Carvin soapbar pickups

Last week I ordered a few of Carvin’s new soapbar pickups to try out, and they arrived this week.  I have to say that I’m quite pleased with these pickups.

Carvin introduced the Icon series of basses a few years back, and I have to admit that I wasn’t that interested at first. The shape was okay but I didn’t think the bass was that special.

Later on, I realized that the “SP” model soapbar pickups were the same size as the Bartolini P2 (which seems to be one of the new standard sizes now) and that they were available for sale without the Icon bass, in bridge and neck models. That got my attention.

Recently Carvin also repackaged their new “H50A” stacked-coil humbucker (originally in their Jazz shell) into the soapbar case as well. My Carvin bass had these (or something very similar) as the stock pickups, and they didn’t sound half bad, despite the onboard pre-amp. So I figured I should try one of each model, just for fun.  And, as a bonus, I could include these pickups in my Ultimate Fretless Bridge Pickup Comparison if they sounded good.

And they do.

The “H50AS” stacked-coil humbucker has a nice detailed, rich and aggressive sound.  It picks up a lot of the upper midrange and treble without being too “barky” or peaky.  And of course it has a good fundamental and respectable lower midrange response.  It feels very lively, perhaps due to the stacked-coil construction (which sounds close to a good single-coil) and it is very responsive to different fingering technique.  Harmonics sound clear and balanced, while slides and vibrato really bring out the nice tonal qualities of the fretless fingerboard.  It has a very useful tone that isn’t too thick or too thin, and with some careful EQ tweaking I think it would fit in nicely in pretty much any genre, at least with a bridge pickup.  It compares favorably with the Bartolini “Classic Bass” series, with perhaps a bit less “sweetness” in the upper midrange, but without the “bump” that comes with Bartolini.

By comparison, the “SP” dual-coil humbucker (bridge model) sounds darker and less extended in the treble, almost as if it had a rolled-off response due to a passive tone control.  It lacks the same singing quality on a fretless bass, and there’s a pronounced “bump” in the midrange (somewhere between 500Hz and 800Hz, if my ears aren’t fooling me) that really imparts a forced quality to the tonal signature.   If you’re a heavy fingerstyle player, some notch filtering or perhaps a compressor would be a good idea for this pickup.  The fundamentals and lower midrange are perhaps a bit stronger than the “H50AS” but the lack of upper midrange makes it seem less detailed.  It would probably fit in well with a mix, but my impression is that this pickup was designed with a “polite but punchy” sound.  I tried using a bit of slap (in as much as I’m capable or willing to play slap bass) and the pickup seemed to fit nicely.  I would expect that a pair of these soapbars in the usual locations would work well for slapping.

But for a price of $59.99 (for the “SP” model) or $54.99 (for the “H50AS” model) each, these pickups are a great value, and they prove to be surprisingly good.  I must admit that I had some reservations about buying Carvin pickups, given my earlier experience with their onboard pre-amps; but after playing these I think I can strongly recommend these pickups for anyone who’s looking to build a new bass or upgrade the pickups in an existing bass.  Again, the fact that these are in a “standard” soapbar size means they’re accessible to more players.

I will definitely include these pickups in my upcoming comparison project, and sound clips will be available when they’re ready.

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