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Builder Profile: Carvin

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Builder Profile: Carvin


A Carvin employee hand-dresses the frets (left) while a CNC machine shapes the
neck profiles (right) for consistency.


What is the standard neck radius on the CT6?

It's a 12" radius. Though we do offer custom radius options, from 10" to 15", there is not much customization available if a Floyd bridge is chosen

How many guitars do you ship a month?

It's usually around 200, but it depends how backed up we are in production. Custom orders take priority, so that will impact production and what we can stock for the website and stores. For a number of years now, we have stretched out beyond the US and Canada with dealers getting us into stores in other parts of the world.

Tell me about your artist roster.

We've tried to maintain a roster that represents the best of the best. When you're talking about guys like Steve Vai, Alan Holdsworth, and Frank Gambale with his new signature model, we're very blessed we can please these guys with our products. They may not be mainstream radio artists, but they are players who inspire everyone who wants to play well. That means a lot to us because we want guys who are respected. One band we work with is As I lay Dying, and they were so excited to meet Frank Gambale. I didn't expect a younger band to be in awe of Frank Gambale, but his videos were very popular and influential in the ‘80s, and it’s obvious his influence hasn't changed—people still look up to him.

You manufacture some great sounding amps. Tell me about the process of amp design.

We try to maintain the models that have been popular over the years—the Vintage series in particular. They were very well received when we debuted them in ’94 or ’95, and artists like Joe Walsh have embraced them. The only change we’ve made since we released them is pulling the spring reverb tank to go with a digital one. The source for that tank was unable to provide the exact tank we had been using, so instead of re-engineering the amp, we decided to give it a go with a digital reverb.


Carvin amps throughout the years: (upper left) 1949 tube amp for lap steel; (upper right) 1960 #28-212-B; (lower left) 1980 VTX112; (lower right) current Vintage 16.

Your amps are also made in San Diego?

All our amps are made here. The old woodshop in the back, where the guitars are made, is split in two with half the room for guitars, and the other half for our cabinets. There’s another section of the building for guitar and bass amps, where we still do point-to-point soldering whenever we can on all the tube amps. We offer one solid-state amp that uses micro-components and the new realm of surface mount technology, but when it comes to guitar amps for us, it's still the old-fashioned way of assembling by hand.

You have a vast product line from guitar picks to 32-channel mixers, and studio mics to guitar amp stacks. How do you manage all that?

One of the things we employ with our model of manufacturing is what people call “lean manufacturing,” a model used by companies like Toyota. It monitors how stock gets depleted and we then build enough replenishment stock so we always know exactly how many days of inventory we have. We have an assembly line—a couple of them—and they assemble every single product that we make. Whether it's a mixer, power amp, or guitar amp, our people know how to make every single product. And not having a huge inventory has allowed us to react to sourcing parts during fluctuating economic times. We're never in a situation where we have to get rid of stock that is not moving.

Is there a Carvin Sound?

I've heard some players say that. You can be a replica of this or that—but if you clear all that away and ask yourself what a good sound is—a good amp can sound the way you want it to, if you dial it in correctly. This whole thing of amp modeling has cluttered the industry. If you take the time to actually adjust things, a good tube amp will respond to the things you do. If you turn the gain up and the volume down, you get a different response. With amp modeling, a player may not get the response they want because the amp tries to emulate what people thought a certain amp sounded like at a certain setting. We're not against modeling, but there is no substitution for plugging into a real tube amp. If you know how to use an amp as a player, there are things you can get out of it that are unexpected. To me, an amp is also an instrument you have to learn how to play.
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