In the 1960's and early 1970's, Carvin bought necks from Höfner, and used them on their own guitars and basses.  Höfner was founded in Schönbach, Germany in 1887 by master luthier Karl Höfner, and was the largest manufacturer of stringed and fretted instruments in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His two sons, Josef and Walter, joined their father's company in 1919 and 1921, and they successfully expanded Höfner's worldwide market, enabling them to survive the years of recovery following World War II.

Höfner is now part of The Music Group conglomerate, and still makes guitars, basses and other gear.

Carvin's relationship with Höfner began in the mid-1960's, and would last until the late 1980's.  Carvin guitars and basses from 1964 until 1978 had bolt on Höfner necks, and the SH225 was made by Höfner and sold under the Carvin name.

Note the following headstocks:

Hofner & Carvin Headstocks
The headstock on the left is from a late 80's Höfner Nightingale.  The headstock on the right is from a 1982 CM140.  Although the headstock shapes are different, there is no mistaking the inlay in the center.

In this example, the Höfner headstock on the left is from a 1963 model, and the Carvin headstock is from a 1978 CM140.  Although the inlays are different, the shapes are nearly identical.

In the above example, the mid-60's Höfner headstock on the left is identical to the '73 Carvin CM95 on the right, including the inlay.

Carvin basses also showed their similarity to Höfner models.  The 1968 Höfner 500-6 has the same headstock shape, as well as the same inlay as the 1974 Carvin SB40.

This example (above) shows a relatively new Höfner "Beatle bass" (right) with a '79 Carvin LB60.  Once again, the "double diamond" logos are identical.  Click the picture to see the entire Höfner advertisement.

For more, see 1969 and 1981.


Due to the amount of customization available on Carvin basses, identifying the specific model can sometimes be difficult. Serial numbers can be of some help in narrowing down the possible guitar models available for any given year, but the most accurate method of making the determination, particularly on a guitar where the serial number is not known, is by looking at the woods, hardware, and headstock, and then seeing what models from what year fit that criteria. Serial number information for Carvins is scarce, and bass guitars were serialized right along with guitars:

Bass Identification Matrix

Guitar Identification Guide

Amplifier Identification Guide

  lowest known
serial number
highest known
serial number
1970 - 1979 5000 10019
1980 - 1983 10768 15919
1984 - 1987 13666 25332
1988 - 1990 22731 25683
1991 - 1994 25359 42547
1995 - 1999 45879 81427
2000 - present 56162 ~95000

Extrapolation of serial numbers is practically impossible, and the numbers themselves have no logical order.  For example, a TL60 made in 2002 has a serial number of 63663, while a Bolt made in 2000 has a serial number of 82398, and an LB70 made in 1998 has a serial number of 63094.  These examples are actual serial numbers, as well, and are only one example of the randomness of Carvin's serial number schema, especially from 1995 to the present.

Guitars and basses prior to 1970 did not have serial numbers.  1970 was the first year, and the serial number sequence began with 5000 (versus something like 0001).  Unlike most other manufacturers' serial numbers, there are no hidden "codes" in a Carvin serial number that indicate year or month of production, or anything else.  They are, essentially, a random number. 

Carvin serial numbers can be located in several different places.  Older models, up through the late 1990's, had the serial number on the jackplate.  However, models with rounded body sides had jacks with no plates, so these serial numbers are located on the fretboard.  There's an exception to this, as well - maple fingerboards.  Because maple (and birdseye maple) cannot be stamped with a serial number like ebony can, a model with rounded body side (and therefore, no jackplate) with a maple fingerboard would have the serial number on the control cavity cover plate.  Models from the 1970s with a bolt-on neck could have the serial number located on the neck plate, as well.

Carvin does not keep an accurate database of serial numbers, and cannot provide any information based solely on a serial number.  Because many of the guitars they produce are custom orders, the serial numbers flow as the orders are received, therefore, sequential serial numbers could represent any model guitar or bass. 

So, the best details to look at in narrowing down possible Carvin production years are logo style, neck, headstock shape, bridge, tuners and body construction. Still, determining the actual model year can sometimes be very tricky, but by paying close attention to these details, a good educated guess can be made.


