composite of the names of Kiesel’s sons, Carson and Gavin. From the ’50s to the early ’70s they manufactured guitars and basses largely from bodies and necks made by Hofner, graduating to producing their own parts and components towards the end of the ’70s.
During this period they became the first USA manufacturer to sell directly to the public, and in the 1980s they began offering customers the opportunity to personalise their instrument via various custom options. Lowell’s son, Mark Kiesel has been designing the guitar and bass models for Carvin since 1971. Mark’s son Jeff Kiesel designed the PB bass series and this is the first instrument design from the 3rd generation Kiesel Family.
The standard Carvin bass design is sleek, modern with neck-through construction and much use of handsome timber, but the new PB4 is the company’s take on the time-honoured Fender Precision. It’s far from an exact copy, though. The solid alder body has been subjected to a subtle re-imagining, especially around the waist and the outward-pointing horns; it’s curvaceous and rather sexy.
There’s a slight forearm chamfer on the upper bout and a more generous ribcage provision along the top rear edge. The three-ply white/black/white scratchplate has been altered too; it’s a swoopy design, especially above the pickup, perhaps a touch more Jazz than Precision, and though it provides a bed for the controls it doesn’t hold the jack socket in the same way as the Fender original, instead siting it – for improved comfort, says Carvin – on the bottom corner. A scalloped heel provides improved playability above the 17th fret.
For the neck Carvin uses Eastern hard rock maple that’s finished with tung oil, rather than varnish, for ‘smooth, fast playing’ and they’ve gone for a modern neck profile that is ‘between P and Jazz-style necks’. It feels snug and comfy under the hand and plays very swiftly.
The string spacing of 10mm at the precision-cut, smooth-flowing graphite-teflon nut imbues the PB4 with P/J hybrid status, rather like Fender’s Mark Hoppus signature model. While the neck feels like a Jazz Bass, the headstock is considerably smaller, with a more modernised leaning. Its face is unfinished for ‘that classic look’, says Carvin, and displays the unfussy company logo and three-ply black/white/black plastic trussrod access cover. Four chrome Carvin Premium 20:1 closed-gear tuners with small triangular buttons line up along the top edge. There’s no string tree, but none is needed as Carvin has chosen to generate downwards pressure by tilting the headstock backwards.
The rosewood fingerboard carries 20 medium jumbo nickel frets, perfectly seated with no overhang at the tang. White dot inlays adorn the face of the fingerboard and another set lies along the top edge. Interestingly, Carvin haven’t gone for the rolled edges you’ll find on many traditional fingerboards, opting for a more abrupt, squared-off transition between face and edge.
Back on the body you’ll find a Carvin bridge; it’s of the string-through-body variety although the strings don’t run all the way through to the back, being rooted just beneath the base of the bridge. The bridge itself is Carvin’s own design with locking saddles.
The PB4 is not endowed with active electronics – it wouldn’t be the traditional P-type bass that it purports to be if it were. You get one very familiar-looking Carvin SCP split coil humbucker with a single, hefty Alnico V magnet – a build detail that, says Carvin, means ‘you won’t get any signal drop off like you do from a conventional P-type pickup if the strings are not perfectly centred between the polepieces’ –which is thoughtful. As we intimated above, controls number the standard duo of volume and master tone, which come in the form of knurled chrome knobs.
As always with a passive bass with straightforward controls, we started our voyage of discovery with the tone control on full treble. The split-coil humbucker has a high-quality sound with good width and the bottom end that carries plenty of growling intent, most evident on the E and A strings, and a nice rasp as you move across the fingerboard. The midrange is even without any nasal bias, giving an air of solidity and plenty of punch and impact. The sound is detailed with plenty of harmonics so the highs are crisp, clean and well-realised. Overall, it’s a clear-sounding bass for this pickup type, and the lively tone will find favour with rockers and its edginess will suit contemporary pop as well.
There’s not a lot of variation on offer. When you back off the tone control not much happens for about the first half-turn, but then you start to get subtle reductions to the spiky note edge, which does add some versatility – you’ll automatically start hitting old soul or blues grooves. With the tone control backed off three-quarters of the way the PB becomes a very smooth-sounding beast. The E string still growls, albeit without the raspy, gunning quality of the flat-out setting; definition and punch are still excellent, but it’s nowhere near as aggressive. Again, excellent for retro soul, rock and blues, but also pretty decent for poppier applications.
Carvin’s take on this old design, with subtle, well-thought out tweaks to the classic template and intelligent upgrades of components, is a definite success. The PB4 is a high-quality humbucker-equipped passive bass, custom-built to exacting standards in the USA, and the basic version comes in at under £1000. Whether players will prefer it to the long-standing ruler of this domain is open to question; the Fender Precision has, after all, more than stood the test of time… but with the PB4 Carvin has added another bass to the list of ‘must try’ alternatives.
And remember that if you like the PB, all that we’ve described – save the body shape – can be altered to suit you. Of course, altering the specs raises the price (for instance, gold hardware costs £50 more and a flame maple top comes in at £195) and delivery time is at least 10 weeks. But if you can find one to try – an issue with Carvin gear – then you might just find the bass of your dreams.