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.
Mariner is an acoustic newcomer conceived by industry veteran Ken Achard, former head of Peavey Europe. After his retirement in 2002, Achard returned a few years later to set up Ashton Music in the UK, then retired again – but the instrument biz gets into your blood, and Ken clearly couldn’t resist a new venture. Instead of opting for China, practically the default choice for sourcing emergent brands these days, he has chosen a small factory in Korea, headed by a master luthier with nearly 50 years’ experience. The emphasis is on handcrafting rather than automated machinery. Mariner’s main thrust is divided between the Archive Series and the all-solid-wood Mastheads, and we’re looking at one of each.
Among Achard’s guitar-making influences is American Sam Koontz, best known for his work developing swell-back acoustics for Harptone and Standel during the ’60s. This dreadnought, like other Archives, has an arched back, which does away with the need for back bracing and is claimed to enhance projection. A similarly inspired detail – common to all Mariners – is the distinctive scoop-topped headstock, which closely resembles the old Harptone design. A twin-sails motif accompanies the logo, both inlaid in pearl.
The pressed mahogany back is understandably laminated, but the sides are solid wood, as is the clean, fine-grained sitka spruce top. The body is bound in maple, with multi-ply wood purflings front and back. Maple is also used for the heel cap, the rosewood fingerboard’s binding, and for an attractive ‘target’ decoration surrounding the endpin. This, again, is a cosmetic feature of all Mariners. Other detailing includes a pearl-inlaid rosette and cat’s-eye position markers. Save for one minor lacquer blemish, the guitar’s all-over gloss finish is spick and span, plus the internals are very tidily trimmed.
Although it has a separate heel portion the 648mm-scale mahogany neck is essentially one-piece, with a volute under the nut. It’s secured, as on all Mariners, by a glued ‘LockTail‘ joint combining a traditional dovetail with twin mahogany reinforcing inserts. Fashioned to a shallow C-meets-D profile, it’s a fast-playing, snug handful of average width, with the regulation 55mm string spacing at the bridge allowing easy fingerstyle. Fretting is well fitted with no sharp ends, though the tops could do with further polishing for more fluid bends. Oddly, the top (20th) fret is dressed very low and flat, for no apparent good reason, and much the same applies on our Masthead sample. Some kind of final-fret statement? Who knows?
Despite the supposed benefits of its swell back, the D-6N’s clout is reasonable rather than thunderously steroidal. One possible reason is the guitar’s relatively thick top, which may be inhibiting vibrational flexibility to a degree. That said, the actual dynamics are pretty good and the sound is pleasant tonally, with a nice woody-edged low-end warmth sitting sympathetically against well-tempered, sustaining highs.
In a market already awash with product, launching another acoustic brand is a brave move. Yet this series - priced at roughly 700 - is shrewdly positioned in an area that's either at the top end of more budget ranges or the entry point of more exalted names. Against it, the Archives face some stiff competition, particularly from all-solid-wood contenders. There are one or two niggles on this first-shipment example that need sorting, but the main things look right. Check it out: Mariner is a name well worth dropping anchor for.