This is very sad news for me. I love Carvin; always have since my beginning with them (1986).
I was first introduced to Carvin when I was at a girlfriend's house in 1986, the summer after I graduated high school. We were sitting on her bed, just chatting and such, when I saw a catalog. I had been playing bass for about three years and had a crappy short-scale bass that I worked really hard to play. I didn't have an amp or anything to plug into, so I learned to play by actually hearing the bass with the music turned low so that I could hear both. I learned every Dio song and most Iron Maiden songs. My fingers got really strong by playing that electric bass acoustically for so many years, haha.
Anyway, I saw the catalog and she handed it to me. "Carvin"? Who is that? She explained that it was a guitar and amp company that didn't sell in stores and that they made and sold their gear directly from their factory a couple towns over. I ordered a catalog or two, and for the next year read those things front-to-back and dreamed. What beautiful guitars and amps.
A year later, after a year of being a bum and living off my parents, they said to get a job, go to college, or get out. I went with the first. I saw a classified ad for a cabinet maker and called. I was given the address and drove out to Escondido. I had a few years of quality wooodworking experience through school, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I drove out to the valley (as we called it) and the address turned out to be Carvin. No way!
After talking to John Kiesel, one of the owners and sons of the founder, he offered me the position. It was $5.00 an hour. I drove home stunned that I was actually going to be working at Carvin. I was thrilled.
The job started out pretty rough, actually. I was a very skinny 18-year-old kid and had to assemble all the wooden pieces for all the cabinets. Some were a foot tall. Some were about five feet tall. They weighed from about ten pounds to probably eighty pounds. I had to lift each panel, glue them, and then nail them together with a pneumatic nail gun. For the first three weeks my arms (and especially my wrists) were killing me. I struggled to even drive home each day because my wrists hurt so badly. But I was working for Carvin! There was no way I was going to quit.
Just as my muscles started to adapt and the pain went away (about a month into the job) the hazing began. Looking back, it was a good experience for me, but at the time it really upset me. There were a couple guys who were upset that I was given the job (because they thought they had earned the spot), and there was the typical factory tough guys who would bump me out of the way like the tough guys did in high school. This lasted about three months or so and many days I really wanted to quit. But it was Carvin! I had to hang in there.
After about four months or so of dealing with a lot of BS from fellow employees and after getting the nerve to tell a few folks to F-off, the hazing subsided and the respect built up. I was now one of them and it felt really good to be part of that company. John, my boss, was friendly, patient, had a quick wit and made me laugh. He care about the people who worked for him and was not quick to fire people. He believed in me and I really appreciated it.
For the next two years I worked my way through the entire catalog several times. Most cabinets were quite enjoyable to build, and I took a lot of pride in my work. I wanted each cabinet to be something I would be willing to buy (which is specifically what they guys taught me my first few weeks. They frequently asked, "would you buy this?" That was a very valuable lesson for me and I stuck with that attitude when assembling the products. I loved to see the cabinets in the showrooms (there was one at the factory and one in Hollywood that I would occasionally visit). I would gaze in the catalog and think, "I built that. How cool is that?"
There were many involved in making the amps and speaker cabinets, of course, but 99% of them had to pass through my hands. There was only one amp I had no part of, and that was one that was made of pure oak. It couldn't be assembled in my part of the factory. But all the rest of them I put together. It was an important job to me, and I got a lot of satisfaction when I would tell people "I'm a cabinet maker for the Carvin Corporation." That impressed my musician and rocker friends.
I also learned some great skills and would make a few cabinets on the side for friends (for free). We would head to the lumber store and I would pick out the woods, cut it at home, assemble it, and present to them a cabinet of the same quality as a Carvin but without the speakers and electronics. They would order those (usually from Carvin) and I would put it all together for them. These were friends who couldn't afford much, and it was only for a handful of friends. But it sure did earn me some respect and made me feel great about myself.
I have dozens of stories from my two plus year working there, and now that I've heard this news, maybe it's time for me to write these stories.
I worked there at the Escondido factory from age 18-20, as I mentioned, and it was a real job. Carvin helped shape me from a boy to a man. I was an immature kid out of high school who didn't want to go to college and who just wanted to hang out with friends, but after a couple years with Carvin I learned how to work, how to care, how to live on my own, how to pay bills, how to respect tools, how to respect blue collar work, and how to think about what I wanted out of life.
In the summer of 1989 my parents, both college graduates, were starting to get concerned that I might not go to college at all (it had been three years since high school), and they motivated me to quit Carvin and go to school. The carrot they dangled was that they would get me a truck and make the payments if I went to community college and stuck with it. So I did. I went to Palomar College (ten minutes down the road from the old Carvin factory), put in about three years there before transferring back east to the University of Georgia where I majored in education and became a teacher. Now I'm in my 23rd year of teaching. My current position is as an engineering and technology instructor at a middle school in Atlanta. I get to teach the kids a lot of what I was doing at Carvin, along with showing them other aspects of manufacturing, such as automation, injection molding, interchangeable parts, the product lifecycle, forms of energy, and much more. It's a blending of blue collar and white collar, and it's a fantastic job.
Sometimes I still have dreams of Carvin. Some of those dreams I'm just visiting, and in others I work there again. Carvin was an enormous influence on me, and I'm quite saddened to hear that the company broke apart and that the side I worked for is going out of business. I'll be thinking about this for quite some time. I hope John and the others are well. One of the brothers passed away years ago; I remember hearing that (Gavin), but hopefully the others are healthy and happy. I knew John the best (because he was my boss), and Paul a little bit (he worked in the guitar department). I talked to Mark a handful of times but he worked in a section I didn't visit very often, and Gavin and I only said hello on occasion (he was in charge of shipping when I was there). Carson worked upstairs overseeing the electronics division, and sometimes Mr. Kiesel (the founder) would come in and tour the business. He was pretty old even back then, but he had a great smile on his face.
Hopefully I can share some of the fun stories, such as the wild parties in Hollywood at the showroom (they would close the shop and then throw a huge party for the employees and the rock stars who used the equipment. I met Steve Vai, Craig Chaquico, Dweezil Zappa, Scott Thunes, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and a few others. We had a blast jamming with some of them and getting silly.
And some of my coworkers and I had a lot of great adventures outside of work as we traveled around California getting into innocent trouble and learning how to grow up. Some of those guys I moved in with (my first time living away from home) and others took several paths in different directions, but we occasionally would bump into each other and have a few laughs over the memories.
I hope this isn't permanent. Carvin is iconic and will always be an important part of my life.
-- Mike Fairbanks (aka Fairmont); Atlanta, Georgia