Carvin’s California Carved Top, looks somewhat reminiscent of another popular double-cutaway mahogany/maple dual humbucker axe out there, but differentiates itself on several important fronts, including attention to detail and customisability. The standard base model is impressive enough, but want a Floyd Rose instead of the Tune-O-Matic bridge? You got it. Your name on the truss rod cover? Have at it. Birds Eye maple fingerboard? Of course. Hard-wearing stainless steel frets? You just gotta ask. Half the fun of owning a Carvin is knowing that while it comes from a rich 60-year heritage, it can be still be made to your exact specs.
The review model is a CT6M, the flagship of the California Carved Top range. It’s a 25” scale, 8.25 pound behemoth with a mahogany body featuring an extremely high grade quilted maple top (2 centimetres thick at its deepest point) in Deep Sunsetburst finish, natural faux-binding and classy gold hardware. The maple waves in the maple top have that three-dimensional quality you only find in the top-shelf stuff, and I must have stared at it for about ten minutes before strumming a note.
The set-neck is also mahogany, but feels like real wood, with no gloss to slow you down as you zip from one end to the other in a Jason Becker moment. The neck features a 12” radius, 22 medium jumbo frets, a pristine ebony fingerboard, mesmerizing abalone block inlays, a flamed maple headstock overlay, Sperzel locking tuners and a pair of graphite reinforcement bars accompanying the truss rod. The neck feels pleasantly chunky, and fits snugly in the hand without impeding playing comfort or fret access. A graphite-Teflon nut keeps the strings from binding up at this crucial point, averting the possibility of tuning problems. The position markers on the side of the neck appear to be made of some type of polished metal, and seem to pick up whatever light is present in a dim room – crucial for when the stage lights go out between songs and you need to find your way from “Jessie’s Girl” to “Play That Funky Music” without coming in a semitone too low.
A pair of C22 humbuckers (with 22 pole pieces each) are complemented by master volume and tone controls, with the tone pot doubling as a push-pull coil split for a total of 6 distinct tones, ranging from Tele-on-steroids to Les Paul on red cordial.
Straight out of the box, the CT6M features a flawlessly buzz-free action from one end of the neck to the other. String height is medium height on the review model, giving the player heaps of room to dig in on gutsy chords but still low enough for smooth, effortless sweep picking or Santana-style tender moments, if that’s your poison. The fret ends are polished so smoothly that if you push the high E string off the fretboard the note glides up smoothly in pitch as if you’re using a slide or a whammy pedal. It’s a neat trick, and usually one that requires a bit of extra fret finishing from a tech – rare to see in a brand new guitar. A quick glance at the pickups reveals a little bit of factory tweakage of the 22 pole pieces to even out the volume of each string – another nice little touch that reveals further attention to detail.
So what’s it like plugged in? Well, it bears certain sonic similarities to other mahogany body/maple top twin-humbucker designs, but the attractively cream-coloured C22 pickups seem to add a few extra harmonics to the sound, like playing through a wah left in a stationary position. If you crank up the gain high enough, the tone is almost Satriani-like, with overtones and harmonics rising up into the stratosphere. Unlike most guitars, the tone knob is actually useful – roll it all the way back and the tone becomes even fuller, taking on an almost flutey quality. Santana tones are definitely lurking around, as are classic Led Zeppelin humbucker rhythm tones. Clean sounds are very solid and clear, and in a pinch this guitar is equally at home on cruisy jazz licks and speed-picked Megadeth riffs.
In single coil mode, the CT6M sounds like a heavy duty Telecaster, equally at home with bluesy double-stops, funky Chic-style rhythm or ballsy Junior Brown-ish country. Whether in single coil or humbucker mode the pickups seem to love Drop D tuning, with a gutsy tightness in humbucker mode or a tough-sounding punch on the single coil settings. The pickups are evenly balanced with each other no matter which setting is used.
The overall quality of this guitar is outstanding, from the big things like overall tone and tuning stability to the less obvious stuff like the positioning of the controls and the reduced mass of the smaller headstock, which helps keep everything nicely balanced on a strap and prevents the guitar from getting too neck-heavy sitting down. Sustain is impressive, playability is flawless, and the guitar looks as good as it plays. Best of all, you can choose your preferred options from a huge list of possibilities to turn this already impressive model into the guitar of your dreams.