Price paid: $ 1500
Purchased from: Carvin
Features — 9
Carvin is one of those great finds that sells customer-direct in order to offer music gear at half the price while delivering twice the goods. That comment is not an understatement as I tried several 8-string guitars before choosing on the Carvin DC800, and the quality of craftsmanship and play with other manufacturers was nothing close to the Carvin, even at a higher price point.
Built in the USA, the number of options for any of Carvin's guitars allows for significant customization, in both parts and finish. Although I invested $1500 in this guitar, the base model is about $1k (the rest was bells and whistles, including diamond fret inlays, a triple stained AAAA quilted maple top, stainless steel frets, black chrome hardware, natural edge binding, etc.). In other words, buying a base model of about $1k plays and sounds the same - and owning several high-end guitars (many custom built), I will vouch that Carvin's quality is up there with guitars twice the price.
This DC800 has 24 medium jumbo frets on an unblemished ebony fingerboard. The solid alder body has a maple through neck (other wood options are available for both body and neck) that has been pre-conditioned in a de-humidification chamber to remove any stress in the wood, to prevent future warping and twisting (and fitted with a dual-action, fully-adjustable truss rod).
The neck also boasts a semi-flat 20-inch radius (super comfy, even with small hands) that is only 2.15-inches wide at the nut and 3.03-inches at the 24th fret. As well, the neck has a graphite-teflon nut to allow smooth movement of the strings without binding (I do plenty of string bending, and this guitar stays in tune with hours of play!). The headstock adds a cool, modern look, with a straight string pull design that reduces string breakage when playing aggressively. And Carvin uses their locking tuners with a 19:1 ratio for ultra-fine and stay-in-tune playing. The body has excellent lines and design with its straight body edges, and with a deep stomach relief cut in the rear for relaxed playing. Access to the upper frets is one of the best I've experienced, helped by the small and super-smooth neck heel and, of course, with a 27-inch scale you have that extra bit of spacing in the upper frets for faster and easier playing without that cramped finger feel.
Carvin uses their in-house hipshot style hardtail bridge, with strings fed through the body. The bridge is fully adjustable for height and intonation and offers great sustain. The base model comes with direct-mount A80 humbucking active pickups, although passive pickups are available. Not having a guitar with active pickups, I took the plunge with this guitar and I'm certainly glad I did. Just about any guitar can produce clear highs, but the DC800 produces very clear mids and, much to my surprise, very clear and growling lows - even when using the neck pickup - absolutely no muddiness.
Other active electronics include a master volume and passive tone control with a 3-way lever-style pickup selector. Most notably, the A80 active pickups provide exceptional tonal variety, suitable for all styles of playing (even jazz playing sounds good on this guitar; with volume turned low, the notes still ring true and clear). The DC800 also comes with Carvin's ultimate soft case, a gig bag design that is light in weight, yet padded to prevent damage when dropped or banged around. This is not a typical gig "bag," but certainly something closer to case without that case weight.
Sound — 9
I developed a sound and written review on YouTube so that readers/listeners can get a better idea of the energy produced by this guitar, played without an amp and direct through a Boss GT-Pro and into KRK Rokit 8 monitor speakers (watch it below).
My playing is very eclectic, ranging from ambient, to jazz fusion, to metal (although more of the Vai melodic riff type than djent). The tonal capabilities of the DC800, along with its passive tone control and highly responsive volume control enables me to integrate various styles within my compositions. The volume can be turned down to almost off, and still there is enough volume and color in tone that it sounds more passive in nature, but without fading away in the mix.
This is not to suggest that the DC800 will sound and respond as well as a Gibson 335 when playing softer selections, but that this guitar has enough subtleties and quality in tone to get a good passing grade whether playing jazz and more intense prog-rock or metal. But what places this guitar in higher regard than a standard 6-string for styles like jazz is the two additional lower-registry strings, which allow bass comp lines. This is true of any 8-string guitar, but I was amazed as to the clarity of tone coming from the A80 active pickups. In fact, this is the first guitar whereby I am encouraged to use both the neck and middle (neck + bridge) pickup selections. Usually I steer clear of the neck pickup on most guitars, but this one is so clear and offers great tone.
As stated, the body is alder, and so this gives a slightly darker tone than maple; nonetheless, the resonance and harmonics remain very edgy and bold without coming across overly-bright. It may be both the high standards of electronics and pickups Carvin uses, but this guitar is unusually quiet. As well, the quality of the volume and tone control is the most solid and smooth I have felt - heavy-duty in touch.
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
I asked for low action and that is what I was given (although, I suspect, that came as standard). Carvin is known for a professional set-up and they did not disappoint. Every edge and corner was detailed with zero flaws in the finish and binding. The frets were as smooth as can be, both on the edges and length-wise (a perfect angle and curve), and with the best fret dressing of all my guitars. Together with the ebony fretboard, fingers glide as though playing on glass, and after a few weeks of playing I have yet to apply any fretboard finish to increase its slickness. Options vary, but I did have a black burst edge with my crimson red, triple-stained AAAA maple quilt top, and with a back stain to match. The headstock also was ordered to match the body.
Carvin has a YouTube video on its finishing process, which starts with wood sealer, followed by three coats of primer, two coats of paint (and upward of three coats of stain for wood-grain tops), and finally a clear coat. In the end a deep mirror-like finish is achieved.
Reliability & Durability — 10
Carvin is known for its quality and standards, but typically is not as well known as some larger manufacturers since Cavin typically is not found in music stores (to my knowledge they are not sold in retail stores at all, and sold direct to keep pricing down). The DC800, for example, is played by some key instrumentalists, including Javier Reyes (Animals As Leaders), Kim SeHwang (New Experiment Team) and Tiego Della Vega. And then you have Carvin signature models for Alan Holdsworth, Frank Gambale, and Jason Becker. The point being, these guitars are meant to withstand live playing with hardware and construction meant to last, but at a price that is a fraction of what you get in music stores.
Overall Impression — 9
The overall tone and quality of sound matches my musical directions, and although there are different subtleties that can be captured better with other makes of guitars in my collection (since every guitar has its own unique characteristics), the additional low registry notes expand one's playing and composition significantly. When I played some recent recorded compositions for friends and a fiancée who has heard my previous work, the first question asked was "what guitar is that?" I tend to use the same 2-3 patches in my Boss GT-Pro, and yet the tone and "growl" that came from the DC800 caused some ears to perk up.
As important, the body thickness and size of this 8-string is smaller and far less intimidating (and easier to play) than other popular 8-string choices from other companies, and at a weight of only 8.6 pounds. This must be a common observation since when asked on various "extended string" guitar forums, the DC800 always came on top as the best choice in quality and feel for the price.
I love options, and one thing that would take this guitar over the edge is a trem bar. Such bridges do exist, although I'm uncertain as to how well (and quiet) they work with 8-string guitars, and particularly when playing metal with overdrive and distortion. Nonetheless, it would be an option which I'd be willing to pay; and with a "play and return if you're not happy" guarantee, this guitar was well worth the risk.