Review: Carvin Vanquish Series Bolt-Neck Basses

THE ELECTRIC BASS HAS EXPERIENCED A LOT OF CHANGE in its relatively short life—the instrument seems to invite designers to innovate.
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THE ELECTRIC BASS HAS EXPERIENCED A LOT OF CHANGE in its relatively short life—the instrument seems to invite designers to innovate. Carvin has been very busy this past year introducing models that fill the traditional P- and J-style slots, but the new Vanquish Series basses are its first entries in the 24-fret bolt-on category. The unique beveled-top body has inspired some fresh cosmetic options, and the basses’ flexible new power plant gives them the ability to fit in a wide variety of styles.

The Vanquish bass has a distinctive outline, and Carvin offers myriad options through its custom shop. The Vanquish is available in 4-, 5-, and 6-string models, and all three were configured for review to represent a wide sampling of the possibilities. The V49K was given the full glamour treatment with a Deep Night Burst finish over a swamp ash body with a 4A flamed-maple top, matching headstock, flamed-maple fingerboard, and abalone block inlays. The gorgeous flame contrasted the deeply beveled body and gave the Vanquish the appearance of being two basses in one—an effect that can be magnified with the natural top wood binding option. Carvin now offers a 10" fingerboard radius for 4-string models, so I took advantage of the vintage-style option. A 12" radius is also available for 4-string only, as well as the standard 14" radius of the 5- and 6-string models. Carvin added an optional Hipshot Bass Xtender to my tester, and this V49K came supplied with the single-coil RADJV radiused alnico pickups instead of the stock humbuckers.

The V59K was built with a more traditional aesthetic in mind. A one-piece swamp ash body received a matte finish over Vintage Yellow, and the optional Antique Ash treatment gave the body that found-it-in-a-barn look. The 5-string was spec’d with a lined fretless ebony fingerboard, and like the review V49K, featured a 5-piece maple neck. The fretless 5 and fretted V69K came stocked with Alnico RADHV humbuckers. The fretted V69K was put together as an exercise in wood porn, with its white-limba body capped by a figured-walnut top, and 5-piece walnut/white-limba neck. The oil finish is silky under the hand, and the matching headstock, two-tone body, rosewood fingerboard, and control knobs complete the picture. The black pickup cases tie in nicely with the black diamond inlays and hardware package for a total effect of understated beauty. While the 4- and 5-string models share 19mm string spacing, the V69K has relatively narrow 16.25mm string spacing. It works well for chordal playing and string crossing, but some slappers may find it a challenge at first. The Hipshot bridge saddles adjust for height, and width, which allowed me to open up the string spacing a tiny bit. For us sensitive 6-string types, every quarter-millimeter counts!

FUNK 49

As configured for review, the V49K immediately suggests serious slap potential, and with the single-coil alnico V pickups placed in ’70s J-Bass position, it does not disappoint. All three basses share the same passive/active 2-band EQ with passive tone control, but the V49K benefited in particular from this setup. The DNA of the modern J-Bass slap tone is there, but a 24-fret instrument puts the point of attack a little closer to the bridge, resulting in a tighter, more aggressive texture. The bass control fills the bottom out nicely, and there are plenty of highs available to retain the sparkle. The tone of the V49K in passive mode strongly resembles the throaty voice of my ’74 Fender Jazz—it made me want to grind it like Geddy. On a blues/soul/funk/reggae gig, the V49K responded obediently, switching from downhome blues to the obligatory funked-up rendition of “Superstition” with the turn of a knob. For variety, I boosted the gain at the amp and played an entire set in passive mode, taking advantage of the inherent midrange presence for Jerry Jemmott-inspired finger funk. The neck profile is similar to a J-Bass, but feels longer due to the 24-fret design. With the slightly extended section of unsupported neck, I have found some 24-fret instruments to feel “noodle-y,” which in my opinion, translates into loss of tone. But thanks to the dual graphite-stabilizer rods (used in all current Carvin basses), the Vanquish neck felt reassuringly solid. I’ll admit, at first I was a little self-conscious playing such a flashy bass—it’s definitely too pretty to go to prison, but after three sets running the gamut of blues and R&B styles, the V49K proved it could walk tall on any stage.

