Carvin SH575 Review

The single-cutaway 575 represents the top of the Carvin line – the flagship guitar, if you will.  I’m sure you’re already familiar with the main features of this guitar, so I won’t go too far in depth: twin hum-buckers, premium tiger (flamed) maple carved top, hollow body, and, most importantly, MIDI access via the Ghost system/piezo transducer – in theory, the 575/675 is as powerful a platform for generating electric guitar, faux acoustic guitar, and any sound contained in your synthesizers as you're going to find on the market. 

A few of the options I chose are stainless steel jumbo frets and a 14” radius rosewood fretboard. 

I bought this guitar to control a Roland VG-99, a Yamaha Motif ES Rack module, and I gave it a spin as a ‘regular’ electric guitar into my two main amps (Bogner Shiva EL 34 and Swart AST Pro) as well as a Line6 PodXt.  So, how is it?  After more than two years of periodic studio use I think that there are some nice features of the 575 and some drawbacks that seem to be endemic to Carvin as a whole. 


The maple top, the finish, and the overall design, construction and fit of the 575 are of high quality; you can definitely get maple tops with more impressive figuring (I wish it was a cool as my desk!) but you’ll more than likely be paying more for a maple top that beats the 575. It’s a very attractive guitar in my opinion but the flame looks 'shallow' and one-dimensional compared to my PRS which has an 'Artist' grade flame maple top that you can get lost in for days.

The stainless fretwork is as good as you’re going to find on any guitar.

Good third-party tuners and bridge/tailpiece.

The action is very good – this guitar was setup very well from the factory, but, after a few minor tweaks, I had it setup perfectly: low action with nary a buzzing fret.

The notorious neck instability that plagued Carvin for years has, evidently, been solved with a new truss rod implementation.  

If you like a slightly wider neck with comfortable string spacing you might bond with this Carvin guitar as well.  However, the neck carve is one of the 'problems' I have with the 575.


If you love vintage-styled necks from Gibson or Fender then Carvin represents the antithesis of everything good. The neck carve on the 575, like a lot if not all Carvin guitars, is not very comfortable for a lot of people -- it is a frequent complaint; they are very thin and wider than traditional designs and players with a preference for vintage-style necks are seldom happy with what Carvin offers.  That’s just the way they are: wide and thin. Some people love Carvin's Reagan-era neck philosophy but, in my estimation, Carvin needs to offer some options in depth and width that do not void a returns policy.  In terms of width, a close comparison is the PRS wide neck (including the new 'pattern' neck carve) but whereas a PRS wide-fat or pattern neck feels perfect due to its overall proportions the Carvin misses the target. Compared to the PRS pattern neck the 575 is a smidge wider, lacks sufficient shoulder, and isn't as deep. The 575 has the appearance of a vintage jazz axe but it's heart and soul (neck carve) is 80s spandex and hairspray.

The electronics are basically junk.  The pots are cheap; the wiring is very thin; and the pickups lack character – like all Carvin pickups, in my opinion. You could do a lot better than this but the guitar is useable. The uncovered stock pickups in my CT was just horrible and had to be replaced but these covered versions are somewhat better. The new covered designs obviously lack the adjustment screws for string-to-string balance and, as a result, I've had to screw the treble side down flush with the mounting ring and the bass side is elevated fairly high.

If you're not handy with a soldering iron then you should really set back $300 to $500 for all new electronics in your Carvin, and not just pickups but also pots, wiring, etc. It all has to be replaced.

I replaced the garbage in my CT6 with a set of Rio Grande humbuckers and the results are mixed.

The Carvin attitude towards electronic components is baffling: you’re getting a premium, state of the art American-made guitar with ‘guts’ you’d expect on a budget guitar made in India or Singapore.  However, in its defense, I will say that the guitar is dead quiet -- actually, in my case, very quiet because I hardly use the hum-buckers at all because I'm using (or did use) the guitar, primarily, to drive a VG-99.  The onboard Ghost system seems pretty good and has a lower noise floor than a GK-2A.  Though, a Roland GK sounds better because of built in filtering that is lacking in the Carvin/Ghost system.  For example, playing a Tele patch in a VG-99 will sound more like an actual Tele while using a GK system than on Carvin's Ghost.  Beware, though, high gain amp modeling patches through the Ghost will result in a lot of noise if you rest your hand on the bridge.

