#1
My search for a reasonably priced guitar with stainless steel frets landed me on the Carvin/Kiesel website. I'm looking at the A6 Aries and I'm having one of those, 'Is this too good to be true?' moments. It's made in the USA, you have a zillion body and neck wood options, tons of fret options, etc., etc. Not saying a $1000 guitar is cheap, but I went through the little customizing gizmo they have on their website, and my 'dream combo' of woods, frets and finishes came in at about $1,100. That's cheaper than an upper-end LTD. The only thing I kind of raised my eyebrows at was the lack of pickup options, but that's easy enough to change.

Are these guys the real deal? Price seems really low for a, "You tell us what you want and we'll build it special for you" guitar. Can someone who has one comment on build quality?
#2
They're the real deal.

The one consistent knock on Carvin before the Kiesel corporate ID changeover was that their pickups tended towards the vanilla. Not bad, but nothing special. Supposedly, the Kiesel Lithium pickups are killer, so that complaint may no longer be as true as it once was.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#4
If you want a custom guitar for less than $4k, Carvin is a good choice. High build quality and no BS.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#5
Kiesel/Carvin make superb guitars! I'm currently saving up for a DC600 neck thru and it came out to 1650$ so it'll be a while...
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#7
As someone who owns a Carvin, I couldn't recommend any other brand higher than them.
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#8
Quote by PB26
My search for a reasonably priced guitar with stainless steel frets landed me on the Carvin/Kiesel website. I'm looking at the A6 Aries and I'm having one of those, 'Is this too good to be true?' moments. It's made in the USA, you have a zillion body and neck wood options, tons of fret options, etc., etc. Not saying a $1000 guitar is cheap, but I went through the little customizing gizmo they have on their website, and my 'dream combo' of woods, frets and finishes came in at about $1,100. That's cheaper than an upper-end LTD. The only thing I kind of raised my eyebrows at was the lack of pickup options, but that's easy enough to change.

Are these guys the real deal? Price seems really low for a, "You tell us what you want and we'll build it special for you" guitar. Can someone who has one comment on build quality?


Not only are they the real deal, but they have stupid low resale values due to being customs so often you can end up scoring a loaded USA built custom shop instrument for less than a new Epiphone. I have 4 Carvins, priced new from $1400 to $2300 and I paid between $450-$650 for each. They're worth it at the new price, and 5X worth it at the used.
Custom guitars, vintage amps, boutique pedals. Blah, blah, blah.
#9
They are awesome for the price. They do things a little bit differently and are doing things most other american companies aren't doing.
Prs se Holcomb is the answer
#10
Quote by AcousticMirror
They are awesome for the price. They do things a little bit differently and are doing things most other american companies aren't doing.


Actually, a lot different. Most other American companies aren't doing semi-custom work in the US, most aren't offering the wide variety of woods and options, and most aren't offering direct-from-the-factory shipping and prices.
#11
Quote by CustomAxe
Not only are they the real deal, but they have stupid low resale values due to being customs so often you can end up scoring a loaded USA built custom shop instrument for less than a new Epiphone. I have 4 Carvins, priced new from $1400 to $2300 and I paid between $450-$650 for each. They're worth it at the new price, and 5X worth it at the used.



^^^ no doubt ^^
#12
Quote by dannyalcatraz
They're the real deal.

The one consistent knock on Carvin before the Kiesel corporate ID changeover was that their pickups tended towards the vanilla. Not bad, but nothing special. Supposedly, the Kiesel Lithium pickups are killer, so that complaint may no longer be as true as it once was.

This was accurate but lately they've been growing a little too fast so there have been some quality blips. I wouldn't personally go for them at the moment.
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Quote by Anonden
You CAN play anything with anything....but some guitars sound right for some things, and not for others. Single coils sound retarded for metal, though those who are apeshit about harpsichord probably beg to differ.
#13
Fair observation. But they DO still have a pretty decent return policy, though I have heard you might have to work a little harder to take advantage of it than in years past.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#14
Quote by oneblackened
This was accurate but lately they've been growing a little too fast so there have been some quality blips. I wouldn't personally go for them at the moment.


