REVIEW: Carvin TL60

The faithful old Telecaster design has been around since 1948, and in that time it’s been through a few reinterpretations – psychedelic rock axe, country twanger, indie standby, balladeer’s accompanist, and even metallic instrument of doom. With such basic design characteristics it’s a great canvas on which to paint unique and interesting ideas. With that in mind Carvin offers its TL60 model, a familiar Telecaster outline with a multitude of custom options.

The basic TL60 model takes the general Telecaster philosophy of well-distributed mass, through-body stringing and clear, cutting tone, and adds a few upmarket features like neck-through construction, a graphite-reinforced 12” radius, 24-fret neck and Sperzel locking tuners. The vast options list includes a Wilkinson trem system or Fishman piezo acoustic bridge with matching preamp, a choice of three headstock shapes, stainless steel frets, 10” or 14” fretboard radius, and a list of wood varieties and custom colours so long you’d need an intermission and a comfy armchair to get through it.

The review model was decked out in classic sunburst finish on a quilted maple top, with a hard rock maple neck and alder body wings, gold hardware, two cream-coloured Carvin C22 humbuckers, Fishman piezo acoustic bridge, Birds Eye maple fretboard with classy yet understated black dot inlays, coil splitter switches for each pickup, a phase switch to cover both C22s, separate active tone controls for the acoustic and magnetic pickups, and dual outputs which allow you to separate the acoustic and electric signals to different amps or combine them in the one jack.

String action out of the box was quite low and even across the fretboard, and the neck-through design allowed for completely unrestricted access to every fret, all the way up to the 24th on the low E string. Fingerpicking was a breeze, and two-handed tapping (which admittedly still looks kinda funny on a Telecaster-style design) was so effortless I almost felt guilty wailing like it was 1984 all over again.

The first thing that struck me about the TL60 was the sheer amount of sustain afforded by the neck-through construction. We’re all familiar with Nigel Tufnel’s Les Paul which sustained so much you could strike a note, go away for a bite, come back and it would still be ringing. Well you could hit a note on the TL60 and then get dressed, go out for coffee, bruscetta entree, penne Sicilia main course and maybe an affogato for dessert, followed by a stop at the 7-Eleven for a Mars Bar for the walk home, and when you got home the guitar would still be singing. (Might I recommend Rococo on Acland St if you want to try this for yourself). Telecasters are usually known for their sharp, sudden attack with not much sustain, and as a dedicated Tele fan it was quite unusual but extremely welcome to be able to hold such clear notes for so long.

Strung with Elixir strings, the test guitar was quite trebly when played unplugged, with a snappy attack which mellowed as the sustain took over. The clarity of the strings translated well to the piezo acoustic tone, helping sell the aural illusion of an acoustic guitar when it’s not practical (or cool enough, depending on genre) to bring one out on stage. The acoustic tone can be refined with the active tone control if you require a little more zing or more bass and body, but the basic tone is already stage-worthy and ready for an acoustic amp or PA system.

The magnetic pickups, the same kind found in Carvin’s CT6M California Carved Top model, sound a little drier and punchier in the TL60, where the more evenly distributed body mass and solid-sounding alder provide for a more direct sound well suited to overdriven vintage British-style valve amps. The harder tones make power chord rhythms a no-brainer, and in single coil mode the guitar is just begging to be hooked into an old valve amp with plenty of clean headroom so its icy attack can have maximum impact. I tried to resist, but eventually I gave in to the urge to play the Stones’ “Start Me Up,” one of the archetypal Telecaster songs in my book, and the TL60 responded with all the ringing overtones of the original, and then some, thanks to that sustain and the tonal complexity of the different wood varieties interacting. Throw in the extra tones offered by the phase switch, and there are more sounds lurking under the hood of this guitar than I can count.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Plugging the piezo pickups into a modelling combo and the magnetic pickups into a valve head and 4X12 cabinet, the TL60 came alive with complex, full-bodied tone. The acoustic and electric sounds complemented each other perfectly, and putting aside the ability to create the very cool illusion of two guitarists playing at once, it’s just a fun tone to play around with. I tried a few little tricks, like running tremolo on the electric sound while going clean with a little reverb on the acoustic, or throwing some chorus on the acoustic while cranking the distortion and reverb on the electric, then blending the volumes so the electric sounded like it was off in the distance – instant Radiohead without the need for a bunch of extra guitarists to drink your beer and hog your space on the power strip.

The playability, tone and modern-retro design of the TL60 are enough to make it worthy of consideration, but consider the additional flexibility of the piezo bridge, coil tap and phase switch and this guitar turns into an unstoppable killing machine in the studio. The ability to record acoustic and electric tones at once to two separate tracks is pretty enticing, and the switching options allow you to go from clean Strat or Tele tones to driving Les Paul sounds literally at the flick of a switch. Then when it’s time to take your music out onto the stage, the TL60 looks rockworthy enough to hold its own, while replacing at least 3 guitars from your collection.