Quick Hit: Carvin X1 Tube Preamp Review

Vai’s “Blue Powder” amp gets distilled into a hefty-ass pedal with convenient recording and practice capabilities.

*Recorded using an Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX with Curtis Novak Jazzmaster Widerange pickups going into a Jaguar HC50 miked with a Royer R-121 feeding an Apogee Duet going into GarageBand with no EQ-ing, compression, or effects.
Clip 1: Bridge pickup with X1 bypassed, then with lead channel engaged and master at 3, bass at 8.5, mid at 7.5, treble at 6, presence at 10, drive and lead at 6, and graphic EQ engaged with 75 Hz at +2 dB, 150 Hz at -4 dB, 500 Hz at +2 dB, 1.5 kHz at +1 dB, and 3 kHz at -3 dB.
Clip 2: Bridge and neck pickups with X1 bypassed, then with rhythm channel engaged and rhythm control at 9, master at 3, bass at 8.5, mid at 7.5, treble at 5, presence at 10, drive and lead at 6, and graphic EQ engaged with 75 Hz at +2 dB, 150 Hz at -4 dB, 500 Hz at +2 dB, 1.5 kHz at +1 dB, and 3 kHz at -3 dB.

 

Ratings

Pros:
Great variety of tube-y clean and dirty tones. Killer EQ-ing, switching, and connection options. Hefty construction.

Cons:
Huge footprint. Power requirements (12V, 1,000 ma) may hamper pedalboard plans. Pricey.

Street:
$449

Carvin X1 Tube Preamp
carvinaudio.com


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I’ve never played through the now-discontinued Carvin X100B tube amp, but to me Steve Vai never sounded better than on the stripped-down 1986 track “Blue Powder,” which was recorded to showcase its capabilities. He soared in his inimitable way—but with a tonal immediacy and intimacy that seemed missing through larger rigs.

My listening tastes and tone preferences have long since shifted away from guitar-hero shred. Even so, Carvin’s new X1 Tube Preamp—which aims to replicate the X100B’s tones—wowed me. With clean and dirty channels driven by two 12AX7 preamp tubes, a full EQ (bass, mid, treble, and presence knobs), and the ability to use footswitches to switch channels, engage a lead-channel boost, or activate a 5-band graphic EQ capable of drastically re-voicing either or both channels, the X1 offers a truly impressive array of tones ranging from spongy, beautifully compressed cleans to crunchy grit or high-gain sounds perfect for singing leads or evil metal.

Meanwhile, the “cab-voiced/phones” jack lets you record or practice with analog cab-emulation circuitry (2x12 or 4x12) that’s truly dynamic: Rather than sounding like some blanket of digital EQ-ing B.S., it responds to changes in master volume like a real amp. And the speaker output’s 1 watt facilitates late-night practice that can get loud enough to wake loved ones. There’s a bypassable buffered effects loop, too!

Test Gear: Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX with Curtis Novak Jazzmaster Widerange pickups, ESP LTD SN-1000FR with Fishman Fluence Modern humbuckers, Jaguar HC50, closed-back 1x12 with ceramic Weber Silver Bell, Beyer-Dynamic DT 880 Pro headphones.

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