GIMME SOME MWAH

Upon first plug in, the fretless V59K elicited an actual whoop from this somewhat jaded reviewer. The fingerboard was well dressed, and the bass freely spoke the dialect we fretless geeks call mwah. Playing through the three-octave-plus range, the V59K would sustain on any note without much coaxing, but it could also bite if ordered. I took it out for a jazz gig with the intent of simulating upright bass, and doing the Jaco thing at low volume. In passive mode, the bridge pickup does get close to Jacotown, but as it sits ¼" closer to the bridge than a ’60s J-Bass, the texture is a little thinner. The blend control slightly attenuates the output toward the middle position, so I soloed the bridge pickup with healthy gain at the amp, and a small bump in the low-mids to beef it up. In active mode, the intrinsic mid-scoop from boosting the Bass/Treble EQ obscures the burpy attack of the bridge pickup enough to make me consider swapping it for Carvins optional 3-band B/M/T circuit. But blending both pickups in active mode produced a balanced, woody tone that perfectly suited walking lines, while rolling to the neck pickup produced a large, round texture that was perfectly suited to my palm-muted pseudo-upright schtick. As a soloist, I was excited with the prospect of having a two-octave neck, but the 23rd fret is really the top of the useful range. I could hit the 24th-fret G with my pinkie, but it was slightly obstructed. But the overall responsiveness of the neck and body gave the V59K fretless a musical voice throughout its range.

IF 6 WAS 9

The V69K is Carvins first 6-string bass with a bolt-on neck, and unlike some neckthrough 6’ers, it exhibits the punchy attack of a good 4-string in the standard register. The combination of woods gave this bass a modern, compressed snap—comparable to a Wenge-necked Warwick—while the humbuckers brought out a sibilant top end that reminded me of my Ken Smith. As 6-string gigs are rare in my world, the V69K did not make it out to the stage, but I played it extensively in my studio. While I can quickly get comfortable on most 4- and 5-strings, it takes me more time to acclimate to the dimensions and response of a 6. While the V69K’s 5-piece neck felt stable, there is a lot of string tension concentrated in a relatively narrow area, and the bass felt stiff and choked. I put on a set of Dunlop Super Bright SS strings and the neck relaxed. The bass spoke with less effort, and my hands thanked me. For the way I approach 6-string bass, there is a lot to like about the V69K. The neck, string spacing, and playability are well suited to a chordal accompaniment style, but with this wood combination and 2-band EQ, the midrange felt lacking. For my personal use, this particular bass would also be a candidate for a 3-band upgrade. But if you’re a slap-happy 6-stringer, the natural tendencies of the V69K will make funking-out a pleasure. The C string had a musical spank that sat perfectly on top of the grindy slap tone, and made it impossible to resist popping double-stops on the G string.

While you can engineer certain sonic characteristics with wood choices, pickup placement plays a large role in setting the essential tone signature of an instrument. In the case of the Carvin Vanquish Series basses, mid ’70s J-pickup spacing is the defining sonic texture—and that’s a good thing. But the Vanquish also brings a cool, original look to the table that can be interpreted with subtlety or head-turning boutique splendor.

SPECIFICATIONS

CARVIN

Vanquish Series Basses Bolt Neck Basses
Factory Direct
V49K, $1,536; V59K, $1,344; V69K, $1,463 (all as reviewed)
Pros Sleek design, great playability, versatile tone
Cons Access to 24th fret is restricted
Bottom Line The Vanquish Series basses are great multipurpose instruments with a fresh new design that can go traditional or tricked-out.

SPECS

Fingerboard radius V49K, 10"; V59K & V69K, 14"
Frets 24 medium jumbo
Nut Ivory, Graph-Tech Tusq
Scale length 34”
Neck width at nut V49K, 1.53"; V59K, 1.77"; V69K, 2.03"
Pickups V49K, two RADJV Alnico V singlecoil; V59K & V69K, two RADHV Alnico V humbucking
Electronics 18-volt with passive/active switch, Bass, Treble, Tone
EQ Bass: ±18dB @ ±0Hz, Treble ±18dB @ 10kHz
Hardware Hipshot A-style convertible bridge; Carvin 20:1 tuners
Weight V49K, 8.7 lbs; V59K, 9.5 lbs; V69K, 10.3 lbs
Made in USA

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