Manson Sandpiper Acoustic
Having looked, last month, at the superb Kinkade Kingsdown, we decided to stay up-market for this issue, and nab a model from another British maker who must by now be known to just about everyone - Sussex-based Manson Guitars. The Sandpiper is the 'flagship', as it were, of the Mansons' range of acoustics. It's a smallish-bodied, narrow-waisted instrument, following (like the Kingsdown) Martin's 000 styling, and it's available in either rosewood or mahogany options.
I'd better confess, before I go any further, that I am in fact a Manson Sandpiper owner - at a trade show some three years ago I tried a mahogany Sandpiper for the first time, and (delighted especially by the unusual neck, more of which later) actually shelled out my hard-earned moolah to buy one. But it is possible to leave personal tastes aside for the purposes of a review: after all, just because a particular model of guitar happens to suit me, that doesn't mean I expect it to suit everyone. So, without prejudice (as the legal eagles say), how does the Sandpiper look as a prospective buy?
My borrowed sample had back and sides of Indian rosewood, its spruce top sporting a dark Sunburst stain which, I gather, is a new departure for Manson acoustics, and already proving very popular. Certainly the guitar looked stunning, and the unostentatious herringbone purfling together with plain dot-markers on the fingerboard and the very elegant cellulose finish gave it just the right subtly classy touch without going over the top. The bridge and neck, too, are rosewood, and the fingerboard ebony, with bone nut and compensating bridge saddle. Machines are the ubiquitous Schallers, and I know it gets boring to keep on saying how smoothly and accurately they work, but I can't help it - maybe that's why they are so widely used!
Now, that neck which I mentioned earlier - and this is really special, as its profile is V-shaped rather than the normal U. This is something that few other makers have ever incorporated - in fact, the only examples that I can think of were found on some early Strats. These old V-profiles were immensely popular among Country players, particularly as they made it a lot easier to use the thumb for holding down the bottom E/A strings (Cheat! - Ed.), but Fender eventually dropped the idea, and no one else seems to have taken it up seriously, until now.
The profile does feel odd until you get used to it - but when you do it's like Christmas and your birthday and leaving school all rolled into one! This neck is fast and I mean fast! With the superbly finished fretting and slight camber on the fingerboard it's one of the most eminently playable necks I've ever come across. I'd imagine that an electric player, who perhaps would find the heavier strings and higher action necessary on an acoustic a bit hard-going by comparison to their Les Paul Tele or whatever, could adapt to this Manson with the greatest of ease. And, of course, one advantage of a handmade guitar is that every individual neck is slightly different; you can be really fussy and select the degree of profiling that suits your hand exactly.
So, visually and physically, the Sandpiper is class with a capital C. But how about the sound?
Rosewood by nature produces a warmer and richer sound than mahogany - and it was fascinating to be able to compare the two. Used as I was to the bright and ringing hard edge of my own Sandpiper, I was in for quite a surprise when I started playing the rosewood model. The Three R's - Rich, Ringing and Rolling - would sum it up perfectly; a sweet, warm and full tone, yet with tremendous backbone to the sound, if you know what I mean. Sustain and projection were plain ridiculous, and the balance across the strings superb - plenty of top without harshness, and a rich bass to lend weight but without the smallest trace of boominess; the bass never threatened to overpower the top strings. I'd even stick my neck out and say that it's possible to get something akin to a classical sound on this guitar - and yet it still has the ability to ring out with a power and an energy that's downright spine-chilling.
The two Manson Sandpipers are very different beasties indeed, but you'd have to go a very long to way to find the equal of either of them. For me, the toppier, 'edgier' mahogany version is perfection, with its snapping ring reminiscent of a vintage 000 a la Carthy. Its rosewood brother is altogether warmer and richer, a stupendous Country or solo folk guitar with a sound and projection that (at least in my experience) only something like a Martin 0045 can equal. It's one of that rare breed of guitars whose sheer quality actually encourages you to experiment and (hopefully!) improve your playing standard, and the spectrum of its sound, from that ringing top to the full, warm and sustaining bass has to make it one of the most versatile acoustics I've ever tried. For solo work - live or recorded - I'd challenge anything to beat it, and its sheer playability, added to the equation, makes it an out-and-out winner.
Sorry, IT readers - I've been boring again! No faults, no doubts, no criticisms - the Manson is something very special indeed. No, it's not cheap - but neither are Aston-Martins, and they're hand-made too! The old saw that 'you gets what you pays for' is only a cliche because it's true - and, to my mind anyway, the Manson Sandpiper is worth every bit of its price, and then some, for an instrument that will do you justice for a lifetime. And, to the original owner, Mansons are guaranteed for that lifetime - a gesture of faith that just has to be good news!
But don't take my word for it. Try the Sandpiper, in either version. It might just be love at first sight!
£597.13 (Rosewood) £570.40 (Mahogany)
More details from Manson Guitars Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Katy 88
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