Price paid: $ 300
Purchased from: Elderly Music, Lansing, MI
Sound — 7
I'm currently running a Schecter Blackjack EX with a coil-tappable Seymour Duncan JB/59 combo. This amp has a practically flawless clean channel with headroom for miles. Beautifully crisp highs, solid lows, and plenty of mid-range control make this easily the best clean channel in an amp I've ever owned (I would even say it blows my old Mesa Boogie Roadster's clean channel away). But that's not where the problem in this amp lies. The problem is in the distortion channel. For some reason, when I got this amp, the distortion channel sounded horribly fuzzy, and lacked any sort of definition. I found out later that the reason for this is that Carvin decided to add a solid state clipping diode in the preamp's signal path, and once you turn channel 2's gain beyond about 9 o' clock, it kicks in, and you lose all the rich tube warmth and get nothing but a solid state massacre. There's no real way to describe the sound other than awful. I play mostly metal and hard rock, and made the mistake of not reading much into this amp before I bought it. It was an impulse buy because it was cheap and I wanted a tube amp. I rectified this problem by putting an AMT Electonic R-1 preamp into the effects return to bypass the amps preamp. This is where my issue with no master volume comes in. With no master volume on the amp, there is one volume with the preamp bypassed, and it cannot be modified when the R-1 is turned off (in bypass), once activated (for my distortion), you can modify the volume, but unless you keep it at halfway, there's a drastic volume difference between bypassed and activated. But, bypassing the preamp has gotten rid of the solid state clipping diode, so I'm not complaining too much. I just have to get a volume pedal now, also. Points would be higher if I didn't have to get other things to make the sound remotely workable for my style. On the other side of this, however, now that I have everything set up, this monster screams like a banshee. She sounds beautiful now and I have begun to second guess my original decision to find a replacement amp.
Overall Impression — 8
I've been playing for about 10 years now, and have owned countless amps and guitars, and this is definitely not my favorite amplifier of all time (I still miss my old Mesa Boogie), but sometimes life gets in the way and you gotta sell your stuff to pay the bills (not so much anymore though). If you're looking for a nice clean amp, this is your amplifier. The clean channel is worth the original $600 USD sticker price alone. I do wish I had decided to bring my gear along and play it before I bought it, though. I had to spend an extra $200 to make the lead channel workable. If it were lost/stolen/broken, I would probably not buy it again unless I had no other choice. Part of that is because of the nightmare the lead channel induced, and part of that is that I'm always on the lookout for something new and interesting. Hope this review is helpful!
Reliability & Durability — 9
I would absolutely use this amp in a gig without a backup. The one good thing about this amp is that it is built to Carvin's quality standards. The only problem I've had with it is if another bandmate handles it, they tend to be a little on the rough side of things, and the tubes have come slightly unseated before as a result. However, other than that, 0 problems with reliability. Nice rugged tolex and solid knobs, along with an easily accessible back for on the spot repairs make this a trustworthy and gig worthy amplifier.
Features — 9
Let me start my review by saying this amp is not for everyone. All tube, 2 channels, separate Treble, Mid, and Bass controls for each channel. No Master Volume on this amp, which became a problem for me later (I'll explain why below). Separate gain control for each channel (or "pre gain"). Master Reverb and effects loop. 2 speaker outs switchable from 4, 8, and 16 ohms. Bias switch for 5881's (which it came with), 6L6GC, or EL34's. 2 button footswitch (included) controls channel switching with one button, and reverb activation with other button. Now that that is out of the way, I really wish that this amplifier had a Master Volume. Feature-wise, this is my only gripe.