The chart below will help narrow down the year of production based on certain general features.  Not all features are options are listed here; this is just a quick-reference guide.  For much more detailed information of features, models and the relevant model years, see the Bass Identification Matrix.

Feature Year
Bolt-on Höfner bass neck 1964-1978
Bolt-on Carvin bass neck, curved logo 1977-1978
Bolt-on Carvin bass neck, block logo 1997-present (B4, B5)
Set neck, curved logo 1979-1987
Neck-through, block logo  1988-present
Koa wood 1981-present
Natural finish 1954-present
Sunburst finish (with bolt Höfner neck) 1954-1976
Black, White, Red finishes 1983-present (Black introduced in 1980)
All other colors 1986-present (released gradually, some discontinued)
Flamed maple top 1989-present
Quilted maple top 1992-present
Schaller bridge 1983-1987
Kahler Bass Tremolo  1985-1991
Wilkinson bridge  1991-1997
Hipshot bridge 1998-present

As with all Carvin guitars and basses, the presence (or absence) of a specific feature does not guarantee the year of manufacture.  For example, there are some set-neck guitars (circa 1987) with the block logo (which wasn't "officially" introduced until 1988).  Because features and options were added or discontinued at various times during the year, and because Carvin would generally accommodate requests to use features that were no longer officially offered, there are some exceptions to the rules presented here.


One of the first general giveaways to the year of a particular model is the logo on the headstock. This will at least identify if it's pre- or post-1988, which was the year that Carvin switched from the curved logo to the block italic logo. This is particularly useful when identifying used guitars (and basses), as the year is often misidentified. The curved logo started appearing around 1975 in the middle of the headstock, oriented so the it read normally if the instrument was on a stand, regardless of whether the headstock in question was a 2X2 or an inline.  Later headstocks, with the block logo, were positioned horizontally on the 2X2 headstocks, and vertically on the inline models. In 1976, the horizontally-oriented curved logo, positioned at the top of the headstock, was introduced. The curved logo in this era was also inlaid, not a decal as in the block logo of later years.  However, there have been a few newer Carvin guitars made with an inlaid block logo - but the rule of thumb is that if the logo was the inlaid "curved C" (as shown at the right), it's pre-1988; if it's a decal block logo (in black or white), it's 1988 or later.

Carvin LogosThe logo on the right (above) was the standard on Carvin guitars during the late 1970's and early to mid 1980's.  Some models had the "double-diamond" inlay, and some did not.  The inlay was predominant on the higher-end models, like the DC160, but has been seen on other models of that era (and was a holdover from the Höfner era; see sidebar at left).  Additionally, a different inlay, the "sword" (another Höfner design) was used at least in 1978 on the traditional headstock with rosewood fingerboard.  In the early 1970's, the double fleur-de-lis style inlay (also from Höfner) was used on some guitars and basses (see the headstocks below).

The 2 logos in the middle (right) never appeared on guitars or basses. They are included here for posterity only. The cursive logo (2nd from top) was used on mixers and pro audio amps in the 1980's, and the block logo (2nd from bottom) was used on some instrument amps and other electronics in the 1980's. Prior to '88, the same curved logo (top) that appeared on guitars and basses also appeared on amps and speaker cabinets. After 1988, all Carvin gear used the standardized italic block logo (bottom).

This logo was used on some Carvin components in the mid to late 1970's; specifically, on such things as amp and cabinet handles.  It's similar to the "Curved C" that was used in the 1970s and 1980s, but the letters aren't attached to the underlining part of the letter C. 

This is the earliest Carvin logo, used on instruments beginning about 1949, when the L. C. Kiesel Company name became Carvin, Inc.  This logo was used until about 1955, when the factory was moved from Baldwin Park (about 20 miles east of Los Angeles) to Covina.

Carvin Covina Logo

The Covina logo on the left was used on Carvin guitars and basses from 1956 to 1969, following the move from Baldwin Park. The Carvin factory moved from Covina to Escondido sometime around 1969, so there may be similar logos that read "Escondido, Calif." for the period of '69 through '75.

If you go back in time far enough, you'll find the logo on the left (and some variants) in Carvin's history. This is the original Kiesel logo, used on steel guitars manufactured around 1947, before the Carvin name (which came from Lowell Kiesel's 2 eldest son's names, Carson and Gavin) was introduced.  Note that at the time, Carvin's home base was Gothenburg, Nebraska.