Quote by dannyalcatraz
Fair observation. But they DO still have a pretty decent return policy, though I have heard you might have to work a little harder to take advantage of it than in years past.


Anecdotal and hearsay, and as far as I'm aware, none of it particularly accurate when making generalizations.

Carvin has, at times, had issues. Once was when their hero painter left, and some of the paintwork while the new folks were getting up to speed was less than wonderful.

The new models have been coming quickly, but I'm not sure that we're witnessing issues due to growth, but perhaps an occasional blip due to change, whether that's a replacement worker unaccustomed to the process or whatever.

The return policy hasn't changed, but the number of Option 50s seems to have done so. And I'm not sure that folks ordering these understand that these thwart the return policy. As with any custom-built instrument, the power to make beautiful is also the power to make ugly, and when a "brilliant idea" turns out not to be so brilliant in practice, some customers want to return the guitar. But when they've been warned ahead of time that their choices disallow returns, there are still some that don't want to take responsibility for their follies, and their attitude is often, "I don't care what I agreed to, or that I wanted what I wanted then, I don't want it now and I want you to take the hit for it." And the next thing you know, they're grumping on a forum somewhere.

I'm at seven Carvins currently, with some of them new in the late '80's. Aside from one tung-oiled koa guitar, all are spectacular. You can't talk some folks out of tung-oil on the body of a guitar, but when that guitar is played often, tung-oil is a lousy choice. On an under-the-bed queen, maybe fine. That tung oiled guitar plays extraordinarily well, and some day I'll have it sanded down and finished properly. The rest *all* play extraordinarily well.

I've yet to need to change the pickups on a Carvin, despite the Internet Wisdom that dubs them vanilla. It remains the most popular flavor for a reason.
#15
Anecdotal and hearsay, and as far as I'm aware, none of it particularly accurate when making generalizations.

Anecdotal, yes, but not hearsay. There's a poster here who did have return policy problems with a legit QC control issue on his Kiesel. It was properly resolved, but it took more than a few phone calls to set things right, which is a tad out of character with the experiences of other Carvin owners I know.

That's a concern.

Not enough to put me off buying their stuff, mind you. As far as I'm concerned, it was an aberration. Someone in Carvin's complaints department had a bad day. Or was a trainee. But it is still something a buyer should be aware of in case it is a developing situation.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
Last edited by dannyalcatraz at Jun 14, 2016,
#16
Quote by dspellman
Anecdotal and hearsay, and as far as I'm aware, none of it particularly accurate when making generalizations.

Carvin has, at times, had issues. Once was when their hero painter left, and some of the paintwork while the new folks were getting up to speed was less than wonderful.

The new models have been coming quickly, but I'm not sure that we're witnessing issues due to growth, but perhaps an occasional blip due to change, whether that's a replacement worker unaccustomed to the process or whatever.


They've had WAY more builds lately because of aggressive marketing, and they just aren't equipped to handle it at their current size. Their build times have ballooned and I have seen some pretty major finish blunders (among others, bubbling on a Vader, a completely screwed up photo match, and very badly applied black paint "binding" on a TL70).

The fretwork on the TL70 I mentioned was also atrocious according to my friend who bought it and is a very competent tech.
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Quote by Anonden
You CAN play anything with anything....but some guitars sound right for some things, and not for others. Single coils sound retarded for metal, though those who are apeshit about harpsichord probably beg to differ.
#17
I have two Carvins. I ordered a CS6 back in 2009, and recently ordered a Jason Becker model. Both are great guitars. I like the shape of the necks. They are very comfortable to play. I really don't care about resale because I will not sell these. I give them two thumbs up each.
#18
Quote by dannyalcatraz
Anecdotal, yes, but not hearsay. There's a poster here who did have return policy problems with a legit QC control issue on his Kiesel. It was properly resolved, but it took more than a few phone calls to set things right, which is a tad out of character with the experiences of other Carvin owners I know.

That's a concern.

Not enough to put me off buying their stuff, mind you. As far as I'm concerned, it was an aberration. Someone in Carvin's complaints department had a bad day. Or was a trainee. But it is still something a buyer should be aware of in case it is a developing situation.


