This Article Was Originally Published On: July 1st, 2014 #Issue 14.

Carvin is no stranger to these pages, and likely a well-known brand by our readers. We have featured reviews of Carvin amps (back in BGM #2), Carvin basses (back in BGM #8), and Carvin combos (back in BGM #10). We covered a good bit of the “Carvin story” in these prior reviews, so I will not spend much time re-hashing already covered ground. However, it is worth stating once again some of the noteworthy facts regarding Carvin. The company has been around for over 65 years. It continues to be owned by one family (the Kiesel family). It has always been based in the USA. They make a huge variety of products; they make them well; they sell them for very reasonable prices. Carvin feels like an old friend; someone you can rely upon.

With this background in mind, it’s no surprise that we have come to expect solid, predictable performance from Carvin and their products. The specific product we are reviewing, here, is Carvin’s take on a P-bass: the epitome of a “comfortable, predictable old friend” in bass form. The stage was perfectly set for a nice, if not typical, review experience. Little did I know, my expectations were about to be blown out of the water.

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Carvin PB5 5-String Bass GuitarSetting the Stage

 Classic-inspired, bolt-on basses are nothing new for Carvin. We’ve had such options around since the B40/50 series and other basses. But these were, by and large, J-bass inspired instruments. Why no P-bass? Well, first you need that iconic split pickup, and since Carvin makes all their own pickups and electronics, we had the classic “chicken/egg conundrum.” With the introduction of Carvin’s new SCP split-coil alnico V single-coil pickup, the path was cleared for a proper P-bass in Carvin’s lineup. Jeff Kiesel explains, “Yes, that is Carvin’s first ever split-coil pickup. Not sure why it took so long. It was something I was getting asked for all the time, and I finally took matters into my own hands in November of 2012 and started on this PB bass as my first instrument design. Tonally, we wanted a full range of dynamics, while bringing the thunderous bottom end that had been missing from our lineup.”

The PB basses not only build upon a solid foundation, they take it to the next level. As good as they have been (and they have been very good for a very long time), Carvin seems to be continuing to up their game with regard to the basses they are cranking out. Each time they roll out a new bass series, such as the B40/50 and the Brian Bromberg signature model, Carvin seems polish the apple just a bit more. Nothing big jumps out at you, but they seem to keep doing the little things better and better.

Dialing Up a PB5

 When Carvin offered us the chance to review one of their new PB-series basses, they suggested that we use their online “Bass Builder” configuration tool and place an order for the exact instrument for review. How could I say no? Although Carvin offers the P/J option (and even the option to add their HB humbucker in the bridge pickup position), I felt that the true test of a great P-bass is right there with the single split-coil pickup, and resisted the temptation to add a bridge pickup. Likewise, a P-bass just has to sound right in passive mode, without any onboard preamp trickery. So our review bass is a straight-up passive affair. It’s not to say that the added versatility of a bridge pickup and/or an onboard preamp option might not be a good thing. Far from it. However, there is a certain beauty to a nice split-coil pickup, run passive.

Carvin offers a staggering number of options to choose from, and this starts with the body and neck woods. While I was tempted by mahogany, black limba, walnut and koa, I really love a nice alder-body P-bass. I did, however, pull the trigger on a 4A quilted maple top. For the neck, we kept things traditional, going with (single piece) maple and the standard rosewood fingerboard. At the core, we have a pretty straightforward, tried-and-true combination: alder/rosewood, passive, single-P layout. However, knowing Carvin’s capabilities for producing stunningly beautiful instruments, I felt like I had to challenge them a bit in regard to the esthetics. To show off that quilt maple top, I went with the Deep Aqua Burst (which includes their DTS – deep triple stain – finish), and a matching headstock. To complete the look, I opted for abalone block inlays, black hardware, and a white pearloid pickguard. This potentially audacious combination would have been easy to get wrong. However, if you get it right, quilt maple, abalone, and a pearloid guard can work very well together.

Price-wise, our test bass tallied up to about $1,400, but you can order a plain Jane model for about $900, and that is just an amazing bargain for an instrument that is made in the USA, with a solid 5-year warranty, from a firmly established company.

The Moment of Truth

When the big Carvin box was delivered this past December, it took great restraint to wait for it to acclimate to the warmer indoor temperatures. When I was finally ready to open the case, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Once the lid popped up, I knew that Carvin had nailed it. The quilting in the maple is big and deep, and the Deep Aqua Burst invites you to dive in and take a swim. The rich, deep rosewood board cradles those abalone blocks, and the white pearloid pickguard really pulls it all together. I almost always prefer black hardware, and black definitely works on this bass. Okay, we’ve got a looker on our hands. But how does it play and sound?

