In a way, it’s like those clothing catalogs that fill your mailbox (especially this time of year). It’s regular, it’s reliable. But instead of sweaters and shoes, the quarterly Carvin booklet is filled with all varieties of fun stuff.
And if you’re like me, when it arrives, you immerse yourself in the guitar section, perusing the pages (and pages!) of axes with gorgeous quilted and flamed-maple tops.
As a music store owner, I shouldn’t even think about buying guitars from a catalog. But I am just a man, made of flesh and blood, and I have broken down a time or two. And though I wouldn’t mind being able to tell you how I’ve been disappointed in Carvin’s guitars, I can’t because each is well-crafted, plays effortlessly, and is flawless in just about every detail (a fact I will, of course, deny to anyone who asks while I’m working the counter at my store).
Carvin’s latest catalog temptress is the California Carved Top (CT), an instrument that offers a bold change for a company whose instruments have traditionally been offered with slab bodies with some pretty standard contours and rounded edges. The CT series is available with a carved mahogany top (CT3M) or “plain” carved maple top (CT4M) or with a carved 5A figured maple top (CT6M).
The top-of-the-line CT6M ships with a 20mm flamed-maple top as standard equipment. Our test model had an upgraded quilt top with a triple-step stain in green. The stain and the maple combined to give the top an almost liquid appearance. Incredibly deep and translucent, the finish runs to the body’s edge, where it meets a natural wood faux binding. Adding to the guitar’s appeal is its graceful double-cutaway body and deeply carved top. The controls and pickup selector are each set in a recess, which levels them off instead of following the arch of the top. Topping off the high-end vibe of the CT6M is gold hardware, including a tune-o-matic-style bridge, string ferrules, strap buttons, and Sperzel locking tuners with a matte gold finish for long life. The mahogany body has a natural high-gloss finish with tight, even grain, and a back contour, while the set mahogany neck features a small, unobtrusive neck heel, 14″-radius dark ebony fretboard with abalone dot inlays, and a tilt-back three-on-a-side headstock with a matching quilted maple overlay.
The guitar was set up like all Carvins I’ve either tested or bought – super low action, dead-on straight neck. The neck profile is the wide/flat U shape sported by most Carvins, and measures 1.69″ at the nut. The frets are highly polished for easy bending, and fret ends are nicely rounded. The double-cut body and small neck heel allow for full access to all frets, and the 25″ scale feels slinky, but not mushy, with the light-gauge strings installed at the factory. At a little over eight pounds, the guitar didn’t feel at all heavy and was well-balanced, sitting or standing.
The CT6M’s electronics consist of a pair of Carvin Vintage alnico humbuckers (C22B and C22N), three-way pickup selector, master volume, and master tone control with push/pull to split both pickups. The control cavity is neat, clean, and lined with copper foil shielding. Carvin uses box-style pickup selector and miniature potentiometers, which it says it has found work better than standard three-position toggle and full-size pots.
I tested the Carvin’s sounds using an all-tube Crate V5212 combo and Randall’s RM50 tube head with its JTM and SL+ modules, which replicate vintage and new Marshall tones, through a 4×12″ cabinet. Through the SL+ module, the CT6M had a tight, focused sound with ample gain and midrange. The sound was fairly refined, with no peaks or valleys, very smooth and creamy. In the JTM module it had a crunchier tone with more bite and snap, but still with plenty of drive. Through the Crate’s overdrive channel, the CT6M was again smooth and creamy, but with a more open sound. In the Crate’s clean channel, the Carvin was a bit flat until I used the push/pull switch in the tone pot, which added much-needed sparkle and shimmer in all three positions, without stealing a lot of gain. The guitar had an amity with both amps, as they teamed to display their natural tones.
The California Carved Top plays and sounds as beautiful as it looks. It’s high-end vibe and aesthetic, along with its superb playability, have me regularly reaching for it.
Carvin California Carved Top
Features Carved quilted-maple top, mahogany body, Carvin C22B and C22N pickups, set mahogany neck with graphite reinforcement rods, gold Sperzel locking tuners, gold hardware, coil-splitting push/pull tone pot, ebony fretboard, abalone dot inlays.
Contact Carvin, 12340 World Trade Drive, San Diego, CA 92128, phone 800-854-2235, www.carvin.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s February 2005 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.