While British guitar maker Manson has had its reputation boosted in recent years thanks to its association with Muse guitarist Matt Bellamy, its latest models are designed to put a smile on the chops of practitioners of something called 'djent'.
Even some people who actually know what djent is supposed to be don't believe it exists, you know, like the Loch Ness monster... or a funny Michael McIntyre routine. The term was coined by Fredrik Thordendal of Meshuggah to describe a chugging, seven-string distorted rhythm, but was used by guitarist Misha Mansoor to describe his technical metal outfit, Periphery. He's since said was meant as a bit of a joke, but the name stuck, even though to our ears it all sounds like something that's been around for years. Glad we cleared that up, then...
Into this theatre of genre conflict strides our newly arrived E-Series Manson guitar: the six-string E-62. The example that you can see in the pretty pictures on these pages is the first prototype production model.
By the time you get your hands on it, the tuner buttons will be smaller to suit the Lilliputian scale of the headstock). In all other respects, however, it is exactly as it will be in full production guise.
As is the case with Manson's well-regarded MA Series guitars, the construction and finishing of the bodies and necks of the E-Series is carried out in the Czech Republic. The final assembly, including fitting the pickups, the wiring and the setup, is handled at Manson Guitar Works in the UK.
There are two six-string models available. There's the E-61, which comes loaded with your choice of Seymour Duncan or active EMG pickups for a price tag of £1,699; and our E-62 (£1,999), equipped with Bare Knuckle-made Manson units.
The E-62 also comes with upgraded CTS potentiometers and Sprague Orange Drop capacitors. All models are shipped with a custom Hiscox LiteFlite case. You can also splash out another £325 and spec either of the six-strings with a Graph Tech piezo system for acoustic tones.
The E-62 employs a neck-through-body construction. For the uninitiated, this means the five-piece maple and mahogany layer cake that is the neck runs the entire length of the guitar: from the tip of the headstock to the bottom-bout strap button.
During the construction of this guitar, a pair of mahogany 'wings' are glued on - one either side of the extended neck - to form the body shape. The whole affair is then topped off with a two-piece bookmatched flamed maple cap to provide some top-end sizzle, and make the guitar look pretty.
Once the glue dries, someone at the Czech factory gives the body and its slim-profile neck a good seeing-to with a spray gun. While some djentlemen may prefer blonde, in this case they'll have to settle for one of two available polyester finishes: High-Gloss Black or Red Sea 'Burst.
The former (as seen here) couldn't be better applied if they'd put Michelangelo on the job. It has that 'just dipped in molten glass' vibe. All E-Series models feature a snappy Fender-like 648mm (25.5-inch) scale length and a 305 to 406mm (12- to 16-inch) compound fingerboard radius.
That's like a Les Paul at the bottom of the 'board; more like an Ibanez Jem at the top. Thus, fretting chords over the first few frets is comfortable, while you can bend forever further up the neck - even with a very low action. Great playability is further assured thanks to the 22 beautifully dressed and seated jumbo frets on both of our test instruments.
As previously mentioned, Manson has collaborated with Brit pickup guru Tim Mills, the grand fromage at Bare Knuckle, on the MBK-3 humbuckers fitted to the E-Series guitars. As the name suggests, this is the third time these guys have pooled their resources, having previously worked on pickups for Manson endorsee Matt Bellamy.
"The boys at Manson's wanted to expand their range of MBK pickups," Tim tells us over the phone. "I suggested moving towards a ceramic-based set because the others we'd done up to that point had been Alnico V-based. With the popularity of djent, progressive rock and metal styles, it seemed an obvious direction to take.
"They were keen to develop an extension of the range rather than go completely leftfield with it," he continues, "so I kept the voicing on the classic side, but went for a lot more aggression, particularly in the midrange, as well as a lot more power - which comes care of three very large ceramic magnets in the bridge [pickup]."
As it was, Tim elected to stick with Alnico V magnets in the neck unit: "I wanted to maintain versatility, not only for a really fat, fluid lead tone, but also for more tonal colour when run clean," he explains.
"This also produces a unique mid-position tone with both pickups on, which I also really like because there's a genuine 'third' tone, as opposed to a variation of bridge or neck. The twin hex-bolt pole-piece design helps produce a little more bottom end and also adds a more contemporary look, which is something the Manson team were keen on."
All that translates to a guitar that can pull off razor- sharp chugging rhythm and flab-free bottom string riffs, yet clean up for convincing neck- pickup jazz tones, making the E-62 less like a genre-specific metal machine and more like a great all-rounder.
Tim Mills has a knack of making passive pickups with the power and clarity of active units without compromising warmth on clean settings. That beautifully executed tonal balance sums up the qualities of this wonderful guitar.
A lot a thought has gone into this beautiful Manson guitar. Bringing Tim Mills at Bare Knuckle onboard to fine-tune the tonal output is proof of that.
Okay, we'd be lying if we said we totally 'get' djent. But while the genre squabbles elude us, we do understand the desire to hone the bottom-end response of a heavily distorted, humbucker-loaded electric - and that's where these guys have hit pay dirt. The E-series offers a great balance of clean and distorted tones with much of the flabbiness of traditional twin- 'bucker electrics obliterated.
The E-62 is supremely executed. Whoever is building and finishing the bodies and necks over in the Czech Republic definitely deserved their Christmas bonus this year, and the finishing touches performed at Manson make it just that bit easier to justify parting with the business end of two grand.
While most of the rest of the guitar world obsesses with looking back, here's something that's all about right now.