Price paid: $ 1300
Purchased from: www.carvinguitars.com
Features: The Carvin DC145M is a neck thru, string thru HSH electric guitar. The M' in DC145M designates the string thru body and tune-o-matic bridge (there are other bridges available, on this model the other options are a fixed bridge string thru body, Wilkinson tremolo, Bigsby or a Floyd Rose). My DC145M was built to my specifications in 2012. The actual features my model has is a figured Claro walnut top on the body, a five way pickup selector switch, rounded body sides, stainless steel jumbo frets, a 14" radius ebony fretboard with abalone dot inlays, rosewood volume and tone knobs (1 of each), a 5 piece maple neck with two walnut stripes, switches for coil-tapping each humbucker and also a phase switch in order to play positions 2 and 4 out of phase. On my model I also went with the default pickups (C22B in the bridge, C22J in the neck, and a S60A single coil in the middle), the black Carvin logo on the headstock, the standard Sperzel locking tuners, and a total tung oil finish on the entire instrument. The instrument also comes with a nice black hardshell case, or you can choose an upgraded tweed case. I also went with the upgraded Graphtec Tusq nut and the Dunlop straplocks almost forgot to mention that.
My total price came to roughly $1300, but that depends on the features you choose. Prices for the DC145 start at $829, but can go up to close to $2k based on the features you choose. The way Carvin works, is they use a "factory direct" business model. They have very few store locations that mainly sell amps, pickups and accessories, but a few guitars in stock, which are custom built guitars where the customer who ordered decided they didn't want the guitar or had it rebuilt with new options these and the NAMM demo models are the only guitars Carvin keeps in stock. They do very little advertising and instead depend on word of mouth reputation, which has allowed them to exist successfully for many years. They have several models available with numerous options to choose between. Once you choose your options and make your order you pay a 20% deposit and they begin building once it is complete you pay the remaining balance and they ship it to you. I personally paid 100% up front. Once you receive your Carvin you have 10 days to try it out and before that 10 day period you can send it back, no questions asked, to have it rebuilt to your specifications once again or returned for your money. The time from the day you order till you receive your semi-customized instrument is roughly 2 months. Sometimes it is shorter and sometimes it takes an additional week or two depending on the volume of work they have at the time. I haven't been able to find any other manufacturer that lets you choose customized options and gets the instrument to you that quick. I chose the features and I have to rate it as such. // 10
Sound: The Carvin pickups are much better than you would expect from a guitar manufacturer. I initially chose the default pickups with every intention of swapping the humbuckers out with some DiMarzio Breeds and then I was going to also choose a new single coil after I got a chance to check out the stock pickups. I was very pleasantly surprised as these pickups are really phenomenal the C22B in the bridge position sounds very similar to a DiMarzio Breed bridge pickup, to start with. The C22J in the neck is also very versatile, great for rhythm playing, especially with a little crunch. It is very well balanced from an EQ standpoint, with just the right emphasis on bass. The single coil, which is an S60A has a great clean tone, and is great with some overdrive for some gnarly blues licks. Positions 2 and 4 are probably the most versatile, as position 2 is the bridge humbucker and the middle, position 4 is the neck humbucker and the middle. You can use the coil-tapping and instantly you get the Strat quack sounds. You can flip the phase switch in positions 2 and 4 and get some really interesting Brian May-esque tones.
The stock pickups have really great articulation, even with overdrive or high gain. Also, instead of 6 pole pieces there are 12 so you don't experience the drop in volume when you bend strings. I play a wide variety of music, but currently I've been on a kick playing early thrash metal and overdriven blues. I've been able to get a pretty good range of sounds, and have slowly been getting used to using my pickups and switches creatively to change textures inside of songs and find myself tweaking my guitar much more than my amp settings. I love playing old Megadeth songs and I've always been frustrated that I can't get the level of string clarity he gets with heavy distortion, knowing that a large part of that was because I use passive pickups but not willing to go to active pickups. These Carvin pickups seem to be a great middle ground. The C22B especially does well with thrash metal heavy distortion with fast single note passages that ring clear. I would say the stock pickups, all of them mentioned before, are probably on the high side of medium output pickups. I couldn't ask for much more from these pickups. // 9
Action, Fit & Finish: The finish was immaculate, with bookmatched Claro walnut top that doesn't cover the neck (which shows through the front of the body you can choose to have the book-matched top cover the neck in front). The stainless steel jumbo frets had absolutely no sharp edges, the finish being tung oil there was no coating on the body or neck, but it was sanded perfectly with the entire guitar being smooth and slick. The entire guitar feels seamless, and the neck profile is most similar to an Ibanez Wizard III neck, only slightly more beefy. Believe it or not, the guitar shipped in its case from California to the southeast and when I opened the guitar it was so close to in tune I couldn't tell by ear that it wasn't. I hooked it up to my Korg tuner and two of the strings were very slightly flat barely worth mentioning. The Claro walnut front is very figured and also has an almost "flamed" appearance to it. The neck plays fast, with barely any pressure needed to fret notes and no fret buzz in evidence. While this is the most expensive guitar I've ever purchased, it is also by far the best set up guitar I have and I paid a luthier to set up my other guitars before I learned to do set ups myself. The guitar is very well balanced when I strap it on, and hangs well and comfortably from the strap. The DC145M is a medium weight guitar, not being as heavy as an LP but not as light as a Strat.
