One of the few family-owned guitar/amplifier manufacturing enterprises remaining in the industry, Carvin was founded by Lowell Kiesel in 1946 and started by making pickups, then transitioned to building lap steels and other stringed instruments.
Some of the company’s early guitars and basses used parts from other guitar makers, but as its direct-to-consumer concept caught on, Carvin began building instruments in its own factory, offering options such as block or dot fretboard markers, and four finishes (black, white, red, or natural). But times have changed, and today the company’s 82,000-square-foot factory produces guitars that boast a strong custom-build ethos. One good example is this DN440T built for Steve McDonald, bassist for the rock band Redd Kross.
“Carvin’s doublenecks debuted in 1959,” said Kevin Wright, webmaster at carvinmuseum.com. “You could get a six-string guitar neck with a short-scale bass, or a six-string guitar neck with an eight-string mandolin, which was pretty revolutionary for the time.”
McDonald ordered the DN440T in late ’87 and it was completed early the following year using the then-new LB70 model as a foundation. Breaking down the model number, DN indicates doubleneck, while 440 refers to the number of strings on each neck. The T references “tremolo,” a misnomer for the Kahler vibrato on the lower instrument. Construction is neck-through, and its necks and body are maple. Both necks have a 34″ scale, 16″ radius, and ebony fingerboards. Espousing its very-’80s vibe are the pointy headstocks, black chrome hardware, and Pearl Purple finish.
The 440′s electronics consist of two Carvin H13B stacked humbuckers on each neck, the 13 referring to the number of polepieces on each. The pickups, also new in ’88, were short-lived, but replaced a model that had an even shorter existence – the H11B from ’87, which had 11 polepieces but didn’t adequately address the output on the E and G strings. In 1990, the H13B was replaced by the H50B. Wright describes the sound of the H13Bs as, “Very bell-like – extremely bright, especially with the maple wood of the 440′s body. It creates a great piano-like tone.”
Switching on a doubleneck has the potential to get complicated, but the DN440′s control layout is pretty logical; each neck has a master Volume and master Tone control, the mini-toggle switches (in order from closest to the Tone knob to the end of the body) are a three-way coil selector for the neck pickup (double-coil, single-coil, or off), coil selector for the bridge pickup (also three-way), and a phase switch that shifts pickup-magnet polarity 180 degrees. Since each coil switch has an off position, the DN440 needed no pickup-selector toggle; the switch above and between the Volume and Tone knobs for the fretted neck is a neck selector. The instrument weighs approximately 17 pounds.
Though Carvin offered numerous doubleneck models, “The bass/bass models are pretty rare,” Wright noted. “I’ve only seen three others – one was a NAMM display instrument, and there was at least one four-/five-string example, and a white four/four. Carvin made 12/6 guitars, 6/4 guitar/basses, and 4/4 basses, and I’ve also seen a few oddballs from the same era as this DN440T, like a 6/6 guitar for different tunings.”
Carvin stopped making doublenecks in 1993. But instruments like this DN440T exemplify its penchant for creating custom-order instruments – and how carving that niche has made it successful.