Kiesel Logo

Kiesel Patent Applied For

Kiesel didn't stay in Nebraska long.  Although this was Lowell Kiesel's home state, he returned to Los Angeles after a brief stint in the midwest, and the logos on the left and right were used on steel guitars and amplifiers from the era, circa 1948-1949.


Another obvious giveaway to the model year is the headstock shape.  Although this won't narrow it down to a specific year, it will at least provide a range of years, especially since the headstock shape changed every few years.

70 - 75 Headstock 76 - 78 Headstock 79 - 87 Headstock 86 - 88 V Headstock 88 - 89 Inline Headstock
70-75 (70 and 71 had no inlay) 76-78 79-87 (inlay on some models) 86-87 (V440)
87-88 (LB90)


88 - 89 Inline 5 Headstock 90 - 91 Inline Headstock 90 - 91 Inline 5 Headstock 92- 95 Inline Headstock 92 - 95 5-String Headstock
88-89 five string 90-91 90-91 five string 92-95 (large logo in 92) 92-95 five string
92 - 95 6-String Headstock 96 - 03 Inline Headstock 96 - 03 5-String Headstock 96 - 03 6-String Headstock 96 - 03 Traditional Headstock
92-95 six string 95-05 (standard) 95-05 five string 95-05 six string 95-05 (optional)

04-06 "pointy" reissue

05-06 bass CT

06 IC4

06 IC5 06 IC6


Carvin has offered a variety of bridges for their basses throughout the evolution of the instrument.  Identifying the type of bridge is another excellent method of narrowing down the possible years of a particular model.

1979 - 1983
1983 - 1987

1987 - 1991

Early Carvin basses used the standard bridge tailpiece configuration, which were constructed initially from aluminum, the later, from brass.  Various spacing between the bridge and tailpiece were used over the years.  Shown is a 1978 TB4 bridge and N4 tailpiece, which was designed for narrow neck basses (1 3/4" between outside string).

In 1979, Carvin began using the Schaller TB8 combination bridge tailpiece.  This was chrome plated, and was offered with gold plating on the LB60.  The body and the saddles were made from brass, and had 2" spacing between outside strings, as would all future 4-string bridges.

In 1983, Schaller changed the design of their one-piece bass bridge, making the mounting plate larger, which presumably provided more sustain and resonance.  Like it's pre-decessor, it was made from brass with brass saddles.  Initially, this was only available in chrome, but would eventually be offered in black chrome and gold.

The Schaller bridge was changed again in 1987, but still called the TB8.  This bridge was distinctly different from it's predecessors; most notably, the addition of roller saddles and a rounder design.  This bridge was available in chrome, gold or black chrome finishes.  In 1988, the TB5 was added, which was identical to the TB8, but for 5-string basses.

1985 - 1992
1991 - 1998
1991 - 1998
1992 - 1998

The model 2400 Kahler bass tremolo was introduced in 1985, and was offered in chrome, black chrome and gold hardware.  A 5-string version, the model 2405,  would be added 1989.

The Wilkinson TW4 bridges were unusual in that they didn't have a large metal plate that attached to the body of the bass.  Also, only the saddles and string holders were chromed (or gold, or black chrome) - the majority of the bridge appeared black.

The Wilkinson TW5 bridge was the same as the TW4 in design and function.  Like the TW4, only the saddles had finish on them.

The Wilkinson TW6 bridge was the same as it's 4 and 5 string counterparts.

Incidentally, the "TW" model name comes from the designer, Trev Wilkinson.

1998 - 2005

1998 - 2005

1998 - 2005

1997 - 2000

The Hipshot SF4 replaced the Wilkinson bridge, and added a more refined look with a smaller footprint than the Wilkinson.  Like the Wilkie, only the saddles were chromed (or gold) - the body was black on all models.  In 1999, the option to feed the strings through the body of the bass was introduced, increasing sustain and punch.

The Hipshot SF5 was the same as the SF4, with chrome, gold, or black saddles, and the ability to feed the strings through the body.

