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Carvin AE-185

Carvin AE-185

Our movable feast of musical gear begins this month with an offering from the folks as California’s Carvin Musical Instruments: the semi-hollow, acoustic-electric, 6-string guitar designated AE-185. These are the guitars that I keep seeing onstage from Will Ray’s chicken pluckin’ to Danny “Elfman of Oingo Boingo, but had not (as yet) been able to personally play. It was well worth the wait. The options loaded onto our test axe included a flamed maple top (the wood quality was terrific), multi-layered tortoise body binding, and open-type, cream humbucking pickups.

Now standard on this model is a mahogany neck-through body construction a 25-inch scale ebony neck, locking Sperzels, and the combination of a standard Les Paul-type pickup and switching system (standard 3-way switch) and the added flexibility of a belly-bridge housing a high-quality transducer yielding a realistic and very sweet acoustic guitar sound. The mix and variety available through the blend knob provide more possible sounds than most people can get out of three guitars.

Starting with workmanship and materials, Carvin has surpassed itself again in bringing this guitar to the marketplace. The AE-185 has the feel of a well-worn Les Paul Junior, with a perfect fretting job, no raw edges, and an ebony board that is resonant and a pleasure to play. The intonation was right on, assisted by a carved saddle, and before ever plugging this baby in, we had a feeling it was a winner. Adding to the pleasure of playing the 185 was its extremely manageable weight (a bit less than six pounds) and the intuitive feel of the controls – very familiar to anyone who loves a Les Paul.

When amplified, using the Carvin was easy as pie. We set up the electric signal through an old Vibrolux Reverb and placed the acoustic signal into Yamaha nearfield monitors powered by a Peavey power amp (the side of the guitar has two, rather than the usual single, mono inch outputs, one for each use). As for controls, there’s a group of four knobs at the lower bout (a rather snazzy single f-hole occupies the space north of the strings), and houses a single volume control, a treble cut/boost knob with a neutral detent in the middle, and a bass knob that does the same for the lower frequencies. Ours stayed pretty much in the neutral position, the tones ranged from biting and aggressive in the bridge pickup-only setting, to warm and ES-175ish on the neck setting.

The 3-way switch in the middle setting yielded a usable and vibrant combined sound. Number four knob was the secret weapon against the dulls: a blend knob that ranged from all-electric at one extreme to all-acoustic at the other. Nearest the mid-setting (with a detent, naturally), a mix of the two sources yielded tones that were nifty in the extreme: percussive attack, long sustain, rich harmonics. Very cool. Onstage at our New York dives, there was a discernible need for more attack, and I ended up using the EQ to good effect, cutting right through the mix. Note that Carvin uses their own pickups and hardware in general, which is all to the good. The pickups have an offset pole pattern that produces a great classic humbucking sound and at the same time surrounds the string with magnetic field that is evenly distributed; hence, no dropout on wild string bends.

Tom is already a pretty big Carvin fan, using their amps (“The vintage tube series caught my eye and ear one night on stage, and I bought my Nomad combo the next day,” Cosgrove relates) in Europe and here in the States.

“This guitar is really well-made, and that’s pretty high praise from a vintage lover like me,” marveled Tom, on first handling the AE-185. “I like the idea of only a single f-hole… the appearance is really striking. The neck is extremely playable, not too fat in the back, and fits my hand perfectly. The tone is really smooth, too, and it’s cool being able to blend the different acoustic and electric tones. The front pickup sounds great; in fact, it’s a warm sounding guitar, but it can still scream. I’ve gotten away from that standard Strat sound, and I like this. When Clapton was going through that period where he used the in-between setting for practically every lead… I got sick of that pretty quickly. This is quite versatile from the acoustic style bridge to the master volume.”

As most of our readers know, Carvin is available only by direct sales through their own showrooms throughout California, or contact the folks at Carvin by calling (800) 854-2235, and get their neat catalog.

This review originally appeared in VG‘s July ’96 issue.

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