Price paid: $ 350
Purchased from: Carvin Store, Hollywood, CA
Features: Purchased back in 2006, this kit was made, like most Carvins, in San Diego, CA. Fully constructed it has the same features as their Bolt model guitar which is, basically, their version of a Strat. 22 frets, maple neck, ebony fingerboard (with Carvin Standard 12" radius), alder, Strat-style body, and a 25.5" scale length. Pickguard comes pre-assembled and requires no soldering. Three AP11 single coil pickups are Standard plus a 5 way Switch, 1 volume and tone knob, and a mini phase Switch.
The hardware on this kit is pretty basic. My version has a fixed bridge and Standard tuning keys. My only mistake was not ponying up for the Sperzel locking tuners at the time of purchase.
The kit came with all necessary plates, parts and screws and even included adhesive copper foil to shield the electronics cavity (nice touch!). Make certain you have quality tools for assembly specifically a good set of screwdrivers and a padded hammer. The included truss wrench is a basic one that works perfectly well but the screwdriving Tool at the end of it was worthless. I'll discuss construction points in the AF&F section. // 10
Sound: Once completed this guitar replaced the 2 other Stratocasters I already owned. With the inclusion of the mini switch, this guitar gives just about every sound you'd want from a Strat and more. All the snap, "quackle" and pop is there along with those "in-betweeners." The 60 cycle hum is of course present in these single coils. One great feature of them is their use of 11 adjustable pole pieces. You can bend strings 'til ya Hurt and you don't suffer from the annoying drop off in sound. For me that's really important as I play a lot of blues, blues rock, a wee amount of country, and on days when I'm suffering from delusion of grandeur, a little Eric Johnson-type stuff. Lotsa bending...
Like any single-coil guitar the tone doesn't really shine until you plug into a good tube amp and turn up the temperature. I Live in a condo and often have to practice through a small floor unit (an old DOD AX-1G) with headphones. This type of set up can make any guitar sound thin, squishy and sterile. But even plugged into my little Fender Blues Junior, 20W tube amp, my Carvin barks, bites and growls like a champ. The highs are clear but not brittle, the bass can really spank, and the tone pot is very even when rolling from 1-10 which helps change the color of the sound very specifically. On that same note (Pun, sorry), the volume knob is clean and even as well. Rolling back and forth of the volume knob can produce a variety of lead and rhythm sounds, from overdriven, to dirty, to clean. Even those in-between jazzy tones are great. Just wish I knew a little more Joe Pass to really use them... // 9
Action, Fit & Finish: After sanding off some of the rough edges (there weren't many) it was time to apply finish. I followed Carvin's instructions and used tung oil on the body and neck (and no, not the fingerboard). This proved to be the most difficult part. Applying a coat, letting it dry at least 6 hours, sanding it down, repeat. 5 coats. I hate waiting. Once done the rest was really simple. The neck to pocket fit was astounding. Alignment was perfect. No shims or sanding required at all. The frets were all polished and well rounded off. The nut was cut and polished and aligned spot on.
My complaint with them at this point is whatever wax they use to help screw in the bolts for the neck stinks. I used a tube of unscented Burt's Bees lip balm and it worked like a charm. I suggest it for the wood screws when installing the tuning keys and strap buttons as well. Everything else came together very quickly except for the copper shielding but I took forever as I can be a little fanatical about things like that.
Oh, this kit comes with a set of Carvin 10-46 strings. Can 'em. As great as Carvin guitars are, their strings are pretty poor. Their fully built models come from the factory with Elixers but not the kits. While the finishing drove me nuts and the strings are about as bad as I've ever used, the quality of the materials and their construction was fantastic. // 9
Reliability & Durability: First rule of gigging, never go without a backup. The construction of this guitar is first rate (again, quality of the pieces, not the assembler) but you just never know when an over-anxious patron may jump on stage and knock you guitar off of it's stand. Then it's anybody guess. I would easily make this my main stage guitar as the hardware is great and the tung oil finish they recommend is pretty tough. My only hesitation is that it's not a terribly exciting guitar to look at. Wood finishing is not a strong suit for me and perhaps I'll go back and give the body some color. At first glance, it looks like a back up. Play it once and you realize it's a main piece.
I have a tendency to slap the Switch around and 2 1/2 years later it's still clean sounding. Same thing with the volume knob which is subject to merciless swells. The pot is still tight much to my chagrin. Love the even response but I wish it'd loosen up already. // 10
Overall Impression: If your looking to build a relatively simple electric guitar kit, this would be a great option. Other kits I've looked at seem to be more suited to the woodworker and that certainly isn't me. As stated earlier, I should have opted for the Sperzel tuners and also a pair of Straplocks. Other than that I feel I got a guitar that sounds as good or better that my other 2 strats (1 Mexican and the other a Strat Plus). The slight difference in body contour & light weight make it really comfortable and the 12" radius far better suits my style of play.
Carvin does advertise experience is not required to build this guitar and for the most part that is true. The bridge saddles come pretty darn close to set in the box but the truss rod may need some adjustment as mine did. If you do decide to build one of these kits be sure to go over the instructions carefully and check Carvin's Builder's Forum on their site. Lots of great tips there. // 9