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.
Whether one calls this a slope-shoulder dreadnought or, in Gibson terminology, an Advanced Jumbo, the J-45 influences are clear to see, though they’re topped by Mariner‘s distinctive, decidedly non-Gibsonesque hallmark – the Harptone-like scooped headstock.
Construction of the timelessly elegant body is all-solid spruce and mahogany, bound in maple with multi-ply wood purfling, including the ‘target’ endpin inlay that features on all Mariners. With its obligatory vintage sunburst top, the instrument’s all-gloss coat is lustrously buffed, the back, sides and neck are stained to a deep brown while the top boasts an abalone-inlaid soundhole rosette.
The dark tortie pickguard isn’t placed quite accurately against the circumference of the rosette, but that’s about the only cosmetic flaw in this fine-looking guitar. The internals are very tidily fashioned, too.
The 642mm-scale mahogany neck carries a suitably ’30s-style set of open-geared chrome Grover Sta-Tites and is secured – as on all Mariners – by a glued ‘Locktail’ joint which combines a traditional dovetail with twin mahogany reinforcing inserts for extra stability.
Of regular width, the neck has a maple-bound fingerboard and is fashioned to a shallow ‘C’ profile which feels speedy and instantly comfortable. Well-dressed, smooth-ended medium-width frets and a good set-up add to the enjoyment.
In the manner of many freshly minted all-solid-acoustics, the first strum suggested that this slope dread wouldn’t be very forthcoming. Volume was up to scratch but the dynamics seemed tight and the tone somewhat characterless.
A good dose of playing in, though, is changing this. More punch has emerged, there’s a better sense of headroom, and the sound is more responsive.
There’s still further to go, and time may unlock a little more underlying resilience and, hopefully, more warmth, which is presently a little shy for this style and size of instrument.
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.