I've been reading around, and from several forums, Carvins seem to have a somewhat iffy reputation. (horrible support, faulty craftsmanship, etc). Any thoughts?
Long post here, so be warned
OK, firstly, Carvin. The pickup routes are indeed proprietary. This isn't an issue on their 6 string guitars as their 6 string pickups are very close to the Gibson standard that everyone else copies. You can put whatever you want in, and the original Carvin pickups will also fit in anything else. The Carvin 7 string pickups are smaller than most other manufacturers pickups, so getting aftermarket pickups in is a bit of work but not impossible. I've put DiMarzios in Carvin 7s and know people with BareKnuckles and Duncans in their Carvin 7s as well.
I personally love their single coils, and a couple of their 6 string models as well (the M22SD, and the C22J especially). Don't make the mistake of thinking stock Carvin pickups have to be replaced, especially on a Carvin 6 string. Carvin makes outstanding pickups, The End.
The quality of Carvin guitars is top notch all the way. Maybe you heard someone say they didn't like the size of the neck or something, but the quality is superb. If you buy new and you don't like it, they fix it no questions asked. I pretty much gave up on Ibanez 7s (after starting on UVs way back in 1990) after getting my current custom 727. The list of options for a new Carvin guitar is unmatched, and I think everyone knows that. And, they have other options available they don't even list. For example, some people (go figure!) return guitars to them because the flamed maple is "too flamey" or the quilted maple is "too quilted". Really, I kid you not
If you order one you can ask for the sickest flame or quilt they have and they'll look through their stock and find it for you. They will even attempt to match a picture you send them with wood in their stock. And they'll do this for any wood, not just maple. Can you imagine another company doing this?
You do need to be careful getting a used one, as they can differ wildly due to the long list of available options. As such, your DC400 might end up being very different than my fairly standard DC400.
One piece finished maple through necks are the Carvin default. On a 6 string, it's generally fine/adequate. High quality certainly, but not as good as they have to offer. On a 7, it's sharp as a pick axe. You should get a tung oiled neck on a new guitar (in my opinion) as their tung oiled necks are insane. But Carvin makes a solid guitar, no question about that.
As for Charvel, the ones made in Japan are the ones that are still (for the moment) the majority of the great Charvel buys. Early USA models with pointy headstocks, rosewoood boards, Kahlers, and solid colors are also very good buys. The guitars with guitar shaped Charvel logos come in two types; the USA ones have a 3&3 headstock on the guitar and say Made In USA like this:
and the Japanese guitars have a 6 sided headstock decal that says By Jackson/Charvel, like my Earvana nutted pointy:
The Japanese guitars are GREAT guitars, but they are going up in price all the time. Jackson owns their own factory in Japan, so these weren't made in Fuji-Gen or Matsumoku or someplace else. Great stuff. (Jackson has ALWAYS owned Charvel)
New Charvels are USA made and worthe their high prices. Old Cahrvels are also worth their high prices
Some of the "toothpaste logo" Charvels are also extremely nice guitars, so don't discount a Charvel right off the bat because of that logo. If you really want a Charvel, I would suggest going over to the JCF (jcfonline.com) and getting better acquainted with the Charvel world.
But you can certainly do well with a Carvin