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This article was originally published in issue #13
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Worried about the dwindling supply of tonewoods and damage to the environment, but still want the best sounding acoustic you can get for your money? UK brand Mariner builds guitars using 'sustainable' woods. But how do they compare tonally? Tom Quayle finds out.
Designed in the UK and made in China, Mariner Guitars are a breath of fresh air in an industry that isn't exactly always dedicated to environmental sustainability. By its nature, guitar manufacturing uses many woods that are becoming more and more scarce and whilst many steps have been taken over the years to counter this, Mariner has gone to great lengths to make sure that it embraces the use of woods that are sustainable and don't aid the destruction of rainforests.
This is an admirable goal for certain but there are very good reasons why woods like mahogany and rosewood have been used for so long and we've all become used to the sound, feel and look of these classic tone woods - so can Mariner produce sustainable guitars that sound great? Well, this reviewer thinks so.
The guitar we had in from Mariner was a Vertys AX-BB model, featuring solid Paulownia back and sides, a one-piece Nato neck with maple binding, a Sonokeling fingerboard and bridge, mated to a more traditional solid Sitka spruce top. It's essential these days that guitars in this price range have a solid top and even though you may not have heard of the other woods on offer rest assured that they look and sound every bit as good as their more conventional counterparts. The guitar is finished off with mother of pearl inlays, rosette and logo, bone nut and bridge saddle, quality die-cast tuners, multi-wood binding and a choice of brown-burst or honey finish.
The build process takes place in a specialist acoustic guitar factory in China and each guitar is handmade as far as possible. Thanks to the use of Asian woods, prices can be kept down and this allows for great build quality at a very good price for the consumer, Mariner says.
The review model was flawless in construction and gave the impression of a much more expensive instrument with no obvious corner cutting taking place. Aesthetically the Vertys is pretty, with its auditorium shaped, lightweight body. I'm not so taken with the Mariner headstock shape but that's a very personal preference and others may love its unique appearance. The Paulownia back and sides have a lovely, strong grain and the brown-burst is skilfully applied for a classy and individual looking guitar.
The Mariner's set-up was also very good with a very playable low action with no buzzing to speak of and a 628mm scale length giving a very comfortable playing experience for chordal and lead work.
Tonally, the Mariner is a great sounding guitar thanks to that solid Sitka Spruce top and quality construction and it will only improve over time. Thanks to the smaller body size of the Auditorium design, the Vertys AX has a very tight sound that is balanced in a most pleasing manner. It's not bass or treble heavy as are so many budget friendly instruments, but projects a good mid-range with a tightness in the lower and upper frequencies that lends itself well to plectrum work whether strumming or playing lead lines. Don't get me wrong, we're not talking super high-end piano like tones here, but for the cost this guitar sounds great and it's great to know that this can be achieved with sustainable woods.
For finger picking and more modern techniques the Vertys performs well also, with a good dynamic range and response, perhaps lacking enough volume for some, but there's a wide choice available for anyone who wishes to attach a pickup or internal mic for gigging.
The Mariner Vertys is certainly a quality guitar that proves that you don't always need to use the classic wood combinations to achieve good tone and aesthetics. The AX-BB would make a superb upgrade from a first acoustic guitar or those looking for a great sounding and playing budget friendly instrument. Equally it would make a very good second guitar for more advanced players, or as a studio guitar for a recording studio on a budget. If you fit into these categories or feel a moral obligation to buy an environmentally friendly guitar then I strongly suggest you to check-out the Mariner range.