Best to watch the Carvin Forum (within the Carvin website). When/if there IS an issue, it'll show up there long before it makes UG, MLP, TGP, etc. It's difficult to gauge single stories, since you're getting one side.

On the Carvin website, Carvin itself will sometimes weigh in. One guy there (sometime back) complained bitterly about not being able to return a guitar. Turned out he'd ordered two Option 50's on the same guitar (Option 50 means, "We'll do it, but you're on your own if you decide you don't like it.") His position was that something *else* was wrong with the guitar and that he should be allowed to return it. No photos, etc. As the story further evolved, it turned out that this was his third guitar, and that he apparently believed he could simply order guitars, use them for 10 days and return them ad infinitum. He'd order, take it to a gig, show it off in his favorite forums, and then send it back. Before he ordered the third one, Carvin had made sure he understood that this was his last go, and that the Option 50's negated the usual 10-day trial. He'd nonetheless assumed he could game the process and tried to return after the 10 days. Then he changed his tune and suggested that there was a glitch OTHER than the Option 50's (which would make it a manufacturing defect and, thus, returnable). So he put a ding in it. Unfortunately, his own NGD photos undid him, since the ding appeared in none of them.

Carvin gets these guys occasionally, and after a couple of them in close succession, the sales department can develop a hypersensitive BS meter and the next slightly suspect customer trips it and gets singed.
#19
Quote by oneblackened
They've had WAY more builds lately because of aggressive marketing, and they just aren't equipped to handle it at their current size. Their build times have ballooned and I have seen some pretty major finish blunders (among others, bubbling on a Vader, a completely screwed up photo match, and very badly applied black paint "binding" on a TL70).

The fretwork on the TL70 I mentioned was also atrocious according to my friend who bought it and is a very competent tech.


Interesting. And highly unusual. Carvin's fretwork is traditionally among the best in the business.
What's a "photo match?"
#20
You send them a photo of what you want and they replicate it. Some guy on sevenstring wanted an aquaburst finish and sent them some photos of an Agile guitar with one and got some horrendous mess back.
#21
Quote by JackalUK
You send them a photo of what you want and they replicate it. Some guy on sevenstring wanted an aquaburst finish and sent them some photos of an Agile guitar with one and got some horrendous mess back.


Hopefully you're not talking about Konstantine. I think he's become legendary. I haven't followed his story all that closely, but I think he asked for an Agile Aquaburst, but over maple burl. Then he complained bitterly that he couldn't have known that maple burl, which is a noticeably darker wood than maple, would come out differently than he expected, and that someone at Kiesel should have mentioned that. There was a lot else that went down, and he's no longer allowed to order guitars, period.

I have a guitar that has a maple neck-through construction. The neck is flamed maple. The wings are mahogany core with maple burl caps top and bottom, and the whole guitar is simply cleared over. The photography may not be the best (and the clear finish has ambered a bit since 1974), but it'll give you a pretty good idea of what the color differences are between the woods.



What he wanted was an Aquaburst like the one on this Intrepid:



And he screamed when the center wasn't light enough. Check out the photo of the burl, above, and let me know if you think it could EVER have been that light.

When you order custom, it helps if you know what you're doing when you order. When you order something *specific*, there's some assumption that you understand what you're asking for. And if it comes out unexpected, it helps if you take some responsibility for your specific request.
#22
Quote by PB26
The only thing I kind of raised my eyebrows at was the lack of pickup options, but that's easy enough to change.


Most people don't realize that Carvin is one of the first aftermarket pickup manufacturers; they were making pickups LONG before people like DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan. Like Gibson or Fender, they've traditionally had their own pickups on their own guitars. Until about '88 or '89, they made specific guitar models in specific colors and woods, just like Gibson or Fender. But around that time they began offering options, and that evolved into the current model, where each guitar was a special order. But with Carvin pickups.
#24
Quote by dspellman
Best to watch the Carvin Forum (within the Carvin website). When/if there IS an issue, it'll show up there long before it makes UG, MLP, TGP, etc. It's difficult to gauge single stories, since you're getting one side.

