Built in California, sold by mail, Carvins have never enjoyed the European sales they deserve. Gareth Morgan reckons there’s a case to be made for buying sight unseen.
Carvin, named after founder company Lowell Kiesel’s sons Carson and Gavin, has been producing high quality instruments for over 60 years. The company has long been an anomaly amongst its peers in that it either sells directly to customers or uses selected agents, without the distribution middleman. The disadvantage is that you simply don’t see many, if any, in your local shop, so finding out whether a Carvin feels right can be difficult. In spite of this – or perhaps because of it – Carvin has built up a solid reputation for quality and value for money, and boasts a heady roll-call of endorsees to back this up.
This B4 bass is one of their basic models. It’s made, as is all Carvin gear, in their factory in San Diego, California. It sports a two-piece alder body with a definite modern air and a shape influenced by both the Precision and the Stingray while the natural finish and high gloss top coat create a multi-faceted and highly appealing wood-grain look. There’s a brief forearm chamfer on the top corner with a more substantial ribcage contour on the back that leads you to a thin, elongated upper horn and thinner, stubby lower horn that’s been heavily cut away from the heel area to provide excellent access to the high registers.
The rear view is also sumptuously grainy, save for the black electronics housing cover and the chrome neck retention plate. Carvin has employed the time-honoured four-bolt system to attach the 34" scale maple neck. The neck’s slim contour with its matt tung oil finish feels slick and comfortable under the fingers, and the result is fast and addictive. There’s a strengthening bulge below the nut, and the headstock is an unfussy arrow-tip design that’s tilted back to meet string break-angle requirements. A pair of unfussy make and model logos sit beneath the line of four Carvin Premium tuners in shiny chrome, which match the rest of the hardware (with one exception). A graphite nut guides the strings onto a B4’s ebony fingerboard that carries 22 medium jumbo nickel frets with dot markers on its face and another set along the top edge.
The bridge is the exception to the chrome hardware rule. It’s a Hipshot B-Style unit in black with chrome saddles, a detail that looks far cooler than it sounds. As it’s a ‘semi string-through-body’ unit you can top-load the strings or anchor them just below the surface of the front via the ferrules provided.
In keeping with the straightforward approach, the B4 is completely passive and comes with a pair of slim Carvin H50S stacked humbuckers linked to a simple control layout of two volumes and a treble roll-off tone knob.
We should point out that each bass is ordered from Carvin via the website and you can customise your B4 courtesy of the ‘Guitar And Bass Configuration Tool’ you’ll find there. Choices range from a matte varnish top coat to a selection of standard, solid metallic or translucent finishes, or a flamed maple top with various choices of stain; you can also choose from a variety of neck and fingerboard woods and inlay configurations, as well as active electronics. Many of these changes involve a hike to the basic RRP (for example, a flamed maple top adds £100) but this facility certainly gives you the chance to create a personalised instrument without spending anywhere near the price of a pure custom bass.
The B4 is very well put together. It shows excellent balance from its two pickups, and gives a good range of quality passive sounds without any setting being totally unusable. With all the options available on the Carvin website you could pay up to 1000 for a B4, but wed say that unless you fancy being overly ostentatious or hanker after an active version, theres no real need. This is a good bass as it is.