And it will last a lifetime…
Headless guitars always have been dividing guitar players into two camps: Some like them, others can’t stand them at all! And every time I read discussions about this topic online, I get the impression that it will most likely never change. Let’s be clear about one point though…90% of all negative comments are about the aesthetics of a headless guitar. Some guys just don’t like a guitar without headstock, period!
On the technical side of things, a headless guitar actually has a lot of advantages. It weighs less than a guitar with headstock, it’s smaller and therefor more travel-friendly and it stays in tune way better due to the fact that it doesn’t need a nut. The zero-fret also makes fretted notes sound equal to open notes, which is something I personally like for my feeling when I play. Don’t get me wrong! I am not totally pro headless and against traditional guitars. I just like the advantages and the feel of a headless instrument, especially when it comes to traveling. Plus, some of the guitar players that really had a impact on me used headless guitars, Allan Holdsworth and Paul Masvidal.
Whatever you think about headless instruments – they seriously have seen a resurrection in the past years. With more technical music slowly rising into various musical genres, players appreciated the characteristics of those “weird looking guitars”.
So why a Kiesel/Carvin?
First of all, for those of you who haven’t heard about the company at all (I actually met some guys who didn’t): Carvin has been around since 1915 and looks back on a long legacy in producing musical instruments, as well as amplifiers and audio electronics. They recently divided the company into several divisions in order to specialize and grow in each sector, guitars & basses, pro audio and amplifiers. To honor their founder, Lowell C. Kiesel, the company started to give this new line of instruments the original family name, Kiesel Guitars.
Since I started working in the MI industry back in 1998, I always observed the company’s activity and growth. But here in Europe they were not represented very well. Although some dealers had them in their product range, they didn’t really promote the brand and prices were really high in comparison to already established brands. Since the 1st of April 2015, Carvin/Kiesel sells directly world-wide, except for some asian countries which still operate with large dealer networks.
When the company announced their new models at NAMM 2015, I fell in love with the design of the Vader in a heartbeat! After I spoke to a good buddy of mine (who owns several of their guitars) about quality, neck shape and so on, I decided to place an order. While I was browsing through the available options regarding woods, parts and pickups, my jaw dropped several times. Would this company actually build a guitar just exactly how I wanted it to be for a price where others just send you their “standard” model?
Order process and build time
Carvins website features a well-designed guitar builder that gives you all necessary information on additional charges for build options such as body wood, necks, hardware, finishes, colors, pickups, cases and even accessories. It will also show you a preview image of woods and colors in order to give you an idea what the instrument will look like. If you get lost in a certain decision, the website provides you with guides on the characteristics of each wood and even a pickup comparison chart.
The build time is approximately around 6-8 weeks, which is very fast for a custom-made instrument in my opinion. It seems like Carvin’s production line is well organized and each team member works hand in hand with the other to get the job done. My Vader V6 was delivered exactly 7 weeks after I placed the order.
Shipping to the EU
This part stills scares a lot of European customers: Customs duty! You’ve most likely heard a million stories about high import fees or complicated procedures with lots of paperwork etc. But there’s actually nothing to worry about here. Carvin/Kiesel ships all instruments international with FedEx. The shipping fee for most instruments is 116$, the Vader as a compact instrument just costs you 84$. It takes them about 4-6 working days to deliver, which is very fast if you consider that Carvin/Kiesel is located in San Diego, California. Two days before arrival, FedEx called me to announce the delivery. I needed to sign a single document, scan it and send it back to them. This piece of paper just allows them to handle the import & customs procedure on my behalf. Two days later the guitar arrived and I paid the customs in cash to the FedEx delivery guy.
Yeah yeah, but tell us more about the guitar!
As promised in social networks, I did an unboxing video of the Vader V6 (check the embedded videos below). When I finally had it in my hands, I couldn’t believe how beautiful and elegant it is. I ordered it with a Deep Aqua Burst satin finish, which blew my mind away. Then I checked the workmanship like I do it with every new piece of gear I receive. The finish was flawless, the fretwork impeccable and when I started playing I felt at home right away.
