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#013 MS: Afr. Blackwood & Spruce


Review of the MS-Manzer Wedge #013 – African Blackwood / Carpathian Spruce with Sound Port

From Jamin Eastman
January 28, 2013

I first got in touch with Paul & Kyle over three years ago stepping, with much caution, into the world of custom guitars. I’ve owned a few Taylors, a Martin and a handful of Yamahas, Epiphones, etc in the past and I’ve been very lucky to play some very nice guitars. Over the years as my tastes evolved, I learned what I loved and what I could do with out and I started to see the attraction in getting to hand pick every little detail and watch someone with the skill to do so translate the sound in my head into something I could hold in my hand.

I placed my order knowing it was going to be a wait. I live in Istanbul and I’ve lost enough letters and packages in shipping to know that I’d be picking this up on my next visit to the States.

This thread has been the history of the wait, the progress, the little (but much appreciated) teases of what was going on in Santa’s workshop, but now we come to the delivery. I’m sure I’m not the only first-time custom buyer whose heart all of a sudden skips a beat wondering ‘after all that I’ve invested in this, what if…’. Am I going to be that guy who has hassled my luthier for three years only to say ‘yeah, almost, but not quite’? Well I’d get to find out.

The guitar arrived early in the morning and I knew the rule – let it sit. So, I left the house; that guitar didn’t stand a chance of staying in the case unless I was gone. I came home later that day and, with my wife watching over my shoulder, popped the lid. I won’t say it’s like seeing your baby for the first time because, let’s be honest, brand new babies, even though they’re beautiful, are a little weird looking sometimes. This was beautiful. Creamy white top, dark back, clean fretboard – nothing to distract from the absolute simplicity. I picked it up and was quite surprised that it was lighter than I expected. I kept hearing African Blackwood is one of the heaviest woods, so I was expecting it to be significantly heavier than my Taylor, but to my surprise it was very light and perfectly balanced. I also noticed a smell of cinnamon which I’m still not sure if it’s the wood, the finish, or if that’s just what a little bit of magic smells like.

I held it and positioned my fingers to play my favorite chord first (022400). A slow strum melted away any fears I may have had. The deep, round low E coming out and holding it’s very prominent place in the aural spectrum while it was joined by it’s smooth, clear brothers higher up the frequency range. A few chords in different places along the neck just to see if maybe I got lucky and I realized just how lucky I did get as every chord rang just as sweet. One of the things that stood out most, beyond just the tone, was how effortless it seemed to be to coax a full report from the depths. It seemed that I could just suggest notes to play and the guitar would oblige. I did find a spot where there seemed to be a bit of a buzz, but after talking with Paul, who suggested I continue to play and let it settle into its new environment, I was pleased to find that the wrong had been righted by this collection of wood that knew exactly how to be a guitar.

I love the sound port which was added. It gives such an intimate feel to the guitar; the difference between talking with someone standing behind you and face to face. All those notes just have a touch more sweetness.

*Plugged In*
The guitar came on a Friday and I was playing at our church the following Sunday. I had practiced the previous day with my Taylor and all the levels had been set accordingly. The passive pickup was also a bit of a difference, so I knew there’d be some adjustments needed on Sunday before we started. As I plugged in I wasn’t quite happy with the sound, it didn’t seem as pure as it had at home. Yes, I know it was plugged in and that’s different and it was being amplified into an auditorium that seats 1,000 instead of just playing on my couch, but it wasn’t quite right. Our band played through a few songs as the sound guys in the back twisted and turned, adding some EQ, compressing, putting some slight effects to try to recreate what I had heard. Then our electric guitar player (a professional sound engineer) yelled to them ‘set everything flat’…

Replaying my first encounter I positioned an E5 and strummed. Everything else was silent as the sound welled up all around us, it flooded out through closed doors and as I played a fingerstyle version of “Nothing But the Blood” the dozen or so doors, which are always closed during practices would periodically open while curious heads popped in to satisfy their desire to see what their ears were hearing.

I had installed the K&K mini in one of my Taylors after the ES, which I never really had a problem with, went bad. I preferred the more natural sound, but as I’d only played it plugged in at our very small church in Istanbul, never really heard what it could do when given some room to really perform.

I certainly don’t think it’s just the details that make the guitar, they are just what make it mine. I wanted to incorporate woods from the three continents I’ve lived on in my life (African Blackwood B&S, Carpathian Spruce top and mahogany neck/koa accents). I also love history, and living in Istanbul, have come to really appreciate the beauty of the ancient mosaics that can be found all over my city. Paul and Kyle did a great job incorporating that into the rosette design and hinting at it with the fret markers.

The Manzer wedge is another one of those things that just make it more natural in the way I play standing up. I’m also very pleased with the bit of flame in the binding. Don’t get me wrong, all the eye candy from ultra-flame Koa to beautiful inlay to 45-style ablone is amazing, but just doesn’t fit my taste. I like a little bit of flame, enough to pop, but not so much to overwhelm the rest of the guitar: this bit of trim is just the right amount.

I’m sure I’ve ventured into hyperbole, but hey, this may be my only custom build ever so I’m going to wax poetic while I have the chance. And don’t worry, my children and their mother are definitely the most beautiful things in my house, but I’m more than happy to bring this guitar home to all of them and continue making our music together.

We have many wonderful luthiers who participate in and support this forum. I’ll always number the Burners among those worthy of the highest recommendation.