Guitar Identification Guide

Bass Identification Guide

Properly identifying Carvin guitar amplifiers can be much trickier than identifying Carvin guitars and basses.  For starters, there is no serial number information currently available, from this site, or from Carvin directly.  So, unfortunately, having a serial number is of no benefit in identifying the year of a particular amp.  The best one can hope for is to narrow down a particular model to a range of years - but finding a specific year of a particular amp is just about impossible to do.  However, there are quite a few features that at least make it easy to narrow down an amplifier to a range of years.

Carvin Covina LogoAs with other Carvin gear, the first, and most obvious, detail to look at is the logo on the amp itself.  The earliest Carvin amps had the same logo as was found on guitars, basses and other instruments, shown at left.  This logo appeared on all Carvin amps from 1954 (and possibly earlier) through 1960.  From 1961-1965, this logo appeared on some amps and speaker cabinets, in addition to a plain block logo found on the control panel of the amp.  Starting in 1966, the "Curved C" logo (below right, top logo) began appearing on amps and speaker cabinets, in the form of a metal badge.  The plain block logo continued to appear on the control panels, as well.  Although most components of this era had the Curved C logo, some speaker cabinets did not.  The "Curved C logo generally appeared on guitar amplifiers from 1966-1987.

Carvin LogosIn 1976, the cursive logo (right, 2nd from top) began appearing on the amplifier control panel on some models (the first was the VTR2800).  The plain block logo (not pictured) appeared on the control panel of other models.  Regardless of which logo was on the control panel, the Curved C logo appeared as the "primary" badge.  By 1979, all amps that had a logo on the control panel (not all did; notably the ST series heads with the gold panel) used the cursive logo on the panel itself.  In 1987, the straight block logo (right, 3rd from top) appeared on the control panel of Carvin's MOSFET combo amps, replacing the cursive logo, but the Curved C logo was still the primary identifier.  This was the only year this logo was used, although it appeared in print ads for several years in the mid/late 1980's as the "official" Carvin logo (perhaps because the Curved C logo was harder to read).

In 1988, everything became standardized.  The italicized black logo (right, bottom) was used as amp badging, as well as on the control panels of Carvin's guitar amps.  The badge itself was plastic, and no longer made of metal like most of the Curved C logos.  This would remain constant until today, although the Vai Legacy Series guitar amps only used the Carvin logo on the amp panel - the Vai logo was used as the primary badge on the head and speaker cabinets.  Additionally, the Vintage Tube Series amps would use a cursive logo on the control panel that was similar, but not identical, to the one used in the 70's and 80's.

Quick Identification Guide

Feature Year
Yellow decal logo 1954-1960, 1961-1965 (some models)
Plain block logo (on control panel) 1961-1976
"Curved C" logo badge 1966-1987
Cursive logo (on control panel) 1976-1986
Plain block logo (on control panel) 1987
Italic block logo (control panel & badge) 1988-present
Cursive log (on control panel) 1995-present (Vintage Tube Series only)
Tube driven 1949-1965, 1973, 1976-present
Solid state 1966-present
Jensen speakers 1954 (or earlier) - 1970
Lansing speakers 1960, 1967-1969
Altec-Lansing speakers 1970-1977
CTS speakers 1971- 1975
Electro-Voice horns 1973-1975
MagnaLab speakers 1976-1985
JBL speakers 1976-1981
Celestion speakers 1978-1988
Gauss speakers 1979-1980
Electro-Voice speakers 1981-1989
Carvin HE speakers & horns 1986-1988
Carvin BR Series speakers 1989-1994, 1996-2001
Carvin Vintage Series speakers 1995-2001
Carvin PS Series speakers 1996-present
Celestion G12M Greenback speakers (Legacy) 1999-2000
Celestion G12 Vintage 30 speakers (Legacy) 2001-present
Carvin GT Series speakers 2002-present
Celestion G12T-75/Seventy80 speakers 2005-present
 

The chart on the right 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. 

Solid State or Tube?

Early Carvin amplifiers (like all other amps of the era) were tube-drive models, in combo configurations with 1, 2 or 4 speakers.  These early models were designed for use with pretty much any electric instrument, and generally had multiple channels for instruments as well as microphones.  Most of these amps used the standard 6L6's and 12AX7's, as well as a few others depending on the model.  From Carvin's first amp in 1949 until 1965, only tube models were offered.