The maple top is good but the body wood (mahogany) isn’t in the same league.  I wouldn’t call it scrap grade or anything but it is embarrassing compared to my other guitars with mahogany bodies.  Ordering this guitar again I would have the body stained dark red or just painted in order to hide the unattractive wood grain and slap-dash mismatching. 

And, finally, there’s the matter of Carvin’s notorious customer service.  The good news is that support has improved from yesteryear – however, considering that just a few years ago Carvin support could have been classified as ‘pathological’ they had a long way to go.  Last time I interacted with them they had fired the ‘bad guys’ and were trying a lot harder.  It seemed like they cared and wanted to solve problems, etc., but they seemed to be just as ‘in the dark’ as their predecessors.  There’s just a chasm between the shop floor and customer support team.  But I no longer have nightmares about the company the way I did the last time I dealt with them.  You have to be prepared for the fact that they will not have your guitar delivered to you when they claim.  So long as you’re patient then you’ll probably be happy.

Over all, the guitar is priced right and gets the job done and I don’t necessarily regret buying a 575.  It has proven very useful in my studio as a synth and VG-99 controller but the uncomfortable neck led me to relegate this guitar to 'backup' status behind a 2001 Parker NiteFly that I have installed a Roland GK-3 pickup on. The Carvin now sits idle in my basement.

This was not my first Carvin instrument but, unfortunately, it will be my last. I had a DC135 way back in the day that was just a piece of garbage that I sold on Ebay for $125; I have a CT6 that I finally gave away as a gift; I tried their amps and they were pretty much West Coast Peavey or Crate. I also bought a prewired Strat pickguard one time that failed because of the chintzy switch and pots (although the AP11 pickup sounded pretty good in a walnut bodied Strat).

Carvin can reel you in with the allure of customization and low prices (they got me lured in a few times) but, ultimately, there's always 'something' about their guitars that leaves a person unsatisfied. In hindsight I find it interesting that Carvin generates highly polarized responses on the internet: rabid 'fanboys' and their persistent detractors. Seldom do you find neutral or balanced views regarding Carvin and I suspect that it stems from the promise of a guitar 'your way' that never really lives up to what a person expects because some things about the guitar are and will always be 'their way' and there's nothing you can do about something as fundamental as a neck profile on a set-neck guitar. Carvin offers a 10 day trial and most people want to like what they ordered but the shine rubs off down the line after some use and then a guy is stuck with a guitar that sounds bad and has weird proportions. Trying to unload it they find that they're going to either take a bath on Ebay or just live with it and 'payback' Carvin with a lot of negative ranting at online forums or F-Book, etc.

Then there's the company's 'karma' or 'mojo' problem stemming from rumors regarding their right wing political leanings, that photo op with George Bush (as New Orleans sank), the supposed fundamentalist Christian angle, the jokes about the David Koresh Branch Davidian model, their 'me too' designs, etc. When I picked my CT6 up from the shop one of the guys there said "I'm surprised that PRS hasn't sued them yet because that's nothing but a PRS knockoff." True enough.  Others have pointed this out and I think it's true: if you think you're going to get a Carvin to satisfy your craving for a PRS then just save up for the PRS. Besides, after you shell out the dough for the electronics you'll want to replace you're in striking distance of a PRS anyway.

But you can be happy with a Carvin if you temper your expectations: it's going to take longer than they promise and your guitar will not arrive on schedule; you're willing to shell out some serious money on all-new electronics unless you're just a fan of shitty tone; and you gotta love wide thin necks. If you can live with these aspects of Carvin ownership then I say go for it. However, my suggestion to you is this: if, in the first week of ownership, your 'gut' tells you that there's even the slightest thing you do not like about your guitar just pack it up immediately and ship it back as fast as you can and eat the shipping costs -- better to eat $100 in shipping (to your door and back) than to lose $1000 on Ebay or the local Craig's List.

[Update: custom neck carves (depths but not widths) are now optional but this voids the 10-day trial/evaluation period.]