With interesting design twists both internal and external, Mariner guitars are gunning for the ever-tricky mid-priced bracket. Will they sink or swim? Jerry Uwins finds out
This Masthead auditorium is similar in most respects to the D-6N, including the style of body purfling and neck binding. There are, though, some subtle upgrades. The rosette’s inlay and the fingerboard’s markers become abalone, while the top adds a tortie pickguard. The dreadnought’s diecast Grover Rotomatics are replaced by a retro set of open-back Sta-Tites. As an all-solid-wood series, the Mastheads are conventionally strutted with a regular back, and the AX‘s combination of sitka top and mahogany back and sides is again visually well chosen, with a high standard of buffing on the gloss lacquering and very clean internal finishing.
Save for a tad more span across the nut and truss rod access – via the soundhole not the peghead – the neck is pretty much a ringer for the dread’s, including the volute, a slick profile and the need for more fret-top buffing. It may be that future shipments will see the neck being further broadened to 44mm at the nut for a more obviously fingerstyle format, but the guitar is still an easy player whether you’re picking or strumming.
The AX’s sound is like a modestly scaled down version of the dread’s – tonally similar minus, of course, some of the dread’s bottom-end depth. Once more, there’s a sense that the instrument needs to unlock a little more thrust; I’m thinking top thickness again. Within folk-size realms the overall delivery is comfortably up to par, though, enjoying good clarity and a nicely sonorous follow-through.
In a market already awash with product, launching another acoustic brand is a brave move. This series priced roughly between 700 and 1000 is shrewdly positioned in an area thats either at the top end of more budget ranges or the entry point of more exalted names. Against either, the Mastheads face some stiff competition, particularly from all-solid-wood contenders. There are one or two niggles on these first-shipment examples that need sorting, but the main things look right. Check it: Mariner is a name well worth dropping anchor for.