The Hipshot SF6 was the same as it's 4 and 5 string counterparts.

The 2Tek bass bridge was only offered briefly at the end of the 1990's.  It was probably rarely used, as it was about a $300.00 option.  However, it was an excellent bridge, with a big block of steel that went completely through the body to increase sustain.

1999 - present

1999 - present

1999 - present

2006 - present

In 2001, the P Series option was added, which brought with it the piezo bridge.  This bridge had a piezo pickup on each saddle, allowing the bass to simulate acoustic tones.  The piezo bridge could be blended to any degree with other pickups.  Like the Hipshot, only the saddles were chromed or gold plated.

The P Series bridge was also offered in a 5-string version, which had the same features of the 4-string model - that is, the saddles were available in chrome, black or gold, which the aluminum bridge body was only offered in black.

The 6-string piezo bridge had the same features as the 4 and 5 string models.

In 2006, the Hipshot A-Series bridge became the standard on all Carvin basses.  It was available in 4, 5 and 6 string variants.



Carvin basses started off using AP-series pickups in 1959, and continued using these until 1977.  AP-4 pickups are easily recognizable, with a single adjustable pole piece under each string, in two rows (one on each coil).  From 1959 to 1971, these pickups were cream colored.  In 1972, they were black, and this lasted until 1977, when they had chrome covers.

In 1978, the M22B pickup (left, top) was introduced.  Like it's guitar counterpart, this pickup had two rows of 11 pole pieces which were adjustable with an allen wrench.  Originally, the pickups were cream, with either a cream or black bezel.  In 1986, black pickups were added; however, this would be the last year for the M22B.

In 1987, the M11B stacked humbucker (left, center) was introduced.  This was originally designed specifically for the LB90, but wound up being used in all Carvin basses in 1987.  These pickups had a single row of 11 pole pieces, which were adjustable with an allen wrench.  They were only offered in black with a black bezel.

One year later, in 1988, a newly redesigned stacked humbucker called the M13B (left, bottom) replaced the H11B.  It was the same basic stacked humbucking design, but with 13 pole pieces, versus 11, which allowed fuller coverage of the E and G strings (compare the H11B and H13B at left).  Like the H11B, these would only be offered in black with a black bezel.  These pickups would only be used in 1988 and 1989.

In 1990, the H50B stacked humbucking pickup (right, top) was introduced.  This pickup, which had the same physical dimensions as a Fender Jazz bass pickup, did not have adjustable pole piece - a first on Carvin basses.  Due to it's size, it could be used on Carvin's 5-string basses, as well as the 4-string models.  It was available in black only.

Carvin introduced the LB76 6-string bass in 1992, and with it, the new H50N pickup (right, center).  It was physically identical to the H50B, but the internal coils were redesigned so that it could accommodate string spacing up to 3.3" (versus 2.9" with the H50B).  This pickup was also available in black only.  Visually, the H50N was nearly identical to the H50B, except for the addition of the Carvin logo on the lower left corner, and the plastic cover had a little texture to it.

In 1999, the new J99 single coil pickup (right, bottom) was introduced in conjunction with the HB series Alnico humbuckers, and it became standard on all Carvin basses.  The H50N was still available, but the J99 was standard.  Physically, the J99 was identical to H50N, but if you look closely, you can see a small dot preceding the Carvin logo in the lower left corner - this is the only way to differentiate between a J99 and an H50N by appearance only.

In 2005, the H50N was replaced by the H50S, which was also a stacked humbucker, and this replaced the J99 as the standard pickup on all Custom Shop basses except the Icon.  Visually, the way to tell the difference between the new H50S and the H50N and J99 was by a little blue dot that appeared right before the Carvin logo on the top of the pickup (similar to the J99).

Carvin HB Series Pickups

Carvin's most radical new bass pickup debuted in 1999.  This was the HB series pickups, which were humbucking pickups with Alnico V magnets at the poles.  Commonly referred to as HB2 pickups, there are actually 4 models - the 4-string HB4 (bottom); the HB5 (center), which had 2.63" spacing between outside poles; the HB5W (top), which had a wider 2.9" spacing between outside poles; and the 6-string HB6 (far left).  These pickups could be ordered in a pair, a single (similar to a MusicMan bass), with a J99 in the neck position, or with an H50N (later, an H50S) in the neck position.