On the Carvin website, Carvin itself will sometimes weigh in. One guy there (sometime back) complained bitterly about not being able to return a guitar. Turned out he'd ordered two Option 50's on the same guitar (Option 50 means, "We'll do it, but you're on your own if you decide you don't like it.") His position was that something *else* was wrong with the guitar and that he should be allowed to return it. No photos, etc. As the story further evolved, it turned out that this was his third guitar, and that he apparently believed he could simply order guitars, use them for 10 days and return them ad infinitum. He'd order, take it to a gig, show it off in his favorite forums, and then send it back. Before he ordered the third one, Carvin had made sure he understood that this was his last go, and that the Option 50's negated the usual 10-day trial. He'd nonetheless assumed he could game the process and tried to return after the 10 days. Then he changed his tune and suggested that there was a glitch OTHER than the Option 50's (which would make it a manufacturing defect and, thus, returnable). So he put a ding in it. Unfortunately, his own NGD photos undid him, since the ding appeared in none of them.

Carvin gets these guys occasionally, and after a couple of them in close succession, the sales department can develop a hypersensitive BS meter and the next slightly suspect customer trips it and gets singed.


This didn't seem to be anything like that. Not an Option 50, justt a Keisel with some basic QC mistakes that should never have left the factory...even if it HAD been an Option 50.

As for mfg message boards, I rarely use them. I think I've been on Reverends' 6 times, and everybody knows how I feel about their stuff.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#25
I did stop by the Kiesel forum and got a little spooked by the stories about saddles pinging. Not gonna let that sway me necessarily but I'll need to think this through a little harder than I first expected.
#26
Don't be dissuaded- they're excellent guitars with a good customer service track record. It is just that right now, they're a buy but verify, as opposed to the buy and fuggedaboudit.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#27
Quote by dspellman
Hopefully you're not talking about Konstantine. I think he's become legendary. I haven't followed his story all that closely, but I think he asked for an Agile Aquaburst, but over maple burl. Then he complained bitterly that he couldn't have known that maple burl, which is a noticeably darker wood than maple, would come out differently than he expected, and that someone at Kiesel should have mentioned that. There was a lot else that went down, and he's no longer allowed to order guitars, period.


I followed that whole thing on SSO.

He was in the right, honestly. He asked for something and didn't get remotely close to what he asked for.
Current Gear:
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PRS SE Custom 24 (Suhr SSH+/SSV)
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Audient iD22 interface
Peavey Revalver 4, UAD Friedman BE100/DS40
Adam S3A monitors
Quote by Anonden
You CAN play anything with anything....but some guitars sound right for some things, and not for others. Single coils sound retarded for metal, though those who are apeshit about harpsichord probably beg to differ.
#28
Quote by dspellman
Hopefully you're not talking about Konstantine. I think he's become legendary. I haven't followed his story all that closely, but I think he asked for an Agile Aquaburst, but over maple burl. Then he complained bitterly that he couldn't have known that maple burl, which is a noticeably darker wood than maple, would come out differently than he expected, and that someone at Kiesel should have mentioned that. There was a lot else that went down, and he's no longer allowed to order guitars, period.

I have a guitar that has a maple neck-through construction. The neck is flamed maple. The wings are mahogany core with maple burl caps top and bottom, and the whole guitar is simply cleared over. The photography may not be the best (and the clear finish has ambered a bit since 1974), but it'll give you a pretty good idea of what the color differences are between the woods.



What he wanted was an Aquaburst like the one on this Intrepid:



And he screamed when the center wasn't light enough. Check out the photo of the burl, above, and let me know if you think it could EVER have been that light.

When you order custom, it helps if you know what you're doing when you order. When you order something *specific*, there's some assumption that you understand what you're asking for. And if it comes out unexpected, it helps if you take some responsibility for your specific request.


Is that the photomatch he used? I remember him posting something completely different.



that looks close enough to me.
Prs se Holcomb is the answer
#29
Quote by oneblackened
I followed that whole thing on SSO.

