Dave Burrluck flies the flag with a close look at the British-made Manson guitar...
Where would we be without those laid back Manson brothers? Quite probably where we are now, except of course we would be missing one of the consistently excellent British guitar making firms. It's hard to imagine the British scene without the Mansons and judging the way things are going for them at the moment, it's not a prospect we'll have to consider. They've just moved from their Crowborough residence to the more picturesque landscapes of Devon — a quick gander over these review samples indicates that the clotted cream is doing the lads a power of good!
A key to the Mansons' success lies in their ability to incorporate new technologies into their instruments while retaining their own definite style. Both these instruments feature Kahler trems and the guitar is fitted with an EMG unit whereas Manson are more synonymous with Schaller or Armstrong pickups. By the time you read this Manson will also have released a couple of rather special instruments which may be of surprise to the industry, but it is all Top Secret so I'm not allowed to say more. Still enough is enough. If you relish a good Brit guitar read on.
While this guitar may lack a name it doesn't lack anything in terms of construction and design. Based on the good ol' Strat we have an instrument that looks and feels expensive. Manson are timber freaks and although the past has seen many garish designs and colours this sample is firmly in a traditional mould with its clear lacquer, and brassand gold-plated fittings.
The guitar is constructed in the well proven Manson method — straight-through quarter sawn mahogany, ash 'side wings' and burr maple front facing. The quality of timber looks typically high and the burr maple front is visually striking with its medium and dark brown textures. The front edge is bound with a single black binding while the back edge has a small radiused curve. The typical back contour is shallow compared to an original Strat design but barring the small cutaway at the base of the guitar the shape is fairly close to the American original.
While Manson have a standard range of instruments available (this lies in between the standard Fender and Gibson scales) through Musimex they still of course offer all the custom requirements. Here for example the neck shape is built to specific request and is slightly fuller than the typical Manson 'V' profile, but still finely shaped and very comfortable. A 24 fret 640mm scale fingerboard is employed made from very black ebony. The board has a flat-ish camber and employs wide and flat frets all nicely dressed. Manson usually use these small mother-of-pearl dot markers — I always think they're too small — which give a delicate appearance to the fingerboard.
In contrast to the Strat today is the Gibson Explorer-type headstock, differing only from the Gibson in that the angle of the 'banana-bend' in the head has been straightened up a bit to improve the string angle from nut to machine head. The head angles back too, providing a good pressure over the brass nut although this is a bit academic as a locking nut is fitted anyway. To tie in with the body, the headstock has a burr maple facing and black binding plus the small Manson gold logo.
The access point for the truss-rod adjustment is behind the nut and consequently a small and nicely carved volute is incorporated into the neck design to strengthen this area of potential weakness. The actual truss cover plate is partially under the locking nut so that it has to be removed before neck adjustments are possible. One sometimes wonders if locking nuts are really worth the bother!
This guitar was quite a favourite at the Barbican Guitar Weekend resulting in quite a few pick marks and dents in the finish which is otherwise very good. The two part polyurethane and cellulose lacquers result in a see-through medium to dark brown antique colouring polished to a high gloss. The burr maple facing is not only difficult to work but also to finish resulting in 'dips' where the lacquer has sunk into the nurls of the grain. Still it does remind us that it's wood that the instrument's made of; I can't see the point of using exotic timbers and then covering them with a lacquer that looks like plastic — you may as well use Formica!
One only has to glance at the retail price to guess the hardware fitted: machine heads — Schaller, gold-plated, trem system — Kahler professional, steel construction brass plating. I hate Kahler trems for two reasons; one is envy — at about £270 I can't afford one — and secondly they're so well made and work excellently. Of course the vitriol remains between Kahler vs Floyd Rose vs Wonderbar etc, etc. It's all swings and roundabouts really, the important thing is not to believe other people, just try out the various systems and find the one that suits you in terms of playability and price. This unit is fitted with a palm lever as well as a standard trem arm which if used to effect can add a lot to your trem techniques. Fitting a Kahler means that the saddle height is higher than usual, resulting in the neck pitch having a steep back angle similar to that of a Les Paul, as opposed to the flatter neck angle of a Strat.
On such a luscious piece as this I'd have thought Strap locks would be standard fittings. Instead only standard strap buttons are used, a definite mistake!
With the emphasis on virtuosity rather than tonal change, a single EMG '81 humbucker is fitted in bridge position. A gold plated pickup surround is used offering the usual adjustment facility, (like I said there's no expense spared on this guitar!) The control system is deceptively simple with just a single volume and tone control with rather smart (gold-plated) Telecaster Knobs. Now of course the EMG pickup is rather special. It's the newest addition to the range and is powered as usual by a nine volt PP3 type battery installed in a separate compartment to the control harness at the back of the guitar. (For an in depth look atthe EMG range see IM July'85). The output jack is mounted on the side of the guitar, especially sensible because of the potential trem antics.
So you reckon this guitar is simple then? Well you'll be in for a shock, as I was when I gave it the once over through my not so trusty combo. I'd previously tried an EMG '81 on a rather lesser guitar than this and I was impressed, but in this setting the EMG really sparkles. It kicks out a hefty tone, clear and precise, at low amp settings, and tight, powerful, and above all Rock'n'Roll tone given some distortion at the amp. I was happily playing away thinking what a good sound I was achieving when I realised that the tone control was only about two-thirds on. Of course on a normal guitar this would make you sound like you're playing through a sock. Here however turning up the tone to full increased clarity, top end and estimated mid-frequencies somewhere above 1 kHz. As to whether this tone control is an EMG add on like the SPC for Strat type pickups I was unable to determine, but certainly the active nature of the pickup system holds a lot of answers — primarily a tone control that does something constructive!
With a sound as good as this and a Kahler to play with I was in seventh heaven (whatever that means... I was having fun anyway). Of course the abilities of a Kahler are well documented in print and on record by now and there wasn't a lot wrong with this one. Mind you as it's Kahler's flag-ship so to speak we are talking ultimate. Now that palm lever is a handy device too. It solves the problem of picking and bending at the same time as well as offering a 'rocker' action. By having the standard arm in the usual position and the palm lever facing away from the bridge your fingers can push down while your palm can alternately push the pitch up. Once you get the hang of it the degree of waggle potential is vast. Of course if you're a purist you can simply remove the palm lever as you would a normal arm.
Of course waggles aside this Manson plays pretty well too. Access to the top of the board is easy although of course the wide frets and small space between the top ones means you have to be quite careful to fret accurately. The shape of the heel and all of the neck is very comfortable, and while the actual neck profile isn't my favourite you do have the feeling that you're playing a very classy axe. It's quite a weighty beast but has an excellent balance, and you should have no worries about sustain anywhere on the board.
An expensive guitar this but we only have to look at the component parts to realise why. It looks and sounds luxury. This newest Manson isn't just limited to a single pickup; apparently a humbucker in bridge and twin single coils is proving very popular. If you're considering an investment of this size there's certainly quite a choice of British made guitars with similar specs, not to mention the American's. I think however if you look close enough this Manson may well provide the best value in this elite end of the market. I can't afford one but it was a privilege to test it out — I suggest you do likewise!
|Width of Neck at nut||42||39|
|Width of Neck at 12th||52||55|
|Depth of neck at 1st||23||21|
|Depth of neck at 12th||24||24|
|String spacing at nut||36||32|
|String spacing at bridge||51||55|
|String action as supplied at 12th Treble||0.8||2.0|
|String action as supplied at 12th Bass||1.8||3.0|
Review by Dave Burrluck
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