At the same time as the HB series was introduced, Carvin also added the P Series option, which was a package that consisted of a J99 (later, an H50S), HB and piezo bridge pickup system with 18V active electronics and rounded body side.

In 2006, Carvin took a giant leap forward with the introduction of the SPN and SPB soapbar pickups, which were standard on the new Icon bass, and optional on other bass models.  These pickups had side-by-side coils, and could be used in active or passive mode.


Carvin has used an assortment of high-quality woods since they began building their own necks and bodies in the late 70's.  With the exception of poplar, all these woods are still available on Carvin basses and guitars.

Maple Eastern Hard Rock Maple (Acer Saccharum)

For many years, Eastern Hard Rock Maple was the standard wood used in Carvin basses.  It is still the standard used in Carvin necks, due to it's bright tone and superior sustain.  It is still available as an optional body, but is no longer standard due to it's heavy weight.  The grain is closed and easy to finish, and looks good in translucent finishes as well as solid colors, but not stained (unless finished over with clear gloss) or tung-oiled.

Shown is a 1981 LB50 in clear gloss with chrome hardware.

Birdseye Maple (Acer Saccharum)

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, Carvin offered Birdseye maple on their upscale LB60 bass and DC160 guitar.  The "eyes" are a natural occurrence found in hard maple.  It is a heavy wood, which produces a bright tone, just like standard maple.  Currently, Carvin only offers Birdseye maple on fingerboards.

Shown is a 1979 LB60 in clear gloss on Birdseye maple with gold hardware.

Poplar Poplar (Liriodendron Tulipifera)

Poplar was Carvin's standard wood from 1990 to 1996.  It's very similar to alder tonally, and weighs just slightly more.  It is naturally a grayish-green color, so it does not look good with clear finishes, or with some translucent finishes.  Like maple, it is a closed grain wood that is easy to finish.

Shown is a 1993 LB75 in Tobacco Sunburst with gold hardware.

Alder Alder (Alnus Rubra)

Harvested largely in the Pacific Northwest, alder is a light weight wood with a full sound. This is the standard wood used on Carvin basses (in conjunction with a maple neck), unless another wood choice is specified.  It's has a tight grain, with little or no grain lines, making it easy to finish. 

Shown is a 2003 XB76 in clear gloss with gold hardware.

Flamed Maple Flamed Maple (Acer Macrophyllum)

Flamed maple tops were added as an option in 1989.  Prior to that, Carvin's basses had some figure (the pattern of the grain) in the maple, but varied from little figure to moderate figure.  When the flamed maple top option was added, it signified that highly figured 1/2" maple would be added to a body made from a different wood, usually alder.  Flamed maple is also referred to as fiddled maple or tiger maple, and is recognized by the striped pattern.  Striped patterns that run diagonally to form a point in the center of the body are referred to as chevrons (pointing towards the bridge) or reverse chevrons (pointing towards the neck). Because it represents a small amount of the total body mass, it does not have a huge impact on tone, but could add some brightness if applied over mahogany or koa.

Shown is a 1995 LB76 in Classic Sunburst on flamed maple with gold hardware.

Quilted Maple Quilted Maple (Acer Macrophyllum)

Quilted maple tops were added to list of Carvin options in 1992, but had been available in the 80's on the DC160 guitar (called "curly maple" at the time).  It is used as a "top" on Carvin basses, meaning a 1/2" layer is added over another type of body wood - usually alder.  Like flamed maple, quilted maple does not have a huge impact on tone, but could add some brightness if applied over mahogany or koa.  It is rarer than flamed maple, and is found mostly in western maple.  Quilted maple has a more circular pattern, in contrast to the relatively straight pattern of flamed maple, and the figure  varies widely, from loose, cloud-shaped patterns to tight curls.  It looks good in translucent and burst finishes, and stains finished in clear gloss, but not in matte satin or tung-oil.

Shown is a 2003 LB76P in Cherry Sunburst on quilt with gold hardware.

