by Darrin Fox
Carvin is known for the wide selection of solidbody electrics and thinline acoustic-electrics it produces at its San Diego, California, factory. However, for its new Cobalt series acoustics, Carvin joins the ranks of guitar companies who have discovered the wonders of Korean manufacturing. And if you’ve paid any attention to guitar production over the past decade, you know that the instruments currently being made in South Korea are pretty mindblowing. One of the impressive results of Carvin’s decision to build acoustics overseas is the Cobalt C980 ($790 direct).
Inside this jumbo-sized flat-top is an immaculate interior with cleanly shaped and sanded braces, a top supported by the classic X-pattern, and nary a sign of excess glue or sawdust. The C980’s binding—and there’s lots of it—is superbly applied on the body, neck, and headstock. The paua-shell pieces that adorn the top and rosette are also flawless, as is the lovely wood mosaic that runs along the back. Some of the neck inlays exhibit excess epoxy around the edges, but it’s a small downer in an otherwise excellent cosmetic presentation.
The C980 is one of those guitars that plays so smoothly it’s tough to put down. The frets are carefully rendered, and the factory setup is stellar— super-low action without a buzz to be heard. The C-shaped neck is a comfy fit, and it’s a perfect compromise between, say, the fast, almost electric-type feel you get from a Taylor, and a chunkier, more traditional neck.
Tonally, the C980 is a well balanced instrument. Arpeggiated open-chords ring with a detail and crispness that belies the guitar’s jumbo size. Open-string bluegrass runs leap from the soundhole with a superbly focused midrange clarity (the C980’s sleek playability doesn’t hurt in this regard, either). The low-end exhibits a decent amount of thwump, as well as a clear and concise voicing that allows complex chords to speak clearly.
Laying into the C980 with vigorous strumming creates some compression, causing a slight loss of dynamic headroom as the frequencies squash together. The onboard Fishman Prefix Plus preamp offers bass, treble, contour, and brilliance controls, and it struts enough EQ muscle to construct some very happening tones.
The Carvin Cobalt C980 is a workingman’s acoustic that shoots a knowing glance at costlier, high-end models with its lovely cosmetics and quality woods and workmanship. Those attributes combined with superb playability and hip tones make the Cobalt C980 a top contender in the mid-level acoustic-electric arena.