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Review: Manouche Modele Orchestre 12-Fret D-Hole

KlezmorimKlezmorim South Carolina, USANew
I recently purchased a Manouche "Moreno" signature 12-fret Modele Orchestre (D-hole) guitar from Robert Brochey, former USA distributer of Manouche guitars. Physical specifications for this instrument can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/5umxmh. The newer production specs are posted here: http://www.manouche-guitars.com/guitars.aspx?sm=MOspec.

The guitar's serial number is 066. Tony Walker, director of Manouche Guitars Ltd (UK), was kind enough to inform me that this guitar was built in mid-2006. It was shipped with a molded ivory ABS case from Hiscox with plush blue lining. "Manouche Guitars" is embossed on the lid. The case seems quite sturdy and should be more than adequate for day-to-day transport. If you plan on taking this guitar aboard commercial aircraft, you will want a case that offers more protection.

As received, a couple of items were of immediate note. The tail-piece had some minor corrosion and looked "cheap." A quick pass under the buffer took care of the stains and made it look quite respectable. The mustache bridge ends, while obviously ebony, had square edges that also struck me as what one might expect on an inexpensive knock-off. Rounding the edges a bit before gluing would improve their appearance. Also, the mustache ends were unevenly clamped, resulting in sharp indentations in the spruce top at their tips. I took a look under a magnifier and determined that the top had not cracked at these places. The movable portion of the bridge would have benefited greatly from being contoured to the top. Under string tension for nearly two years the outer edges of the feet had deformed the top, again almost cracking it. I immediately sandpaper-shaped the bridge to the top, hoping to avert disaster as the guitar acclimated to our 50-55% relative humidity. Also, the string notches were sloppy and not of the correct depth. They appeared as if made with a pocket knife.

The finish has an orange hue that takes a bit of getting used to, but that is a matter of aesthetics and not acoustics. If a Certain Nordic Musician can have purple as his signature color, whom I to gripe about a citrus-toned guitar? I'll just call it "Orandj Djulius!" From pictures I've seen online, newer production instruments have a more natural-tone finish. Apart from questions of color-preference, the finish and underlying joinery of this guitar are superb. The only flaw I could find was a wee indentation in the finish at the underside of the neck joint, where it meets the fingerboard and cutaway side of the body. To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker: If you can see this blem, you're too close!

The inside of the guitar's back and sides is lacquered, which is a nice touch I would not have expected on an instrument in this price range. I noticed the label was coming up at one end and, on closer inspection, discovered that it was apparently affixed to the instrument with 3M (or similar) spray adhesive. The adhesive is losing its "grip," possibly due to chemical interaction with the lacquer. I will soon reattach the label more securely. Note to manufacturer: Thinned hide glue makes an excellent "slip" for attaching paper labels.

Bringing the guitar up to pitch revealed the only major flaw of this instrument: The tuning machines. Turning the buttons proved to be stiff and quite uneven. I unscrewed the gear covers and was not surprised to find very little grease. I slathered in some lube, but this did not improve matters much. These machines are begging for replacement!

So, how does the Manouche sound? Loud! This puppy barks. When I struck a full chord for the first time, I literally jumped in my chair. The original owner of my AJL Petit Bouche called it a "canon" and it *is* loud. But if the AJL is a canon, this Manouche is a Howitzer! Chords are sharp and... - did I mention loud? Tone-wise, the highs and mid-range notes are clear with a good "Selmeresque" tone. The bass notes are a bit muddy, though. This guitar also has incredible sustain - almost too MUCH, if that's possible. As with the volume, I was caught off-guard by an odd ringing as I was taking the guitar for its (to me) maiden voyage. "What is that sound...? It's the D-string... still ringing!"

A couple months ago, I played a Dupont that was built at roughly the same time as the Manouche. The Dupont didn't have anywhere near as good a tone or punch as this guitar. (Hmmm... Any wonder why the Dupont hasn't sold after some two years...?) Another plus: This guitar doesn't have the "banjo-y" tone of a Favino and I consider that a Good Thing. I know a lot of gypsy-jazzers like that metallic Favino twang in the mid-range, but I'm not one of them. The Manouche also earns high marks for near-perfect intonation along the entire playable length of the neck. Although the neck is wider, owing to the 12-fret's “classical” genealogy, it is very comfortable and not one bit “clubby.” I would prefer a sharper neck angle, but as they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

In sum, for its price point, the Manouche Modele Orchestre is a wonderful instrument in terms of sound and workmanship. I say without exaggeration that the purchaser gets more than their money's worth. My suggestion to the manufacturer: Upgrade the tuning machines and spend some time detailing the bridge. To the buyer: Take this guitar to a capable technician and have it properly set up before you first bring it home.
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Comments

  • Posts: 597
    Thanks for that! Fantastic!

