Nothing wrong with plain, understated guitars, but these two swashbuckling Mariners bring a welcome taste of Nashville back into the acoustic market. Review by Jerry Uwins
Industry veteran and former Peavey Europe boss Ken Achard’s Mariner project was launched a year ago. Originally, all the guitars – the arched-back Archives, all-solid-wood Mastheads and more upmarket Esos – were made in a small Korean factory.
Due largely to limited capacity in the face of growing demand, production of the Masthead and Eso Series has been moved to China resulting in significant three-figure price reductions while, says Achard, ‘maintaining quality excellence’. Along the way, new models have come on stream, one of which is our Masthead JX-6SB slope dread.
And so to the flagship Eso Series, and a luxury Martin-style dreadnought. The body – of good-looking all-solid spruce and rosewood – has a three-piece back with three-ply dividing strips of maple/rosewood. Not only does the top carry abalone purfling but the back does too, all bordered by wood purflings and maple binding.
This theme is repeated around the headstock – this time carrying gold Sta-Tites – while the maple-bound ebony fingerboard receives large pearl parallel/oval position markers, the octave one adding an abalone dot in the middle. A couple of the markers are sitting slightly askew, a glitch that the fretting tends to visually accentuate.
Reflecting the instrument’s plush spec, the neck is a five-way sandwich of two outer lengths of mahogany with narrow inner strips of maple and a central fillet of rosewood. Unlike on the slope dread, there’s a volute under the nut.
With a scale length just a couple of millimetres longer than the Mariner JX-6, the E-6’s neck is a smidge wider, though this is so marginal as to make the profile essentially the same, the only detectable difference being slightly less wood along the shoulders of the similar-depth ‘C’ profile.
The medium fretting is again carefully dressed and polished, helping make this an equally enjoyable, very slick player.
Tonally, this guitar is nicely sorted. The highs have a pleasant, fluid sparkle and the articulate voicing is easy-sustaining. Again, though, there’s a sense that it’s not yet delivering to its maximum potential.
More rosewood-like low-end richness and depth wouldn’t go amiss, and though it’s not tight as such, there’s a slightly compressed quality to the sound. Maybe just more running in is required, or perhaps the weight of nearly 2.5kg on the scales suggests a build that’s overly sturdy and possibly resonance-inhibiting.
When we reviewed a couple of early Korean Mariners last year, the sound - or the slight shyness thereof - was a point we made, and this remains an area to bear in mind. However, these Chinese-made examples come across as far more accomplished instruments in all other respects - the necks especially are excellent - and weighed along with their attractive new lower prices they are both, of their respective styles, instruments to be seriously considered.