He was in the right, honestly. He asked for something and didn't get remotely close to what he asked for.


What he asked for was an aquaburst finish over maple burl. He got it. It was he who didn't understand what he was asking for.
He's looking at the Agile and thinking light interior wood, but maple burl isn't that.
There's been an endless flame war back and forth over this, already, and it's not worth reigniting.

The takeaway is that if you're going to order a custom guitar with a custom finish, you need to understand what you're asking for, you need to make sure that the people you're ordering from see the same vision you have in your head, and you need to be prepared to deal with the differences that can show up.
#30
Quote by AcousticMirror
Is that the photomatch he used? I remember him posting something completely different.

that looks close enough to me.


Nah, he used a different one. Let me see if I can find it. It was a much more gradual fade than that.

Anyway, not worth going into this again.
Current Gear:
LTD MH-400 with Gotoh GE1996T (EMG 85/60)
PRS SE Custom 24 (Suhr SSH+/SSV)
Ibanez RG3120 Prestige (Dimarzio Titans)
Squier Vintage Modified 70s Jazz V
Audient iD22 interface
Peavey Revalver 4, UAD Friedman BE100/DS40
Adam S3A monitors
Quote by Anonden
You CAN play anything with anything....but some guitars sound right for some things, and not for others. Single coils sound retarded for metal, though those who are apeshit about harpsichord probably beg to differ.
#31
I'm at seven Carvins and counting. A headless would be on my list next.

I'm not *all* that picky on finishes -- I have a Ferrari red LB75 bass, not because I ordered it that way, but because a jazz player (tweed jacket with elbow patches and a bow tie kind of guy) thought it was too "rock and roll" for what he was playing. So he went for something more "wood" colored. I've ended up with far more black guitars than I care for, mostly because I went for the guitar and its quality before I worried over the color.

Currently, I'm at a Sunset burst over quilted maple, two blacks, one pearl white and a couple of koa guitars with one having an amber flame maple cap. And the red bass.

I'm guessing that when I order the headless, I'll probably point at one of the newer-finish guitars, wave vaguely and say "Something like that..." and then wait to be surprised. I tend to be a lot more specific when it comes to fretboards, radii, fret material, etc.
#32
lol, my build came out at $1700ish. I've never played a Kiesel, but for what I'm hearing about them they sound excellent, especially with the custom build. So what's wrong with the tung oil finish if you play it a-lot, as someone mentioned?
#33
Quote by dragonzrmetal
lol, my build came out at $1700ish. I've never played a Kiesel, but for what I'm hearing about them they sound excellent, especially with the custom build. So what's wrong with the tung oil finish if you play it a-lot, as someone mentioned?


I've got a solid koa done in tung oil. The whole thing. The problem is that they get filthy, right down into the wood, and tung oil does nothing, really, to keep out moisture. At some point I'm going to have to sand down the entire guitar and redo it (probably in a polyester gloss for the body, semi-matte for the back of the neck. At the same time, I've got another Carvin with a koa back and neck (in those days, koa was considered a cheap (!) but prettier substitute for mahogany on some of these guitars) that's had a good gloss finish on it, and the thing looks like brand new.

I can't get rid of the solid koa guitar, nor can I have them make a new one (maybe Jeff would now, but it was a solid "no" for years). It was the only year that they made a 25.5" scale neck-through guitar (1991). The issue was that it was a total bust at the time (Carvin's customers were all into 24.75" 24-fret guitars and the 25.5" scale 22-fret guitar was such a resounding bust that they refused to even *consider* making another when I asked. It's such an amazing player that it's got a home. But the one absolutely definite thing I don't like about it is the tung oil finish. Hate hate hate hate.
#34
Quote by oneblackened
Nah, he used a different one. Let me see if I can find it. It was a much more gradual fade than that.

Anyway, not worth going into this again.




I wouldn't be put off buying one, real complaints seem to be few and far between and I've seen them do some fantastic stuff.
#35
I am looking at these guys for my next guitar as well. Just wondering if there are any other brands out there with this same build-it-your-way in America for a reasonable price business model.

???