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August Issue
more... Builder ProfileAugust 2011Carvin

Builder Profile: Carvin

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Builder Profile: Carvin


This mid-'70s SS75B featured solid maple construction and a Bigsby vibrato.
How did selling guitars from other companies evolve into Carvin making and selling their own guitars?

He went to Hofner and started importing parts—necks and semi-hollowbody components. Those were the first electrics Lowell made in the ’50s. Then he went into full-blown production in the ’60s when his son Mark Kiesel came onboard. By the ’70s, Mark started designing guitars, while Carson was put in charge of electronics, amp design, mixers, and pro sound.

How long did Lowell Kiesel stay with the company?

Lowell stayed involved in pickup design into the early ’70s. His sons and grandkids run the company now.

What was the genesis of the 11-pole pickups?

When you bend a string, you won't lose any signal beyond the coverage of a particular pole piece. Even in our covered pickups, we pot in wax and maintain the 11 poles. To our knowledge, Mark Kiesel was the first to design an 11-pole pickup.


Carvin's AP11 single-coil pickups showcase the company's 11-pole design. These modern pickups are designed to be identical to Carvin's original AP6 pickups from the '50s and '60s.

Who designs your products today?

Carson is the CEO and head engineer, and he oversees all production as far as electronics, amps, and pro sound. Mark is in charge of all guitar designs, including pickups, and he also designs new headstocks and bodies. Additionally, Mark oversees the quality of production and new ideas.


Lowell and Mark Kiesel in the Carvin factory in 2006. Lowell passed away on December 29, 2009 at age 94.

Is it safe to assume your custom guitar methodology is popular with your customers?

Yes, and Mark prides himself on offering the biggest available selection to the public. With some custom shops, you're paying a huge premium and waiting months and months for a guitar. Mark decided that if you want to buy a custom instrument, you're not going to pay more than you would for a factory-built model off the wall.

What is the average wait for a custom guitar ordered from your website?

Average wait is four to six weeks.

What happens if the customer changes his/her mind?

Whether pre-built or custom-ordered, customers have ten days to evaluate it from the day they receive it. A guitar can be sent back for any reason, or sent in for a modification if you want to change something.

And if a guitar comes back, what happens to it?

If a guitar comes back, it goes into inventory. It's no different than going down to a Guitar Center where dozens of people have played a particular guitar—except in our case, it's only one. If it comes back, we give it a fresh set of strings and a setup. Since we have a number of ways of selling direct to the public—including the factory showrooms in Hollywood, Santa Ana, and San Diego—it will go to one of our stores or online in the Guitars-in-Stock section of our website.

What percentage of guitars come back?

It's very small. The fact that we are not in every store, and market direct to the public—you have to know who we are. It is a bit of a challenge for us, so we have to be that much better. Not only do we have to make a guitar that is desirable, but make it so good that when you pick it up the first time, you don't want to put it down. The reasons guitars have come back recently are often due to an economic thing. The customer has bitten off more than they can chew—it’s not that they don't like the guitar.
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