How To Improve The Sound Of A Carvin Guitar

Face it, they look better than they sound.

You bought a Carvin guitar and once the honeymoon came to an end (about 4 days after the 10-day trial window closed) you realized that the thing is totally devoid of 'mojo' or 'vibe' or whatever. What can be done?

1. The pickups and all the electronic components are total garbage. This stuff would be a millstone around the neck of even a budget import. Replace it all.

You might look for replacements that are slightly microphonic -- see here for some thoughts on this.

Now that's done and, still, the guitar sounds clinical. Why?

Worst case scenario is something like this: you bought a CT6 with an ebony fretboard, stainless steel frets, it has a thin neck (they all do), with a string-through-body fixed Tune-O-Matic style bridge setting on top of a thick slice of maple. In themselves, all these design features are fine. However, when they are all added together they may lead to a very one-dimensional guitar that features an overly-promnent fundamental or a relative lack of higher order harmonics (the mojo). Now what? Sell the guitar? Before you ditch this dud here are a few more things to try that may just very well turn your axe into a mojorific tone machine:

2. Lower  your pickups. Folks tend to play with pickups too close to the strings. If that made it sound worse you had them set too low to begin with so raise them a bit and see if that improves things.

3. Switch to pure nickel strings. Pure nickel wire is richer and warmer sounding; more harmonic complexity. I chose Ernie Ball (a Super Slinky Rock and Roll set) and they sound better, in my opinion, to D'Addario's pure nickel strings. Kick it up a notch by spending a buck more and get the Curt Mangan nickel wound. His strings blow away D'Addario and Ernie Ball. If the Mangan strings don't get the job done reach for a set of Pyramid pure nickels -- they are pricey but uber luxurious sounding strings....too rich, in fact, for some guitars so these might be the solution.

4. Decrease the gauge of your strings; if you're using 10s switch to 9s. Why? Smaller strings have weaker fundamentals relative to their harmonic overtones. If you check the Ernie Ball website you'll notice that the same nickel strings in 9s (Super Slinky) and 10s (Slinky) vary widely in warmth on their tone chart. On this guitar the 9s will sound more harmonically complex.

5. Lower your action to get some fret sizzle. This is a little-known tone secret that seems counter-intuitive. Country players who spend a lot of time playing, for example, a Tele through a squeaky clean Twin know that a good setup includes what they call 'sizzle' (string buzz if taken to an extreme) because it knocks the fundamental down a bit relative to overtones. I'm not talking about a buzzy mess and a ton of rattle but just a slight 'sizzle' on fretted notes up and down the neck -- if it sounds 'buzzy' to the point of distraction you're too low.

Here is a pronounced version of what I'm talking about from Eric Johnson

This would be a bit on the rattling side for me but it gets the point across. His one-time guitar tech commented  in a trade publication that he could hardly touch EJ's guitars without tons of string buzz. Light touch = clean; dig in a bit and you'll get cool harmonic spread.

If you hit a fretted note and it sounds 'clear as a bell' then lower the action. On this guitar you're not aiming for 'clear as a bell' but a touch of fizz. Try just straightening out the neck a bit with a truss rod adjustment and then messing around with the bridge/saddles if necessary.

My guess is that if you follow these tips you're mojo-empoverished Carvin will come to life, sound warm and rich. If not, either dump it or reserve it for playing through your high gain/metal amps where its clinical sound can work in your favor.