1955 Carvin Catalog Cover


This is pretty much where it all began for Carvin.  Although Lowell Kiesel had been sending out product information in the form of single-sheet advertisements since the early 1950s, in 1954, the  very first Carvin catalog was introduced.  It was 20 pages, and focused primarily on steel guitars, but also offered accordions, banjos, and few guitars, DeArmond accessories and parts.

Early Carvin Literature

1954 Basses

1954 Guitar Amps

1954 Bass Amps

The catalog also showed a variety of Fender and Martin instruments, which Carvin was a reseller of in the early days.

The cover showed a #8805 steel guitar & a Model #119 amp (though not to scale), and Lowell Kiesel's wife, Agnes, playing a Fender Telecaster.

Click each picture for a larger version.

On the near right is Carvin's Model #19 lap steel guitar.  This was a basic lap steel, with a plastic covered hardwood body, and a 22½" scale fingerboard that was probably some type of plastic.   Other features included a single pickup with chrome plated cover and single volume and tone controls.  The Model #19 sold for $28.90, and the optional case was $6.90.

On the far right is the Model #50 lap steel.  It was similar in physical size to the Model #19, and also had a 22½" scale fingerboard, but the body was more sculpted, and the fingerboard inlays were more elaborate.  The pickup, electronics and hardware were the same as the Model #19.  The Model #50 sold for $39.00, and the case was $7.90.


1954 Carvin Model #19 Lap Steel Guitar 1954 Carvin Model #50 Lap Steel Guitar
1954 Carvin Model #605 & #805 Steel Guitars

The Model #605 (near left) and Model #805 (far left) lap steel guitars were Carvin's higher-end models for 1954.  They were made with hardwood beech bodies and 22½" scale Lucite fingerboards.  The tuner buttons were ivory, and the hardware was chrome.  Each had an A-1 non-adjustable alnico pickup, with single volume and tone controls.  The Model #605 was a 6-string model, and the #805 was an 8-string model.  The Model #605 sold for $59.90 and the Model #805 was $75.00.  Either could be upgraded with an AP-Series adjustable pickup for an additional $10.00.  The optional case was $8.90.

Either model could be ordered in kit form, as well.  The kit included everything needed - hardware, fingerboard, electronics, etc., less the body.

Carvin offered an assortment of double-, triple-, and quad-neck steel guitars in 1954, in 6 and 8 string variations.  All models had beech bodies with Lucite fingerboards, and A-Series non-adjustable pickups standard.  The tuner buttons were ivory, and the hardware was chrome.  The doubleneck models had top-mounted volume and tone controls and a 3-way neck selector, while the tripleneck and quad-neck models had side-mounted master volume and tone controls and on/off switches for each neck.  The 6-string Model #6605 (above, far left) sold for $89.90, and the 8-string Model #8805 (above, 2nd from left) sold for $119.90.  The Model #8880 tripleneck (above, center) sold for $159.90, and the Model #888805 quad-neck (above, right) sold for $219.00.  All models were available with upgraded AP-Series adjustable pickups, and options such as screw-in legs and cases were offered.  The double- and tripleneck models were also offered in kit form, with all components except the body.

1954 Carvin Spanish Guitars

Carvin offered a handful of "Spanish" electric guitars (as they were generally referred to at the time) in 1954.  These were most likely made by Kay, Höfner or some other manufacturer, and then badged with the Carvin logo.

The Model 140 Spanish electric (top left) was a single-pickup arch-top model, with a spruce top, and rosewood fingerboard and bridge.  It had white binding on the front and back, and a white pickguard, and a single A-Series pickup with volume and tone controls.  The finish was antique brown.  It was also available as the Model 1744, which was a non-electric version.  The Model 140 sold for $59.90, and the Model 1744 sold for $36.90.  The case for either was an additional $9.90.

The Model 6 (top right) was also an arch-top design, with spruce top and curly maple back.  It had a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, and had body binding as well as neck binding and a bone nut.  Electronics consisted of a pair of alnico pickups, with pickup selector switch and volume and tone controls.  The price on the Model 6 was $99.90, or $65.90 for the Model 90 non-electric version.  Case for either was $15.00.

Carvin's only solid-body electric for 1954 was the Model H4 (lower right).  This guitar was made from "hardwood" (possibly maple) with a 25¾" scale rosewood fingerboard and bridge, and a pair of pickups with volume and tone controls and a slide-selector switch.  The finish was considered "copper-bronze".  This model sold for $59.90, plus $7.90 for the case.

Carvin also sold mandolins throughout the fifties.  The Model 6512 electric mandolin (lower left) was constructed with an arched birch front and back, celluloid binding and pickguard and had a gloss finish.  It was equipped with a single pickup, with volume and tone controls.  This instrument sold for $59.90, and the Model 1735 non-electric mandolin sold for $35.00.  Case for either was $7.00.

The Model 44 (far right) Spanish electric flattop was unusual - it was essentially an acoustic guitar with a pickup and controls added.  The top was spruce, with mahogany neck,  back and sides and body binding.  The fingerboard was rosewood, as was the bridge, which had bone saddles.  Price on the Model 44 was $59.90, or $36.90 for the Model 65 acoustic version.  Also offered was the Model 12 tenor guitar and it's acoustic version, the Model 17.  No details were given on either tenor model, but presumably, they were shorter-scale instruments tuned to a higher pitch.  Both tenor models sold for the same price as their standard counterparts, and a case for any of these was $9.90.

Also offered was the Model 504T tenor banjo (near right), which had a curly maple body with resonator and rosewood fingerboard with inlaid position markers.  It sold for $49.90, and was also available in a non-tenor model, the Model 504, for the same price.

Carvin also offered an assortment of add-on acoustic transducer electric pickups for acoustic guitars.  The Model 3 AT was used on instruments with an F-hole, and the Model 2 RH was used on instruments with a round soundhole.

1954 Carvin Flattop Guitars & Banjos
1954 Martin Guitars

One of the more interesting aspects of early Carvin history is that the company was an authorized reseller of other brands of instruments.  On the left are several Martin models that appeared in the 1954 catalog, which represented only a few of the Martin models that could be ordered (including Martin mandolins). 

In addition to guitars made by Martin, Carvin offered a complete line of Fender products.  Whether it was a Precision Bass, Telecaster, Esquire, steel guitar or amplifier you wanted, you could order it from Carvin.

1954 Fender Guitars, Basses & Amps
1954 DeArmond Rhythm Chief

Carvin also offered an assortment of DeArmond acoustic transducer pickups and other accessories in 1954, including the Rhythm Chief (left).  Various DeArmond gear would be featured in Carvin catalogs throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

1954 DeArmond Mandolin Acoustic Transducer
1954 Carvin Accordions   1954 Carvin Accordions

If you wanted an accordion, Carvin could also help you out (above).  These accordions were made by a "famous Italian manufacturer", most likely Sonola (which were featured by name in Carvin catalogs in the 1960s).

1954 Carvin Hawaiian Guitar Parts

Then as now, Carvin offered an assortment of parts so hobbyists could build their own guitars.  You could order just about everything you needed for a Hawaiian lap steel guitar, including a beech body.  There were also basic parts for "Spanish" guitars offered, including oval rosewood fingerboards and bridges.

In a trend that would exist into the 21st century, the inside cover of the catalog was reserved for an introductory letter, which served to primarily address Carvin's direct versus retail pricing advantages.

The inside back cover had a basic order form, as well as customer testimonials.  Note the 3% California sales tax, and the references to Hawaii as "T. H." (Territory of Hawaii) - at the time this catalog was printed, there were only 48 states!