If North American build, a solid sitka top and Adirondack bracing sound like high-end specs then the price of this no-frills Seagull will make your eyebrows shoot skywards. Review by Huw Price
Description: Mini jumbo-sized electro-acoustic. Made in Canada
Price: £399, or £479 with pickup
Contact: 440 Distribution – 01132 589599 – www.seagullguitars.com
To describe the appointments of the Seagull Walnut Mini Jumbo as Spartan might be understating it. This guitar is almost brutally stripped back, having no body binding whatsoever, no inlay, and a satin finish so thin that you might wonder if it’s even there at all. Nevertheless, the Mini Jumbo feels solid and the overall look is not without aesthetic appeal.
Hailing from Seagull’s affordable new Walnut series, it shares the other models’ unusual rosette decoration. True to its Canadian heritage this constitutes a handwriting style script in both English and French reading ‘Handcrafted in the village of Princeville Quebec Canada’, and it appears to be branded onto the solid spruce top.
Although described as ‘mini’, the Seagull’s jumbo body is not insubstantial. It measures 16″ across the lower bout and 11.5″ across the upper, which is only about an inch smaller than a Gibson J-200 and almost on a par with a Lowden O style.
The absence of binding makes it easy to tell that the back and sides are made from a three-layer laminate with locally-sourced Canadian walnut. Since the middle layer is lighter in colour, it creates a faux binding effect that enhances the tight curves of the body.
It’s hard to move in Canada without bumping into maple, so it’s the logical choice for the neck. Stacked at the heel and scarf-jointed at the headstock, there’s even a hint of flame when the light catches it just right. We think the rosewood heel cap looks a bit incongruous, but the neck joint – bolted on and then glued – seems solid and the tiny gaps just about pass the Rizla test.
Seagull’s tapered headstock is a company feature. Although not to everybody’s taste, it’s a sleek look and it serves a practical purpose by allowing the
strings to reach the tuner posts without deviating too far from a straight path. The tuners themselves are chrome Seagull-branded diecast units with small oval buttons. They look cooler from the front than from the back but they feel accurate and precise. Phosphor bronze strings pass over the nut, travel along a rosewood fingerboard and terminate at a rosewood bridge with a compensated saddle. Both the nut and saddle are Tusq.
A Fishman Isys T pickup control module is side mounted on the upper bout. In addition to a built-in tuner there are Volume, Bass and Treble controls plus a phase switch and a battery level indicator. The pickup itself is an undersaddle piezo.
There are occasions when a guitar exceeds expectations, and this happens to be one of them. Big-bodied acoustics can sound boomy but the Mini Jumbo’s bass is ample and well defined. We wouldn’t describe it as a bright-sounding guitar, but there is a pleasing amount of chime. Above all the Mini Jumbo’s defining sonic characteristic is provided by warm woodiness of the midrange. What really sets the Mini Jumbo apart is the way it responds so freely to playing touch.
It certainly doesn’t need a strong right arm attack to get the top moving, and this makes it a dynamic strummer as well as an expressive fingerpicker. Dropped tunings are handled with ease, low strings retaining weight and definition along with excellent string separation.
The back and sides are laminated, but the Mini Jumbo’s response is closer to what we would expect from an all-solid instrument. It even sounds like a walnut guitar, running a middle line between the earthiness of mahogany and the harmonic complexity of rosewood.
Although there’s no mistaking the piezo pickup, it’s easy to dial in pleasing tones using the Bass and Treble controls and the amplified sound bears more than a passing resemblance to the acoustic tone. The phase switch is a welcome addition and, although it’s not super-accurate, the tuner is a bonus. Factor in a modern, fairly flat ‘C’ neck profile with a medium/low action and the Mini Jumbo is a real player’s guitar.
To hit this low price Seagull has cut back on the cosmetics, but it’s easy enough to live without the body binding and fancy inlays. As for the finish, no attempt has been made to grain-fill, but somehow it made us feel more connected with this guitar. The fretwork is excellent and even the pickup system impresses.
At this end of the market you might expect indifferent acoustic tone with a decent enough pickup system, or vice versa, but the Mini Jumbo is just as satisfying to play plugged in as unplugged. Even so, some customers might consider the acoustic-only version with a view to installing a pickup system of their choice at a later date. In all other respects this Seagull is an honest, no-frills instrument that has been built to last a lifetime. Ultimately, tone and playability, not trimmings, are the things that matter – and the Mini Jumbo nails them both.