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This article was originally published in issue #38
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The new Godin Seagull S8 is a striking-looking instrument and is very different in structure and appearance from the usual A and F-style copy mandolins that dominate the market these days. The S8’s twin cutaway body is perhaps inspired by those of 1930’s flatback mandolins made by the likes of Regal and Lyon & Healey. Its “kinked” soundboard construction dates back to Italian bowlback mandolins of the 19th century and to Martin mandolins of the pre-WWII era.
Featuring a narrowed outline, the S8 has a long lean appearance that appears deceptively long, even though it has the same longitudinal dimension as a conventional mandolin. Despite the narrowing, the S8 is just a bit too bulky to be a true travel instrument, although it certainly offers a more portable mandolin package than usual.
Its sturdy construction is another departure from the norm in that it features a neck-through-body construction. Although not too easy to pick out through the finish on the Burnt Umber version, on photographs of the natural S8 it can be seen that the maple of the neck extends down the centre section to form the tailblock, with the back and sides, which (although apparently a maple laminate) look as though they are carved from a single block of wood, lie on either side of the centre section like “wings”. A solid Sitka spruce soundboard with its “plectrum-shaped” soundhole tops things off. A nice touch on the body is the relief carved underneath the two horns, which not only looks attractive, but also means that access to the higher (and highest) frets is easy and very comfortable.
The horizontal slight bend in the soundboard not only looks attractive, but also serves to strengthen it considerably. This means that the top can be made much thinner than would be the case if there were no bend. Italian bowlback mandolin makers have used this technique since the nineteenth century at least, and continue to do so to this day. This Italianate heritage can be seen in the S8’s Tusq bridge, which has an outline very like that of a 19th century bowlback mandolin, but which is topped by a very modern, compensated Tusq saddle.
Heading up to the headstock, the machineheads are a very nice quality, vintage design set, the nut is another Tusq product from Graphtech and the rosewood fingerboard is well-fretted and carries white dots. Under the fingerboard sits a double-action truss rod which can prevent both forward and back bows from forming in the neck.
The hardware line-up is completed by a chunky fan-shaped brass tailpiece and a cream pearl celluloid scratchplate.
Although you might think that it is going to be a bit awkward to hold in playing position without a strap, the Seagull S8 sits comfortably in the lap. In common with every Seagull instrument that I’ve played to date, the S8 comes out of the box in good playing order with a decent set-up and well-finished frets. The thin bent top makes the S8 a very loud instrument and the heavy construction and reduced internal volume means that it sounds bass-light, giving it quite a brash, forward basic sound.
The S8’s 30mm nut width and 352.4mm scale length feels comfortable and the well-finished frets ensure that it plays very easily under the fingers. Intonation seemed spot on and chords had a nice “chop” to them. The Seagull S8 is an instrument that will cut through any Bluegrass or Celtic session but I’m not sure that it would be the ideal instrument for gentle song accompaniment.
The Seagull S8 is a departure from the norm when it comes to today’s lower-cost mandolin offerings. Although it is an attractive and well-built mandolin, its sturdy construction and reduced internal volume make it more suited to playing situations where its bass-light tonality and loud volume will be valued by players and audiences alike. Finally, if you are short of cash, it's worth noting that the natural finished version is quite a bit cheaper.