In 1966, Carvin got swept up in the electronics revolution that had overtaken every electronics manufacturer around the globe.  Tube-driven amps were considered passť, and everyone was getting on the solid-state (or transistorized) bandwagon, and Carvin followed suite.  They only offered solid-state amps during the late 60's, and it would be 1973 before the benefits of tube-drive amps were re-acknowledged.  However, the 1973 VTR2500 tube head would exist for one year only, and it would be 1976 before another tube amp would be offered.  During this time, Carvin offered several amps, but were usually based on the same solid-state head.

From 1976 until the present, Carvin offered both tube and solid-state amps, in combo, half-stack and full-stack configurations.

Carvin used Lansing, JBL and Altec-Lansing speakers at various times in their history, and all these familiar speaker brands are related, and have a unique history of their own.

In 1928, Western Electric formed Electronic Research Products, Inc (ERPI) to manufacture and maintain early motion picture systems.  ERPI also performed research and development of better sound systems for use in theatres, and in the 1930's, the company became separate from Western Electric, and was renamed All Technical Products Company, or Altec.

James B. Lansing's company, Lansing Manufacturing (which had been formed in 1927) worked with Western Electric, and was pivotal in bringing sound to film, as well as developing all sorts of audio products, including speakers.  His Lansing Manufacturing Company was bought by Altec in 1941, creating the Altec-Lansing Company, and Lansing stayed with the new business for 5 more years.  For reasons that have been lost to history, Lansing decided to leave Altec-Lansing later in 1946, and form another company, Lansing Sound Inc,, which would soon be renamed James B. Lansing Sound, Inc.  By the 1950's, the company would simply be referred to as JBL,  and would ironically become of of the main competitors of Altec-Lansing.

James B. Lansing passed away in 1949.

 

Speakers

Carvin has used a wide variety of speakers in their history, including Altec-Lansing, Jensen, JBL, and their own MagnaLab models.  During the late 1970's and 1980's, it was possible to order most combo amps or speaker cabinets with different speakers loaded in them.

In the early to mid 1950's, Jensen speakers were used exclusively in Carvin guitar amps.  These were general-purpose mid-range speakers, as all the amps sold by Carvin were not specialized guitar amps, but were designed with multiple inputs for any electric instrument, as well as microphones on some models.  Jensen speakers used by Carvin from 1955 - 1963 were either 8" or 12" varieties, and a 15" would be added to the Model #10-RA amp in 1964.

In 1960, Carvin began to offer James Lansing speakers in some models, in addition to the Jensen speakers.  The Lansing speakers were the first 15" speakers Carvin had used (the previously used Jensen's were either 8" or 12", and a Jensen 15" wouldn't be available for 4 more years), and had a built-in tweeter.  These speakers would be offered in 1960 only, then would return again in 1967.  Although the "James Lansing" name has faded into history, the brand these speakers evolved into hasn't - JBL speakers, and Altec-Lansing (see sidebar).   By 1969, Carvin was offering an assortment of Lansing and Jensen speakers in a variety of speaker cabinets.

In 1970, James Lansing speakers officially began to be called Altec-Lansing speakers, and Carvin continued to use these speakers, in addition to Jensen speakers.  However, in 1971, the Jensen speakers were dropped in favor of CTS speakers, which were used in addition to Altec Lansing speakers, and in 1973, Electro-Voice horns were added to some speaker cabinets.

1976 was a significant year in every department for Carvin, and the guitar amplifiers department was no exception.  The CTS speakers were dropped, and Carvin introduced their own line of speakers, dubbed MagnaLab.  These were entirely designed and built in-house, allowing for cost savings versus purchasing off-the-shelf speakers from Jensen or Altec.  However, Carvin continued to offer JBL and Altec-Lansing speakers for a higher cost on most speaker cabinets.

In 1978, the Altec-Lansing speakers were dropped, in favor of the British-made Celestion speakers.  Carvin's MagnaLab speakers were still the standard, but Celestions could be ordered in the concert stack amps, and  JBL's could be ordered in combo amps.  More changes would occur in 1979 - specifically, Gauss speakers were added in addition to MagnaLab and JBL speakers in Carvin's combo amps.  The standard MagnaLab's were the least expensive; the Gauss' were the high-end.  The concert stack amps were offered only with MagnaLab or Celestion speakers.

In 1981, Gauss speakers were dropped in Carvn's combo amps, and replaced with Electro-Voice speakers.  MagnaLab speakers were still the standard, and Celestion speakers were still offered on the big amps.  In 1982, JBL speakers would also be replaced with Electro-Voice models.

