Carvin SB5000 Five-String Bass
Base model, $1,049.00 (direct; $100 rebate offered); as reviewed, $1,394.00
Originally published in Guitar World, Holiday 2010
The Carvin SB5000 has killer J Bass tone and a fresh look while the build quality and finish work stand up to boutique instruments four times the price.
At a time when most guitar companies go to Asia to build an affordable product, Carvin is sticking to its original business model by building high-quality instruments at its San Diego factory and marketing them direct to customers. This has always made sense, but now more than ever, Carvin basses are a seriously good deal.
The newest addition to Carvin’s bass lineup is the SB5000 five-string, which was designed in conjunction with R&B funk session ace Sekou Bunch. (It’s also offered as the SB4000 four-string.) A devout Jazz Bass player, Bunch worked with Carvin to produce a signature model that captures the essence of the mighty J, with a few twists of its own.
One glance and you know that the SB is no mere J Bass clone. The eye-catching body design looks like a cross between a Warwick Dolphin and the Fender Jazz. My review bass represented just one of thousands of possible configurations that can be built, but the standard features of this model are quite generous, even without the fancier add-ons. The bass came with a lightweight swamp ash body and a stunning AAAA flamed-maple top in a honey-burst finish. The bolt-on hard-rock maple neck has 22 medium-jumbo frets pressed into a bird’s-eye maple fingerboard (standard maple, rosewood and ebony are options). The neck has a tung-oil finish and a rounded D shape that strikes a nice balance between beefy support and playability. The ivory Graph Tech Tusq nut’s 1 3/4–inch width flares out to three inches at the 22nd fret, making for a very comfortable neck profile.
The SB5000 has a newly designed electronics package; instead of Carvin’s standard three-band active circuit, the SB is fueled with a two-band concentric bass/treble system with separate volume controls (no pan pot) and a passive bypass switch with passive tone control (which also works in Active mode). The knobs are mounted on a J-style metal control plate, and the review bass came with slick-looking white-pearl knob inlays. The new J99A pickups are J-style single-coils with Alnico V magnets and are available with black- or cream-colored covers.
The SB5000 also gets a new bridge, a fully adjustable heavy brass model with lock-down saddles that allows you to top load or string through the body. The 19mm string spacing is a comfortable standard that gives plenty of room for slapping but doesn’t feel too wide. Carvin’s small enclosed-gear tuners are lightweight and have a smooth and precise 20:1 turn ratio. My test model came bedecked in blingy gold hardware, but chrome and black finishes are also available.
Except for the headstock and the outward flare of the body horns, everything about this ax screams, “Jazz Bass!” As a longtime J Bass lover (and a former Carvin endorser), I had high hopes for the SB, and I was not disappointed. With the bass in Active mode, I was able to effortlessly call up the classic Marcus Miller slap tone—thick and punchy, with a brilliant sparkle that stays sweet even while popping the hell out of it. With the treble rolled off, the bass dished out ballsy, pumping lows with excellent focus. Having the passive tone control in Active mode is a high-end feature not often found in this price range. In Passive mode, the SB exhibits the growly midrange bark of a fine J Bass, and having separate volume controls for each pickup instead of a pan pot allows for a nice range of sweet spots when blending the two.
The review bass weighed in at a manageable 9 1/2 pounds and felt comfy and well-balanced hanging on a strap. On any five-string bass, the most important factor is the quality of the B string, and the SB5000’s B string was tight and thunderous, with no honking overtones. Note definition was excellent, and it blended well with the other four strings. Though my first reaction to the body shape was a bit tepid, the SB’s tone and playability won me over. The longer I played it, the more I began to dig the look.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Carvin SB5000 has killer J Bass tone and a fresh look. The build quality and finish work stand up to boutique instruments four times the price. Considering the base model comes in at $899 direct, it has no comparable U.S.-built competition.
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