    I've been GASsing for their nylon-string "The Concert" for a while.
  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    Posts: 551
    I dunno man, I've been playing my Manouche steadily since before yours was built and I've never had a problem with the tuners. I think perhaps you should try breaking them in instead of breaking into them.
  • SpaloSpalo England✭✭✭✭ Manouche Guitars "Modele Jazz Moreno" No.116, 1980's Saga Blueridge "Macaferri 500", Maton 1960's Semi, Fender Telecaster, Aria FA65 Archtop
    Posts: 186
    I've had my Manouche Modele Jazz for nearly a year and had no trouble with the tuning heads.

    (The label is coming off, though!)

    SP
  • SpaloSpalo England✭✭✭✭ Manouche Guitars "Modele Jazz Moreno" No.116, 1980's Saga Blueridge "Macaferri 500", Maton 1960's Semi, Fender Telecaster, Aria FA65 Archtop
    Posts: 186
    I've had my Manouche Modele Jazz for nearly a year and had no trouble with the tuning heads.

    (The label is coming off, though!)

    SP
  • fraterfrater Prodigy
    Posts: 763
    I've got a Manouche Moreno of the very, very first batch. A really fine guitar with a beautifull AAA bear-claw top. Sounds great and it's getting better each year. I love the instrument, and yet I have to second some of the observations Klezmorim made: the Moustache 's ends are too square, it's true. This is certainly not a big issue, but we're talking a guitar who's aiming to be as close to a Selmer as possible, so... Then about the tuners, they look great and I'm never gonna replace them, but do they work as good as the much cheaper Saga Gitane Deluxe you'll find on a DG 300? Not even close. Same thing you could say of the Gallato tuners ... point is, the more you try to exactly replicate the old gear, the less precision you'll get. But the "vibes" of them make you play better, so... who cares? A Bigsby tremolo is certainly not accurate as a Floyd Rose.. but would you mount a Floyd on your "White Falcon"? I really hope you won't!
  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    Posts: 551
    Not sure what you mean by 'not even close'. My guitar keeps rock-solid on tune, and doesn't deflect more than a few cents a month by my calculation, certainly as good or better than any electric I've ever owned. I don't think there's a gray area when it comes to being or not being in tune. Whether they turn as smooth as the Grovers on my $45 cigar-box guitar is not something that I'd care about.

    They'll be a lot less hyper-criticism if/when in 5 years they go up $1k and are finally realizing what they are worth. All it would take is for them to go out of business. :(

    Of course in the US in 5 years a loaf of bread could go up $1k....
  • fraterfrater Prodigy
    Posts: 763
    As I said, these are great guitars and I wouldn't trade my Manouche with my double-costing custom Dupont MD50E (or maybe I would, since they're both mine! :) ). Quite simply, IMO Dg 300 tuners work much smoother and you have a better grip on the large buttons... so it's easier to tune your instrument.
    Let's just hope Manouche will stay under $1k and wish Tony and John all the success they deserve!
  • KlezmorimKlezmorim South Carolina, USANew
    Posts: 160
    In keeping with the "picture is worth a thousand words" principle, here are a couple photos that show the sharp edges of the mustache ends as well as the damage to the top from over-clamping and an ill-fitted bridge centerpiece. I apologize for the blurry close-up, but it highlights the top deformation quite nicely:
  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    Klezmorium,

    You're probably all over this already - but keep an eye on that bridge. If it did deform the top, then you fit it to a deformed top and either the bridge and top will or won't find a happy medium as they ajust over the years. Mostly they do - but this one looked really tweaked - and sometimes - if the top was deformed enough it will start going back to its original shape now that you've relieved some of the pressure - and you may start seeing it pinch again as it does that - though to a lesser degree. Don't stress (pun intended) about it too hard though. All GJ guitar bridges appear to pinch a little if you hold them in the right light and they're sufficiently glossy to see details. This happens because bridge feet are very rigid and tops actually change a tiny bit in height (and therefore in radius) as humidity changes - and also because the bridge does 'load' the top to some degree. You can very very very gently ease the inner and outer edges of the bridge feet to reduce this somewhat.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • KlezmorimKlezmorim South Carolina, USANew
    Posts: 160
    Bob,

    Thanks for your insightful comments -especially the advice to periodically check these spots and re- re-shape the bridge! Having played mandolin for over 35 years, I'm very familiar with what a non-fixed, hard ebony bridge does to a soft spruce top... over time. This Manouche, though, came out of the paddock with serious stress.

    I breathed easier when I took a good close look and saw that neither the finish nor the underlying wood were cracked. After only a few days I can "note" improvement (I'll see your pun and raise it!) in the top near the bridge. I am guessing that this guitar is still acclimating to the local humidity after more than a year in dry, dry, dry New Mexico. Robert Brochey told me sometimes their relative humidity gets as low as 8%. I can almost hear the splintering of Selmac tops at the very thought of single-digit RH.
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