The tune-o-matic bridge with string thru makes it very easy to palm mute. Also, the sustain is fantastic (almost unbelievable as a matter of fact), and pinch harmonics are really easy to pull out of it. Speaking about the neck profile, which as I mentioned is similar to the Wizard III neck's but slightly more beefy, I had always thought that Ibanez Wizard II and Wizard III necks were my ideal neck on a guitar, but the slight added bulk of the Carvin neck really seems to do a lot for chording without really taking away from my speed on the neck. I absolutely love it and wouldn't trade it for an Ibanez neck or any other. With the tung oil finish the back of the neck feels virtually frictionless and it feels like the guitar is playing itself. I'm not a great guitarist I would say I'm mediocre on a good day but this guitar absolutely gets rid of any blame that could be put on a guitar and all my faults are my own. With other guitars with slightly high action, with a gloss finish on the back of the neck, with poor pickups, etc., you can always blame your shortcomings on the limitations of the guitar with this Carvin you know it is all you, for better or worse. // 10
Reliability & Durability: I haven't had my DC145M for very long yet, only about a month now, but I can speak to the fact that I spent a lot of time talking to other Carvin owners mainly on their www.carvinbbs.com forums. What I learned was that a lot of the owners had Carvin guitars they ordered in the early 80's and were still in heavy use. Everyone who had owned their Carvins for years were willing to vouch for their longevity. As a matter of a fact, someone on the site recently bought Marty Friedman's old Carvin and was posting pictures of it and talking about how well it still played. I believe it was built in 1983 for Marty. You will not find a more dedicated bunch off customers they put Apple's fanboys to shame. They call themselves Carvinites, and some of the more hardcore members of their community set up and have gatherings such as cookouts, barbecues, etc.
What I can say from my own personal experience about the reliability/durability of my Carvin is that it came in a very solid, very nice case (which actually smelled pleasant instead of like glue smelled a little like hazelnut). The guitar itself is built like a tank, and while medium weight for a guitar it still feels indestructible. Since I have a tung oil finish instead of any kind of coated finish, if I ever get any dings in it I can buff them out and re-apply tung oil and I'm good to go. The 5 piece maple and walnut neck promises years and years of neck stability, with no worry about warping. The stainless steel frets will last longer than me. With the Dunlop straplocks, there will be no accidental dropping of this guitar, and I will keep this guitar as safe as possible because this is the first guitar I've played that completely fits my hands just right. I would absolutely play this guitar without a backup and without any stress. // 10
Overall Impression: I was very nervous when I initially ordered this guitar, because this was by far being the most expensive guitar I've ever purchased (previously the most expensive was a G&L Tribute S-500 which is a great guitar). I have previously played several upper end guitars, but had never taken the plunge for a truly nice guitar of my own before. I've had to work through the honeymoon phase on this guitar in order to write the review and check myself to make sure I stay objective. When all is said and done, I still love this guitar. I would absolutely order another, and in fact, I plan to order another next year a different model with midi access. Carvin has a great reputation amongst musicians, and is endorsed by Steve Vai, Frank Gambale, Allan Holdsworth and Neil Zaza. In the past Carvin has also been endorsed by Jason Becker and Frank Zappa. Their equipment gets favorable reviews everything from their electric guitars, to their bass guitars, to their amps and other audio equipment from everyone. They make the best midi access guitars on the market (except they are currently limited as they don't offer a solidbody with synth access which is a sore point for me). They offer acoustic, hollowbody, solidbody, neck thru, bolt on, midi access, piezo, passive or active electronics, six, seven, eight and twelve string models pretty much anything you could want. I plan on buying more Carvin gear in the future specifically I am saving up for a Carvin V3M Combo right now. Then next tax season I plan to order a guitar with synth access from Carvin I'm hoping in the meantime they decide to offer synth access on some of their solidbody models. I would recommend Carvin to anyone looking for a quality instrument. // 10
- Brandon East (c) 2012