Handmade Guitars United Kingdom

The Mayfield

The Mayfield Review

What’s sweet and lovely, beautifully proportioned and has an affinity with Derbyshire, asks Neville Marten? No, not Lizzie Bennett, played by Jennifer Ehle in BBC l’s Pride And Prejudice, but this classic beauty from Northworthy.

Okay, so I’m in love with Jennifer, or Lizzie, from that wonderful BBC dramatisation, but what better excuse to introduce the theme of Derbyshire, where this elegant guitar was made. Just think of those handsome peaks and that... no... perhaps I should leave it there...

Northworthy hail from near Ashbourne, where the water springs up naturally from the ground and we eventually buy it bottled from Tesco. Northworthy was the name given to the area now generally known as Amber Valley, but was changed by the Danes to Derby when they paid a visit during the 8th century. And if we are to draw comparisons from those pastoral surroundings then let’s say the Mayfield seems a pure and natural guitar; its tone is unadulteratedly clear and sweet and the word synthetic appears to be absent from maker Alan Marshall's vocabulary — not a hint of plastic in sight.

Construction

The smallest instrument in the Northworthy range, the Mayfield’s rosewood back and sides are mated to a top made from the closest grained spruce; onto this construction is grafted a neck of cedar (classical guitars often use this musical timber) and onto that a headstock made from the same material. The fingerboard is pearl-dotted ebony, the bridge rosewood and the binding all wood — mahogany, ebony and home grown sycamore in this case — while the headstock is veneered in two piece Rio rosewood, bookmatched to show off its striking grain. Headstock and soundhole inlays are abalone. The nut and bridge are both bone and the only metal in sight is on the gold-finished Gotoh heads, a single end-pin strap button and six brass bridge pins. Brass? Yes, not your average bridge pin material, but while not attaching any scientific evidence to their theory, Northworthy maintain that brass makes the guitar sound sweeter. I’d say that’s not far fetched at all; brass is a wonderful tone metal — bells are made from it, remember — and we all know the best sounding Telecasters have brass bridge saddles.

Inside, all is impeccable. The top is quite thinly made but supported by X-braced struts and some reinforcement around the soundhole and beneath the bridge. Kerfing is hand cut sycamore. "We have a friendly sawmill just down the road," explains Alan Marshall, "and they use a lot of this wood to make fence posts. We buy them and leave them lying around for a year or so to dry out and season, and then use them for things like kerfing, binding and bridge plates."

Designing an attractive headstock is not easy; it can be the crowning glory or seal the fate of your guitar. Thankfully the Mayfield’s is styled neatly and in a traditional manner, even to the point of being scarfed on; quality acoustics are often done this way, the idea being to keep the grain of the wood running straight, even though the headstock pitches back by a few degrees. It’s more important on necks like this, or those made from mahogany, where the grain is not as close as that of, say, maple. As far as neck adjustment goes, Northworthy are unusual in that their truss rods are dual action — i.e. they work actively to pull the neck back and forward. This can be seen as a bonus, as in the normal course of events a neck that’s severely crowned, or overbowed, can often not be fixed by just slackening the rod in the usual way.

Alan Marshall explained that the pretty shape of the Mayfield is a refinement of an old classical guitar outline: "We were given this turn of the century classical guitar mould some years ago and it sat around for a long time," he told me. "Then one day we decided to do something with it and this is the result, after a fair bit of refining. Actually the first guitar we made in this shape was for Gordon Giltrap and the Mayfield is the natural evolution of that."

The finish has been very well executed and Alan tells me it’s polyurethane over a base of polyester. It’s been kept thin and film-like due to a lot of intercoat sanding, with the top receiving three or four fewer applications than the sides, rims and neck. It certainly retains the necessary delicacy for a fine acoustic tone.

In Use

Putting your hand around the neck of this guitar you notice its slimmish dimensions; the shallow D shape is the same depth from first fret to heel. "This is something we stumbled upon to initially," says Alan. "I found I liked it and a lot of the folk players who use our guitars liked it too. Where it’s really handy is if you’re using a Shubb capo; you don’t need to keep adjusting it the higher up the neck it goes."

Tonally the Mayfield is as virtuous as Miss Lizzie Bennett. Although rather diminutive it possesses bags of rich bass and a treble that’s so sweet it’s not true. For fingerpicking it’s a dream, as the lightest touch still seems to project the sound for miles — perfect for live, unmiked work, where an expressive tone that carries to the back of the hall is a great boon. Strum it hard and the guitar still copes; in fact it barks right back at you and even using a heavy pick, which I prefer, creates no distortion or mush. I think ‘responsive’ is a good, if qualitatively inadequate, way to describe it.

I did find the action a little hard for my taste and a touch too much relief in the neck for my liking — I’m a perfectly straight kind of a guy, if you know what I mean. But a slight truss rod adjustment would have the string height just right. Northworthy's truss rods also work the opposite way to most others, so clockwise slackens and anti-clockwise tightens.

Any gripes? The 20 wide oval frets are well seated and their tops polished to perfection, but I'd run a fine file over the ends: it looks - and feels - as though they've been shaped but not finished, so they appear quite sharp. The ebony fingerboard is itself bound in a thin strip of the same material, in order to conceal the fret tangs and hopefully make for a cleaner finish. I'm not sure that I see any real benefit here; there's little cosmetic improvement and it will only make refretting more of a pain.

Conclusion

When we compose reviews at Guitarist, everyone's opinion is taken into account, and the truth is that hardly a word has been said against Northworthy's Mayfield; everybody's played it and commented on it's exceptional tone and attractive appearance. It's acquitted itself in a variety of styles and not all acoustics can boast of that.

I haven't even mentioned price or value. But I guessed £1,200 and Martyn Booth agreed; Tim Slater said several hundred pounds more and Jordan McLachlan thought it would be well over the thousand. In fact the Mayfield costs a paltry £850 (at the time of writing 1995) and when you consider the benefits of having a guitar handmade by a British luthier, we reckon fingerpickers will be beating a muddy path to Alan Marshall's door.

As I write this, Pride and Prejudice is approaching its final episode, where everything come right, Lizzie marries her man and lives happily ever after in Derbyshire (actually I'd marry the guy if I could live in that house!). And talking of marriages, mate this Derbyshire lass to any player who loves a thing of beauty, sweetness and serenity - i.e. a fine acoustic guitar! - and there's a match made in heaven.

SPEC CHECK

Northworthy Mayfield

Country Of Manufacture: England
Top: Spruce
Back & Sides: Rosewood
Neck: Cedar
Fingerboard: Ebony
Bridge: Rosewood With Brass Bridge Pins
Frets: 20 Wide Oval
Nut & Saddle: Bone Width At Nut: 44mm
Scale Length: 952mm
Body Width: 370mm
Body Depth: 100mm
Case: To Order
Left-Handers: Yes, No Charge
Electrics: Most Brands Of System Fitted To Customers' Requirements

General feel: great sounding and well-made guitar, which gained a lot of admirers while here. Sweet treble and a lot more bass than might have been expected from an instrument of this size. Fantastic value too.

Guitarist December 1995

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