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.