Price paid: $ 300
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Features: So this is a Carvin XV-212, from 1981 (I believe). It's a 100-watt (power switchable), 2x12 combo. It's a very solid amp for the indie/rock style I play, although I don't use the Drive as much (not because I don't like it, but because I don't have the footswitch... More on that later). It also does blues beautifully, and any classic rock/most 80's rock is pretty solid here. It's two channels- clean, with a pull/push-bright master volume, the Drive master volume is a pull/push to switch to the Drive channel, and the gain is a pull/push to switch to high gain. A note on the bright switch: when they say "bright", it's not like a Fender where it'll add a little high-end gain. This is more akin to switching your wah on with the Rocker all the way forward - with single coils, it's harsh and disgustingly piecering. It has a very solid effects loop, with a volume boost/decrease to balance any particularly loud/quiet effect pedals. It has power switching for 25/50/100 watts, and two speaker outputs (one of which the combo speakers are plugged into), with adjustable ohmage (4, 8, 16).
There's no headphone jack, but there is an XLR line-out. As for the EQ section, there's a standard 3-band EQ plus presence, and a 5-band graphic EQ, which you can assign to either the clean or Drive channels. It has accutronics spring reverb, with one master reverb control- the reverb is fantastic, but use it sparingly, because it has a long hang time. Set to 2 should be plently for most. Lastly, there's a funky footswitch - it uses an XLR cable. And, unless you're lucky enough to get a footswitch with the amp, you'll have to shell out about $70 for one of the aftermarket switches, or email Carvin for schematics to modify an existing switch. The switch itself is a three button switch, with lead/rhythm, reverb on/off, and effects loop on/off. // 9
Sound: I use a 1970 Guild S-100 (similar to an SG body, but a lot beefier, with two solid humbuckers), a Telecaster with an active bridge humbucker/active neck single coil, and a modified Fat Strat (HSS) with some hotter pickups. Also, when another member of my band plays it, he uses an Ovation UK-2 (similar to a Les Paul, but thinner) and a MIM Fender Telecaster (single coil/single coil). With all these guitars, the amp sounds great (I run into input 2, which I think is the high gain input). It suits my indie/rock style well, and does blues beautifully. I also used it once at a solo gig, with my telecaster, to do some Jeff Buckley type stuff (I used the clean channel, boosted the mids a little, and cranked the reverb). I've never had noise issues with this amp.
Here's the real key to the amp's tone - the power switching. At 100 watts, the clean channel is super-clean, nice and loud, with a crisp, breathy sound. At 50 watts, you start to get some nice warm breakup, and trade some breathiness for warmth. On both 100 and 50 watts, the clean channel is nice and smooth, well defined, and takes effects beautifully. At 25 watts, it's no longer really a clean channel. Even at 1 or 2, it's a lighter Drive channel. You lose some definition, but gain some great bluesy grit. You'll probably have to re-EQ every time you switch the power. The Drive channel is pretty consistent through each mode, although it seems with more wattage comes a little more definition. The distortion is very organic, warm and mid-heavy. I use the graphic EQ on the Drive channel to scoop the mids a little, to get some growl and bite, but it's still pretty well mid-drenched. The sustain isn't great at lower volumes, because there isn't really that much gain to be had- this is not an amp for modern metal. The high-gain setting, as far as I can tell, is less a gain boost than a serious scoop. It removes a lot of the mids, and boosts the treble significantly. This will give you a more metal/grunge ready distortion. // 9
Reliability & Durability: This amp is super reliable. It's 30 years old, and other than some (very) minor cosmetic wear, and a huge beer stain on the speaker grille, it looks brand new. It seems pretty solid, although I've never dropped it more than an inch (and wouldn't suggest it with a tube amp). I've never had any issues with it what'soever, except a slight crackle when adjusting the mid and bass controls, which I could probably be fixed with a cleaning of the pots. It has four 6L6 power tubes, and 3 12AX7's, two preamp tubes and one buffer for the reverb, I think. I plan to re-tube the amp soon (the tubes are old, from JoLida Inc, a company I don't think exists anymore), and replace the speakers. The original speakers are Celestion 70's, which honestly are garbage (the amp still sounds great, but could be a lot better AND it could be a lot louder). I do frequently gig without a backup, but honestly I don't recommend doing this, no matter how rock solid your equipment is. You never know what'll happen. // 10
Overall Impression: This amp is great for what I do - indie, blues, and solo stuff. I run a lot of pedals for the Indie band - Morley Bad Horsie 2 wah, Boss DS-1, Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, Electro-harmonix LPB-1 (boost), Boss CEB-3 Bass Chorus (sounds great on guitar), DigiTech CF-7 Chorus Factory (set as a flanger), 1978 Electro-Harmonix Small Stone, Line 6 DL4, and an Ernie Ball Volume Pedal at the end. The amp takes all these effects well. For blues, I use the clean channel with a boost and a wah. All sounds great. This amp is supposed to be comparable (or an exact copy) to a Mesa Boogie F-150, but never having played one I can't comment. All in all, though, it's a great amp, especially if you have that damn footswitch. // 9