The MagnaLab name was dropped in 1986, and Carvin simply put their own name on the speakers they produced, and in 1986, the "HE" (High Energy) series was the standard in Carvin guitar amps.  Electro-Voice and Celestion speakers were still offered as optional equipment.

1989 saw another significant change in the speakers Carvin used.  Celestion speakers were dropped altogether, and Electro Voice speakers were only offered as optional equipment in the XV112E Tube-X Amp.  But the big news was the introduction of the Carvin British Series speakers.  The British Series was designed to replace the British-made Celestion speakers, and had similar sound characteristics.  Also, 1989 was the last year the EV speaker would be offered on the XV112 - it would only be offered with the BR-12 in the future.  This was significant because this was the last non-Carvin speaker that would be offered in a Carvin amplifier, until the Celestion Greenbacks were used in the Vai Legacy Series amps.

Carvin British Series BR-12 Speaker In 1995, the BR-12 speaker would be dropped in favor of the new Vintage Series speaker.  All guitar amplifiers would rely on these new speakers in 1995.  However, the BR-12 would return in the MTS combo and stack amps and SX combo amps in 1996.  Also in 1996, Carvin would begin using their PS series speakers in the new AG100 acoustic guitar amps.

Celestion speakers would to return to Carvin in 1999, in the form of Celestion Greenbacks which were used in the Vai Legacy Series amps.  Vintage Series, British Series and PS series speakers would continue to be used in Carvin's other amps.

GT Series speakers were added to Carvin's lineup in 2002.  These speakers were standard in the SX series amps, as well as the Vintage Tube combos and MTS series.

In 2005, Celestion G12T-75 and Seventy80 speakers replaced all Carvin speakers, making all Carvin guitar amps Celestion-equipped.  The Vintage Series amps would adopt the same G12 Vintage 30's used by the Legacy line.

Coverings

1988 XV-112E Oak Combo AmplifierCarvin has used a variety of amp coverings in the 50 years they have been producing them.  In the 1950's, tweed linen covering was used on most amps.  In 1959, a material referred to as "airplane heavy-duty luggage covering" - probably some form or vinyl - was used on some models.  By 1961, all amps would use this covering. 

When the large stacks appeared in 1968, the covering was also changed, to black Lavant, which was a form of vinyl.  This would last until 1971, when the covering would simply be referred to as "black vinyl".

Many things at Carvin changed in 1976, and the amp covering was one of them.  After several years of using vinyl, Carvin switched to black Tolex (as did much of the industry).  Tolex had been around for quite a few years, and was used in the music industry on amps, speakers, guitar cases and just about anywhere an inexpensive, attractive covering was needed.

In 1981, black Tolex was used on all Carvin amps and speaker cabinets, but a very attractive oak cabinet was an option on the XV-112E combo amp.  This would be offered on this amp throughout it's life-cycle.  The XV-112E Oak was offered from 1981-1988, then reappeared in 1991 for one year only.

In 1989, Tolex was retired on all Carvin amps and speaker cabinets in favor of Ozite, a synthetic product made from dyed polyester and polypropylene, with a texture similar to indoor/outdoor carpeting.  The Ozite that Carvin used was greyish in color, and would be use through 1994.

In 1995, Ozite was replaced by Duratuff II, a similar material to Ozite, but much darker in color - almost black.  Duratuff II was used on all amps except for the new Vintage Series - these amps were covered in tan tweed, just like Carvin amps from the 1950's.  However, in 1996, Duratuff II  was used on bass amps only - guitar amps were covered in a non-descript black vinyl (except for the Vintage Series, which were still covered in tweed fabric).

Quite a bit changed in 1997.  The new AG100 acoustic guitar amp had an interesting new covering - green vinyl.  This was quite a departure from the various black materials that had been used over the years.  Additionally, the new SX amps were covered in tan Lavant, a material similar to vinyl, but more durable. The MTS amps were still covered in black vinyl, Vintage Series amps were still covered in tweed, and bass amps were still covered in Duratuff II.

The last significant change came in 2002.  The SX Series amps went to being covered in black vinyl, just like the Vai Legacy Series and the MTS Series.  Vintage Series amps were still covered in tweed fabric.  Bass amps were still covered in Duratuff II, except for the 2004 BRX bass speakers, which were covered in DuraTex, a spray-on polyurethane finish.