Carvin’s roster of endorsees tells you plenty about the company’s basses. Slap and jazz technicians, Brian Bromberg and Bunny Brunel both have Carvin signature models, while Bon Jovi bassist, Hugh McDonald also uses the US-made instruments. Turning to YouTube, here are plenty of bassists recording on webcams with a slap-happy thumb. You see numerous jazz wizards, and funk enthusiasts jamming on Carvin products. So when a stylish, black leather hard case, embossed with the Carvin logo, arrived at BGM’s headquarters, we had a fairly clear picture of what the instrument inside would offer. Still, we were intrigued to find out whether our review model, the SB5000F, would it live up to the hype in its established jazz, funk and pop-rock setting.
Carvin SB5000 basses are crafted in the company’s San Diego workshop, with a vast range of configurations available – particularly if your pockets are well lined. Luxury add-ons include quilted maple and Californian walnut woodwork, along with fretboard inlays and pearl-capped knobs.
The model on review is a custom build fretless. With a black swamp ash body, white pickguard and silver hardware, it’s very easy on the eye. The familiar offset curvature at the bottom of the body is the classic J-bass configuration and subtle contouring continues this theme. The top part of the body, however, has its own unique stamp.
Both horns flare away from the body, and there is an extensive cutaway on the bottom side of the neck, enabling comfortable access to the top of the 22-‘fret’ rosewood fingerboard. The top cutaway would benefit from being an inch deeper, to further aid access to the very top end of the bottom strings.
It’s classy and familiar, with no distractingly flash or ostentatious aesthetics. Close inspection of the neck reveals some nice wood graining, and the model’s serial number is even engraved at the 21st ‘fret’ – a unique touch indicative of custom quality. Two black Jazz-style single coil pickups appear alongside the silver metal control plate, with four steel knobs.
Sounds and playability
The Carvin’s familiar body shape means playing from a seated position is a breeze, with no hindrances to right-hand placement. When standing, the bass feels well proportioned, and the weight distribution is comfortable, with no headstock bias. At around 4.3kg, it’s not a shoulder-killer either.
Travelling around the neck proves comfortable. Its D-shaped design is narrow enough for comfortable left hand work, with a 1.75” nut-width, but the string spacing is also wide enough that the fretboard doesn’t feel cramped. It’s among the most approachable five-strings we’ve seen, and players new to plus-size basses would find this a good transition instrument.
As a fretless, it can take time to become acquainted with the intonation of the bass, but a quick slide around the Carvin’s smooth neck revealed a user-friendly configuration. It’s easy to achieve accurate note placement around the low-end regions of the bass, where slight inaccuracies in fingering and intonation are less noticeable. Getting to grips with the top end of a fretless can be tricky, as the more tightly clustered notes are less forgiving, but the 34” scale length makes accurate fingering as easy as possible. That the bass has 22, rather than 24, notes per string helps in this regard, too.
The action on our model had been set nice and low, making the bass very easy to play; the B-string didn’t disappoint either. Low action can make the bottom string very clanky, but as five-strings go, the SB5000F was well behaved. A slight buzz around the 12th note of the low B was a little concerning, although it may be because the review model was supplied with roundwound strings, where we’d usually expect flatwounds.
Plugged in and switched on, this bass positively sings. The 18V active electronics are alive with energy and very responsive, and the Carvin really can punch out some volume. Each pickup has a dedicated volume knob with its own characteristics. The neck pickup delivers a throaty, resonant low end, while the bridge pickup has a very bright mid sound. Blended together they give you a real range of tonal options. Carvin’s active preamp throws more possibilities into the mix, with a concentric stacked treble and bass cut/ boost control. With the bass cranked up, it’s thunderous.
Slapping, as expected, sounds superb thanks to the tonal range and well-spaced strings. The sheer power of the preamp means those sumptuous pops will cut right through the mix, whether you roll up the bass for a full-on low-end attack, or bring some incisive treble boost into play. Palm-muted plucking delivers a sumptuous, sub-reggae tone.
Throwing in some rock-style playing proved interesting. Even when playing aggressively with a pick, the SB5000F still sounds like a funk bass. Even with a flat preamp, rolling off some of the front pickup’s energy, it’s hard not to find yourself reverting to playing Michael Jackson covers. Trying to coax some dirtier, vintage rock tones from the bass was a challenge. For all its versatility and sound-sculpting potential, that pristine, active sound actually leaves you wanting, when it come to laying down some solid, picked eighth notes. It’s a curious dilemma… until you notice the ace in the pack: the SB5000F also features a passive bypass and tone control.
Though the tone control works in active mode as well, popping the switch up and entering passive mode brings a new dimension to this instrument’s sound. The brighter, electronic attack of the preamp gives way to a familiar passive Jazz bass sound, perfectly suited to all manner of classic rock and roll scenarios. With this added functionality, the bass is not only a superb active funk and jazz bass, but also an elegant all-rounder, which any bass player would be privileged to enjoy. Sure, it’s a fretless, so you’re not going to find too many people bashing out Rolling Stones covers on it, but Carvin’s electronics are clearly up to almost any job.
While this Carvin might not look like an all-rounder, it actually succeeds in having a fairly broad appeal – more than many other £1,500 active basses do. But let’s face it, you don’t buy an active bass only to ignore the preamp, so the SB5000 range will likely remain mainly in the safe hands of funk, jazz and pop players the world over. In that environment, it absolutely excels, offering visual elegance, and a near unlimited sonic palette to draw upon. And for those occasions when you want to get your Jaco on, the passive option will not let you down. As a package, £1,500 for a custom model of this calibre is looking like a bargain. Outside of these genres, the Carvin is a more than competent performer, and it doesn’t look too eccentric that a rock player would be put off – particularly in the black and white livery this model is dressed in. We can’t see this bass appearing in too many pub rock bands, but who’s to say it shouldn’t? Carvin has crafted a stunning bass guitar that will go above and beyond the call of duty.
|PRICE | £1,450
MADE IN | USA
BODY | Swamp ash
NECK | Maple
FINGERBOARD | Rosewood
NECK-JOIN | Bolt-on
SCALE LENGTH | 34”
WEIGHT | 9.5lb/4.3kg
PICKUPS | J999A Alnico single coils x 2
CONTROLS | Neck pickup volume, bridge pickup volume, passive bypass/ tone control, stacked active bass/treble boost/cut
HARD CASE | Carvin case included
What we think
PLUS | Range of superb tonal options, adaptable for various settings
MINUS | Rock sounds aren’t the Carvin’s strong point
OVERALL | An elegant, well-crafted instrument that will delight slap players and funk and pop maestros, whatever their preference
|BUILD QUALITY | 8/10
SOUND QUALITY | 7/10
VALUE | 7/10