Here’s a sum of the specs:
- Light Mahogany body
- Flamed Maple top
- Maple neck tung-oiled (neck-through)
- Ebony fretboard
- Mother-of-Pearl block inlays
- 24 Stainless Steel jumbo frets
- 20″ fretboard radius
- 2x Kiesel Lithium humbuckers (passive)
- Master Volume, Master Tone, 5-way lever switch
- Deep Aqua Burst Satin finish
- SC9 Ultimate softcase
There is an option to receive the guitar with a chambered body, which further reduces the weight and increases the overall resonance. But for a smaller upcharge (50$) you can also ask Carvin to select the body wood by lowest weight, which I went for in the end. This guitar weighs 2,5 kg with a solid body and even without the chambering option, it is very loud when played without an amplifier connected.
I was able to play it right out of the included SC9 Ultimate Softcase without applying a setup or anything. In fact, it was still in tune when I hit the first chord. The almost flat 20″ fretboard radius makes it very comfortable to play and I would describe the neck shape as a modern “C”-type. The description of my buddy (“Thicker than an Ibanez neck, thinner than a Mayones…”) absolutely fits it. The Tung-Oil neck finish feels just great from the very first moment. I have always been a fan of natural finished necks, but never owned a guitar with this kind of finish. It feels very smooth and silky and lets you do fast movements across the board without any effort.
As most guitars with a neck-through design, the Vader produces a lot of sustain. But this V6 might actually hold a new record for sustain in my guitar collection. Strumming all strings and starting the stop watch, it takes almost a full minute until the tone finally fades out completely!
The Hipshot hardtail bridge comes with knob tuners, looks very solid and feels comfy for the picking hand, while the tuners work smooth and precisely even under high tension. Changing strings (which I did for a lower tuning) and setting the guitar up took me exactly 15 minutes.
Kiesel Lithium Humbuckers
This topic came up a lot after I did the unboxing video! People were asking about Kiesel’s new Lithium pickups, which come as a standard with every new Vader model. And I was curious too, since most manufacturer’s stock pickups don’t really cut it and people swap them with a set of brand pickups right away. There is no need to do that actually!
I played the Vader V6 in standard tuning with clean & crunch sounds as well as heavy distortion and leads. After I changed the strings and tuning, I repeated this test and my jaw dropped again. It seems like the Lithium humbuckers feel at home in any kind of musical environment. The basis is an Alnico V magnet, which produces an open and transparent, yet powerful tone with huge dynamics. The harder I hit the strings, the more drive and tightness is produced. The 5-way lever switch allows a variety of sounds between full humbucker and split-coil operation and none of the combinations sound dull or hollow.
I am truly impressed! From what I heard before I expected the pickups to be better than most other stock pickups, but now I feel like I want to order a few more sets to replace the pickups in my other guitars.
Traveling safe and easy
Every Vader model comes with the Kiesel SC9 Ultimate Softcase. It’s like a perfect marriage between gigbag and hardcase, as all sides are reinforced and thick-padded. You can wear it like a regular guitar bag thanks to the attached backpack straps. It also features a double accessory compartment, where you could easily carry cables, tools, strings etc. The bigger compartment could also fit a 12″-13″ laptop or even a small pedalboard amplifier like my trusty BluGuitar AMP1 (see picture below). This combination appears to be the ultimate fly gig setup, whether there is a backline at your destination or you’re playing DI. This makes me happily looking forward to some shows in South America I will be playing early next year!
Guitars are a very personal thing and it’s always about individual taste. I have constantly been looking for MY guitar and it seems that at least my search for it is over! Kiesel’s Vader is a versatile, comfortable and beautiful instrument. The instrument’s workmanship is next-level business and will stand or even win every comparison with other established brands or builders. Even if you never considered to try a headless guitar, you should give the Vader a ride. You will be surprised!
For more information and some guitar building fun visit Carvin’s website!