Koa Koa (Acacia Koa)

Carvin began using koa wood (sometimes referred to Hawaiian mahogany) in the early 80's, far ahead of most manufacturers.  This wood is grown only in Hawaii, adding to it's exotic appeal, and making it's quantities somewhat limited.   It's lighter than maple, but varies from medium to heavy weight.   It's tone is warm like mahogany, but a little brighter, and has become increasingly popular in bass guitars.  Carvin builds koa basses with tung-oiled finish, clear matte satin, and gloss finish.  Carvin basses can be ordered with a koa body and maple neck (which would be standard on a koa model, unless otherwise specified), or with a koa body and 2-piece koa neck, or koa body and 5-piece neck in several combinations.  Carvin also offers a 1/2" thick highly flamed koa top which can be used in conjunction with koa or other body woods.

Shown is a tung-oiled 1993 LB70 with koa neck and body and chrome hardware.

Flamed Koa Flamed Koa (Acacia Koa)

Early Carvin guitars and basses that used koa had some degree of figure in the wood, but in 1996, Carvin began offering select highly flamed koa tops for their guitars and basses.  Like standard koa, these basses could ordered with a tung-oiled finish, clear matte satin finish, or clear gloss finish.  The flamed koa top could be added to a bass with any body wood, including the standard alder, mahogany, maple or swamp ash.  A flamed koa top could also be ordered on an AC-series acoustic/electric bass. 

Shown is a 2004 AC50F with flamed koa top and chrome hardware.

Walnut Walnut (Juglans Nigra)

Walnut (also known as black walnut) is almost as heavy as maple, but not quite as bright.  Carvin's standard walnut body is used with a maple neck, but a 2-piece walnut neck can be ordered, as well as a walnut or figured walnut top used with another body wood.  The grain is similar to koa, but the wood itself is darker.  Walnut looks good in tung-oil, matte satin, or gloss finish.

Shown is a a 1999 LB70 in tung-oiled walnut with gold hardware.

Claro Walnut Claro Walnut (Juglans Hindsii)

Claro Walnut is part of the black walnut family, and is grown primarily in Northern  California, but can be found as far north as British Columbia.  The Claro Walnut Series was introduced in 1999, and used a California Claro Walnut top on a body with walnut back and maple center.  Tonal properties and weight of Claro Walnut is similar to standard walnut, with the difference being the highly figured quality of the wood.  Claro Walnut can be tung-oiled, finished in matte satin, or gloss.

Shown is a 1999 Claro Walnut LB76 in gloss finish with gold hardware.

Mahogany Mahogany (Khaya Ivorensis)

Mahogany is similar in tonal characteristics to koa, but has a finer grain with little or no figure.  It's also about the same weight as koa, being lighter than maple, but heavier than alder.  The tone is warm and full with good sustain. Carvin offers mahogany with a maple neck, or mahogany with a two-piece mahogany neck.  Mahogany looks good in clear gloss, and with some translucent finishes and burst finishes.

Shown is a 1995 LB70 in Tobacco Sunburst on mahogany with mahogany neck and black hardware.

Swamp Ash Swamp Ash (Fraxinus Americana)

Carvin began using Swamp Ash (also known as Southern Ash) in 2001.  In recent years, this has become a popular wood, especially for basses, due to it's light weight and tonal qualities.  It offers a very nice balance of brightness and warmth with a lot of punch.  It has a distinctive open grain, and is creamy in color when unfinished.  The attractive grain pattern lends itself well to translucent colors, but it can also be painted a solid color.  However, it does not accept stain well, and therefore, should not be finished with stain or tung oil.

Shown is a 2001 LB76 in translucent Sapphire Blue with chrome hardware.

Spruce Engleman Spruce (Picea Englemanii)

Engleman Spruce is only offered as a top on Carvin's AC40 and AC50 acoustic basses.  Bodies of these basses are usually made of mahogany.  Engleman Spruce trees are grown in subalpine climates such as British Columbia, and the trees are slow to grow and long lived (300 years).  Engleman Spruce is light and has a tight grain, which enables the wood, when properly cut, to vibrate much like a speaker cone. As the guitar ages, the sap hidden in the grain of spruce gradually dries and crystallizes, further accentuating the bright, resonant quality of the wood.

Shown is a 2002 AC40F in clear matte satin finish with black hardware.

For more information, see the Bass Identification Matrix.