Do you remember the first time you thumbed through one of Carvin’s catalogs or perused their site? If you’re like me, you were probably blown away at the wide range of products this versatile company builds. We recently had the chance to look at the newest member of Carvin’s bass family: the PB4, the company’s take on a storied classic.
Carvin into History
Opening the included hardshell case, I found a traditional-looking, P-bass-style instrument (hence the “PB” name), but soon found out that this was no mere copy. The jet-black finish of my U.S.-built PB4 looked very nice, and I dug the matching headstock.
Before we get to into the build of the PB4, we must first talk about the, well, build of the PB4. Carvin has a downright dizzying array of options for anyone wanting a bass (or guitar) that differs from a stock model. Pretty much everything can be customized on the PB4, though we requested a close-to-stock version for review. Carvin makes it easy to build the bass of your liking with a just a few clicks. If there’s anything you don’t like about a stock instrument—finish, electronics, body wood, inlays, whatever—chances are there’s an option that can make you a happy player.
Our review model has an of alder body (standard), and is outfitted with an optional P/J passive-pickup configuration utilizing two volume controls and one tone control. It should be noted that Carvin recently switched the standard control configuration on their two-pickup PB basses to master volume and blend dials instead of separate volumes. Separate volumes will now be available as an option.
Although the body shape is familiar, the PB4 felt less chunky and a bit more refined than a standard P. Some may miss that sense of mass and attitude, and some may not.
The 34"-scale bass has 20 medium-jumbo frets and a thin, almost Jazz-like neck constructed of Eastern hard-rock maple and topped with a rosewood fretboard. The 4-bolt neck, finished in tung oil, feels lightning-fast, and the string spacing is comfortable for fingers, picks, and thumbs. All joints are clean and finished, and the frets are perfect. There isn’t a gap anywhere on this bass. It was very apparent that even this “stock” model was constructed with care and excellent quality control.
Unplugged, the PB4’s sustain is remarkable (no doubt aided by the string-through design). The light yet balanced 8 ¼-pound instrument is definitely a candidate for a three-set bass.
I ran the PB4 through a Warwick CCL with the EQ flat. I started out soloing the SPC P-style pickup with the PB4’s volume turned all the way up and the tone control about halfway up. The PB4 hit me with a smooth, even tone that leaned toward vintage warmth. While the tone wasn’t quite as earth-shattering as a vintage P’s, the pickup sounded really good at this setting.
I rolled the tone knob all the way up, adding a touch of modern “point" to the sound, yet the result wasn’t overbearing. This slightly more aggressive setting is ready for a plectrum or thumb. Runs above the 12th fret remained even and full, and I probably could have played all day using just this pickup.
Next I dialed out the neck pickup and cranked the bridge pickup. With the tone knob all the way down, it’s a rather wet-blanket sound, but pushing the pot to the halfway point tightened things up and offered fingerstyle pep. However, the bridge pickup tone was not necessarily my favorite. For me, the single J-style pup is a spice for the soup, not the meat.
The bass opens up considerably when the pickups are used in tandem—so much so that it’s hard at times to believe that the PB4’s pickups are passive. They have all the characteristics of their 9-volt-sucking cousins, without all that battery cavity baggage. By maxing the three dials, I got to another tonal high with a great sound that balanced low-frequency warmth and high-end snap.
As I continued playing, I found myself switching the bridge pickup on and off. I liked having the flexibility of the bridge pickup, but with a small reservation: When combined with the split-coil, the volume control for the bridge pickup seemed almost like an on/off switch rather than a level control. If you want to truly tailor your tone with the bridge pickup, you may have a hard time here. The upside is that the bass sounds really good with the bridge pickup on or off, and at just a slight factory upcharge for the P/J configuration, you might enjoy the added tonal options. Also, with Carvin changing the standard setup to include master volume and pickup blend controls instead of separate volumes, dialing in a blended tone should be much easier.
Carvin’s PB4 is a nice take on a classic design. I was impressed by its sustain and the output of the pickups, which made me wonder how an active set would sound. The combination of a thin neck with a light body left me wanting a bit more mass, though that could just be my personal preference. The upside is that smaller-framed players and those with smaller hands are likely to dig this bass a lot.
Carvin is a great place to turn for an alternative to the usual bass suspects, and their new PB4 certainly merits consideration. The street price is budget-friendly, though tacking on custom appointments can really add up. The mail-order scenario might not be for everybody, but Carvin provides a 10-day trial period to determine if the bass you ordered is for you. My guess: You’ll probably keep it.
Watch the Review Demo: