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Carvin LB75 5 string with Kahler Trem

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Carvin have been in business since 1946 and started making their own-brand guitars in the 1960’s. Unusually, Carvin sell direct to the public with a money-back guarantee and have just 3 stores. Ordering a Carvin is similar to ordering a custom instrument with many different choices of wood, hardware, colour, fret material and so on and it’s only in the last couple of years that Carvins have been available to order outside the USA. That’s not to say that Carvins weren’t heard of, many bands tour with Carvin equipment, but they weren’t seen too often on this side of the Atlantic.

Using the information on the Carvin Museum website, my best guess is that this 5 string bass is a LB75 from 1989. A thru-neck design, both the neck and the body wings are maple and are finished in a solid, off-white colour. The fingerboard is the blackest piece of ebony I have seen for quite a while and has abalone dots on its face and side. Even after all this time, the fretwork is top-notch. Of course, it may have been re-fretted in the past but there’s no obvious sign of this. The fret tangs are very shallow, like an old Fender bass.

The headstock shape, faced in black with a white Carvin logo, might make the bass look dated but its large size does make the bass seem longer than the norm. The neck itself is quite chunky with square shoulders and the whole bass has a really solid feel. The most interesting part of this bass though is a part of the black hardware: a Kahler trem. Yup, a trem system on a bass.

The Kahler trem is a factory fitted option and works differently from that on a guitar as there are no springs involved. The bridge saddles are connected to a bar and it’s the bar that’s rotated by the trem arm itself. Before fitting, a string needs to be pre-bent (as on a Bigsby) and fitted into a slot on the bridge. The string then comes up over the bridge and onto a brass roller before stretching to its tuner at the other end of the bass. There are 3 adjustments on the Kahler trem; a grub screw which attaches the saddle to the bar (which gives a little leeway on string spacing), a crosshead screw which lets part of the saddle move for intonation and another grub screw which adjusts the string height. This whammy’s not designed for huge dive-bombs, but it’s a cool tool to use and so far, I haven’t found any problems with the trem at all. When it’s not being used, the arm sits out of the way and the bass is just like any other with a regular bridge.

Electronics-wise, the Carvin has 2 x M13 single-coil sized humbuckers with 13 polepieces each allowing “fuller coverage of the E and G strings”. Controls are a 3-way pickup selector, 2 volume knobs, 2 tone knobs as well as coil-splitting and phase switches. Unusually, this Carvin bass has 2 outputs, one of which is the bridge pickup only. Opening the control cavity I was pleased to find some copper shielding, but I’m not sure whether this was factory fitted or not.

Just looking at the bass, it seems as if it could be difficult to play as the string spacing is very tight. The nut measures 46mm (1.8”) which is only slightly wider than a 4 string Fender Precision and the spacing at the Kahler bridge isn’t much wider at 71mm (2.8”). Also, it’s not a light bass by any means weighing in at 4.7kg (10.3lbs). Combining these factors could be a recipe for disaster, but it all works well. The bass is easy to get around on and I haven’t thought about the measurements at all. In fact, I’d been playing the bass for days before getting a ruler out and measuring it and I only did that to answer questions that had been posed on the initial thread!

Here’s the tale of the tape:

Total length: 117cm (46”)
Total width: 33cm (13”)
Scale length: 864mm (34”)
Nut width: 46mm (1.8”)
String spacing at nut: 8mm (0.3”)
Bridge width: 71mm (2.8”)
String spacing at bridge: 15mm (0.6”)

With all the volume and tone pots wide open and no coil tapping or phase switching, the Carvin has a big, almost piano like sound which would fit well in any musical situation. Adjusting the tone controls give a wide range of useful sounds which I wasn’t expecting and that’s before using the coil-splitting or phase options. Flick these switches and there are instant differences to the tone. The range of tones from rumbling lows to cutting highs makes this a bass for all occasions.

This Carvin LB75 is a bass which will split opinions. First of all, there’s its looks, then that tight string spacing and 10lb+ weight, Regardless of the stats, this is a hugely capable, high quality bass which deserves to be heard. The neck shape is a winner and the sounds are wide-ranging and useful.

Some could consider buying this bass on Carvin’s reputation alone a bit of a gamble. With no way to try one before buying and only a sketchy eBay description to go on you could say it was. However, Carvins have a loyal following, I wanted a white 5 string and I figured that if a company been making guitars for the last 40-odd years they must be doing something right. If this is the quality that Carvin produces I’d have no problem buying one and shopping direct makes them even better value for money (even though the £/$ exchange rates isn’t what it used to be).

Edited by 7string

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It's a great bass. :)

It sounds great, plays great and the trem is cool thing to have. A keeper unless I get offered an outrageous swap or a huge amount of money :rolleyes:

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I had a red LB75, slightly newer, s/no 29292, bought used from Bass Centre in 1995. (I traded it p/x in 2008 for an Indie 6 string),
Carvin's made to order approach and changes over the years throws out all sorts of variations.
Mine had J-type pickups, with all those coil taps and phase switches, but no trem (would I use it??). I agree about the big piano-like tone, particularly with both pickups on.
5 in a row headstock was a liability (I kept bashing it!), and it was hard to reach the G machine head for tuning. They changed to a 3+2 arrangement in later models - sensible.
Through neck and ebony board are impressive, and 2nd hand values tend to be low, so they do make a good quality buy for the money.

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