I’m sure that it might be hard to believe as a viewer that I could do review four products from the same company and give four sterling reviews. It might seem like I’m somehow biased, or that I’m delusional.
The fact of the matter is that when you have designers, builders, and staff who seriously care about the end product and give a shit about their customers being happy, what you get is a consistently excellent product. The sheer tenacity of owner Jeff Kiesel and his quality control obsession coupled with the company’s almost 70 years of experience results in a kind of stability you can’t really expect from other companies or builders, large or small. Larger companies can’t seem to keep their quality control up because of the number of instruments they send out makes that level of oversight impossible, and smaller builders often just don’t have the resources to fix their mistakes (replacing an instrument due to a defect could bankrupt some builders). So this makes for a singular kind of custom instrument from a singular kind of family-owned company.
The Kiesel/Carvin Guitars DC800 I reviewed for this week was no exception. It was, as the others were, a stellar piece of craftsmanship, combining perfect playability and tone with beautiful woods and superb design. Of course, all the details of this guitar were chosen by someone else, so it’s not customized to my exact liking, but it really didn’t matter. The only things I would have changed were the color and the unfinished neck, which are just little preference things that you decide on when you order a custom guitar. The 27″ scale length was comfy, and though the F# string may have benefitted from some extra length, it’s not a tradeoff I’m willing to make for the other strings, which were quite bright and stiff at that length. You can hear from the demo that the pitch did not suffer at all. The setup was mint from the get-go, and I was up and running in no time.
Having 8 strings is fun. For the little jazz portion of the demo, the basslines are all played on the guitar’s low register, with just a rolloff of the tone knob. If you only have one guitar for making demos at home or on the road, an 8 is for sure the way to go. I know for a fact that Guthrie Govan has a Strandberg Boden 8 for just such a purpose, and now I see why. I’ve played eights before, but I never thought to use it as the sole instrument for demoing ideas.
The pickups are totally killer. I’m reminded of the somewhat recent turnaround of Domino’s Pizza – in 2009 the company essentially admitted that it’s pizza wasn’t up to snuff, and they completely redesigned it from scratch. Everything – sauce, crust, cheese. The result is that they have pizza that I don’t just order because it’ll come to me and it’s cheap and I’m lazy, but because it’s actually damned delicious, and I want to eat it. In the same way, I think Jeff was tired of being asked to put other manufacturer’s pickups into Kiesel and Carvin guitars, or seeing people get their guitars and switch out the pickups themselves, because he set out on a pickup quest. He worked on these suckers for months, A/B’ing them against every hyped aftermarket pickup available. The old Carvin pickups weren’t bad, just nothing really special. But like the pie of sauce and cheese, the pickups were reborn anew – the Lithium line of 6, 7, and 8 string pickups for modern sounds from modern guitars.
They realized that their pickups weren’t just good enough that people wanted to leave them in their Carvins and Kiesels, they were good enough that people wanted to buy them to put in other guitars, so now they offer them for sale individually as well. I personally think they sound perfect for modern metal, with strains of BKP and Seymour Duncan’s lines of more metal pickups like the Aftermath and Nazgul. They’re voiced a very certain way, with a kind of resonant frequency bump that could make them less suitable for certain genres, but I think I demonstrated their versatility pretty well.
The Kiesel Treated fretboard is a luxuriant upgrade for only the most discerning of connoisseurs. It looks awesome, and you will for sure be the only kid on your block with a colored fretboard. I don’t know that I personally could justify the cost for that kind of flash, but damn it’s pretty.
The DC800 is a great design, and with a base price of $1049, it’s a superior quality 8 string that can be minimally spec’d for entry-level 8 stringers without breaking the bank, or built out to impress any cork sniffer with high-end features. The Lithium pickups are sure to please any modern guitarist as well, in this guitar or any other.