CARVIN HAS ALWAYS BEEN ON THE map for unique high-end instruments at low prices, but these new basses—designed in conjunction with monster L.A. bassist Sekou Bunch—are a surprisingly rootsy departure for the direct-sale-only brand. The SB4000/5000 series is a bold attempt to bridge retro J-style bass design with modern electronics and hardware. Not only are the SB basses another step in Carvin’s evolution as instrument makers, the impressive list of customizable options puts a ton of control into the hands of prospective buyers.
One does not look at these basses and say “Carvin.” They’ve left behind their other more pointy designs for something with some classy Old School personality. Some may disagree, but I think the bass’s tulip shape is a fresh new take on the J-Bass tradition. The clear-coated wood grain, heavy die-cast bridge, and inlays were simply gorgeous.
The SB’s bolt-on neck is a departure for Carvin. The vast majority of Carvin’s catalog is neck-through. The sculpted neck joint was well designed and allowed unobstructed access to the higher frets. Both instruments came to me set up with spot-on intonation and appropriate action (higher for the 4 and a little lower for the 5). I generally have to tinker with set-up with a new instrument and was impressed to find myself with nothing to do with the SB’s. The tung-oiled necks were silky smooth and a pleasure to play, with a shallow-C profile.
Another new step for Carvin are the SB’s updated electronics. With Sekou’s encouragement, Carvin designed a whole new system, adding J-style volume/volume controls, instead of a master volume with blend arrangement, and including a passive tone control. For the active section, the stacked cut/boost bass and treble filter were useable throughout their range. I didn’t spend much time fishing for good tone.
The pickups themselves are also newly designed for this bass—Alnico V single-coils that pop, purr, and whisper when necessary. The neck-position tones are warm and woody, while the bridge pickups have a nice honky sizzle to cut above the band for soloing. It’s not enough to offer pretty, resonant wood if the electronics can’t keep up, but Carvin obviously put a lot of time into this detail. I had no problem copping a big palette of genre-specific tones, from tubby low-end R&B to bright slap slice. The basses also sounded fabulous in my home-studio, yielding tons of personality and balance. The tone controls were responsive and behaved predictably. I think this is a great testament to well-engineered electronics, and a requirement for any working musician.
Carvin designed these basses for players at any level of expertise, and I think they’ve certainly hit their mark. In particular, the 4-string does what a 4-string jazz bass should do: It’s meaty, with a wide palette of easily manipulated tones. I dug the beefy neck contour and the sleek ebony fingerboard, which tapers nicely down to the nut giving it a classic Fender-ish feel. The SB5000 was the slightly more evolved sibling, with more frets and a slightly looser bounce. The SB5000’s noticeably thinner neck allowed great access at all registers while at the same time keeping the B string taught and under control. Kudos to Carvin for ushering in a whole new generation of hip, modern, and affordable instruments.
CARVIN SB4000 & SB5000
Direct SB5000, $1,049; SB4000, $949
Pros Versatile; expert construction; killer price
Made in U.S.A.
Warranty Five-year limited
Options Extensive list
Weight SB5000, 9.3 lbs; SB4000, 9.4 lbs.