Carvin 212 Bel Air Combo

Long before we were shopping online for our musical gear or ordering from huge discount stores Carvin led the way in the mail-order industry, servicing the home shopper for more than half a century. However, being skeptical about purchasing something as personal as a guitar or amp without first playing it, I welcomed the opportunity to check out Carvin’s Bel Air combo amp. The 212 is a 50-watt, all-tube, vintage-styled guitar amp, powered by four EL84’s and five 12AX7 tubes, two 12-inch speakers, and priced at $559.99 (shipping is extra).

The key word here is unequivocally vintage. The poplar wood cabinet is covered in an appealing yellow-tweed/ox-blood grill cloth reminiscent of the 1950s amps. As you might expect from a vintage amp there are not a lot of bells and whistles. No digital effects, presets or memory locations for storing settings. The front of the amp has a single input driving two channels: clean and overdrive. Each channel has a dedicated treble, middle and bass control; channel two has a volume and overdrive control. A master reverb control functions for both channels.

Channel switching is accomplished by a toggle switch or via a two-buttoned foot switch. The clean channel yielded excellent, warm, clear and balanced guitar tones. The “Acoustic Presence” control located on the back adds additional brilliance to the sound (channel one only). I especially liked the way the amp responded to single-coil pickups. The sound was impressive no matter where I set the tone controls. My semihollow and archtop required a bit more tweaking of the tone controls to produce a good straightahead jazz tone. Blues and fusion musicians will love the overdrive channel. It has plenty of saturation even at low volume. I preferred the lower gain settings, producing a sweet crunchy texture without fuzziness and all the warmth you would expect from a tube amp.

The amp also features an effects loop that functioned equally well with stomp box and multieffect units; a line out (voiced, for direct recording); and an auxiliary speaker output with a three-position ohms switch.

Affordability, quality workmanship and great tones make the Bel Air an attractive choice in an all-tube amp.