Picking up the PB5 and grabbing the neck is immediately rewarding. That is a great neck profile (between a J-style and P-style), and the oil finish feels just right. The 22 medium jumbo frets were nicely finished, and felt great underhand. Likewise, the carved-down neck heel makes access to the upper registers easier and more comfortable. The slightly undersized (compared to a Precision) body feels appropriately “modern/vintage,” and your right hand always feels comfortable in the presence of a single split-P pickup. I strongly believe that in order for an electric bass to sound great when amplified, it also has to sound great when played unplugged. Electronics can certainly help make more out of what you’ve got, but the really great basses all seem to sound really great right there in your hands, without any outside assistance. This PB5 passed that particular test with flying colors. 30 seconds into my review, I knew I had a winner on my hands.

Carvin PB5 5-String Bass Guitar

Getting back to that body shape/size, the PB’s designer, Jeff Kiesel, explains, “I wanted to have a classic, but yet modern look to this bass. I spent a lot of time coming up with this design; I did not want to make a copy of another brand.” As far as what separates the PB from other P-style basses, Jeff cites the following features:

  1. Better neck heel access: other have a huge block that gets in the way; you have much better higher register access.
  2. Headstock tilt: by tilting the headstock back, you gain string tension on the nut.
  3. No string tree: other companies use a string tree because their headstock does not tilt back (this causes string bind when tuning).
  4. Superior bridge: our bridge is a much more solid construction and has locking saddles and guides on each side to eliminate side load.
  5. Neck adjustments: you can easily adjust our neck buy removing the truss rod cover (to adjust the others, you need to remove the pickguard).
  6. Lighter weight: the Carvin will come in 1/2 to 1 pound lighter in weight than most others.
  7. Separate output jack on side of bass: this adds to the comfort of the bass (most have the jack on the pickguard).
  8. Modern neck profile: we are using a modern neck profile that is between the P and J-style necks (the P necks are very fat and can get uncomfortable).
  9. Superior pickup design: other pickup designs use pole pieces that stick up (when bending the string, volume changes dramatically); we use a continuous magnet that has a consistent volume from one end to the other.

Putting the PB Through Its Paces

 My very first bass featured a P-style split-coil pickup, and I gigged that bass for years. From there, I moved on to dual humbuckers, and didn’t look back for a long time. Eventually, I fell to the lure of the J-bass, and worked dual single-coils into my lineup. During the last year or so, however, I have found myself playing P-style basses more and more. You could say that I am falling back in love with the way a P-bass sits in a mix. What I am finding, though, is that “a P-bass is not a P-bass.” Though that single split-coil pickup lends a certain “bark” – which is very distinct from a J-bass style “growl” – the point at which each split-coil bass crosses over from a more clean “bump” to that signature “bark” can be very unique. Levels of clarity and fullness can vary quite a bit, as well.

Once I plugged in the PB5, that clarity and pureness of tone I heard when playing it unplugged was certainly there, but I was surprised by the fullness and volume. This is one hot pickup! If I didn’t know better, I’d think that I was playing an active bass with a decent bit of preamp gain going on. I found myself backing off on the volume knob a bit to achieve the best results with most of the amps I used with the PB5. But hey, that’s why we have volume knobs, right? The PB5 played nicely with every rig I put it through, but it really seemed to love grinding through a GK MB Fusion 800 and Bergantino NV215. My bandmates were wowed by both the PB5’s looks, as well as its tone. It always cut through well in a mix, and really worked great with fuzz and overdrive pedals. In fact, it seemed to lend some coherence and punch to the affected tone from these pedals which is sometimes missing (or harder to dial in) with other basses.

To see just where the PB5 falls in the “P-bass continuum,” I compared it to the F bass VFP-4 (also reviewed in this issue) and my Lakland Skyline 44-64 Custom. The Carvin was the most full-sounding of the group, the loudest of the group, and it could more easily achieve the signature P-bass bark. This means that you can get some bark even when not digging in too much. Of course, if you back off on that volume knob, you can keep it clean, even when digging in.

The Bottom Line

The wide array of options available from Carvin within the PB series make it very difficult to assess the line by focusing on just one instrument. For our review bass, we went “bread and butter” on the basic specs, choosing an alder body, maple neck and rosewood board, paired with a single split-coil pickup, and no preamp. This combination proved to be very competent, with a full tone, and surprising volume. On the fit and finish side of things, we pushed things a bit with our order, and were not in the least disappointed. Carvin can really dial in some drop-dead gorgeous instruments, and this is certainly one of them. With a different configuration on the Bass Builder, you could dial in a dramatically different instrument, but I am confident that the Carvin PB has “good bones.” Whatever combination you dial in, I am confident it’ll be a winner.


Features: 3.5
Tonal Flexibility:3.5
Ease of Use: 5
Ergonomics: 4.5
Tone: 4.5

In-hand Score 4.35average


Everything you could want from a P-bass and more. Very full, very loud. This is a powerful bass!