Shergold Masquerader SM01-SD, SM02-SD & SM03-SD

A legendary British name makes a welcome comeback with three new models designed by legendary luthier, Patrick James Eggle. Simon Bradley goes for gold…

Shergold is one of those guitar names that will bring a tear to the eye of the more grizzled of Brit-rock fans, especially those who’ll remember Genesis’s Mike Rutherford wielding custom guitar/bass double-necks back in the day. An original model that was much more accessible to the man in the street, however, was the Masquerader, produced from 1975 to around 1981-ish.

It boasted an unmistakable look that featured Gothic script on the scratchplate plus two humbuckers controlled by slider switches that not only allowed you to split the coils but also combine them both in series and out of phase. Dig out that dusty copy of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures to hear what a Masquerader can do in the hands of Bernard Sumner.

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Times were lean from 1982 onwards, however, and despite a tentative return in the late-90s, the brand had broadly fallen out of the public consciousness. But in 2015 the story came full circle, with original distributors Barnes & Mullins buying the Shergold Guitar Company. That brings us to today, and a trio of new Masqueraders, each designed by UK luthier Patrick James Eggle.

“I was already working with Barnes & Mullins with the Faith project, and after they’d bought Shergold a few years back, they spoke to me about doing the same thing.” Eggle tells G&B. “I was already aware of the Shergold guitars of old.

When I was 13 years old or so, my dad took me out to buy me my first electric guitar, so we went to this place in Hendon and the first guitar I picked up was a Shergold. It was a 12-string, so we didn’t buy it, but I’ve always remembered them and always thought they had a certain coolness about them.”

The Masquerader is the Shergold model most people will be familiar with, and the double-cutaway body shape of the new incarnation is similar to that of the originals.

“We’ve got an original Masquerader here in the workshop and I did look at it quite a bit,” confirms Eggle. “I didn’t slavishly want to do a reproduction, although I did want to keep the essence of it if I could. I wanted to bring it up to date and make it a bit more relevant, and didn’t think the original design would fit my criteria as a player’s guitar.”

The dimensions of both the bodies and necks of all three guitars we have here are the same, so any observations we make are applicable to all and, aside from the finishes, the only obvious differences are the with the pickup combinations, which we’ll get to in due course.

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With the new guitars being manufactured in Indonesia before shipping to the UK for setup and QC, Eggle was able to opt for mahogany as the body material, as he explains.

“Where the guitars are built in Indonesia there is a good supply of sustainably-sourced mahogany and if we were to use, say, alder, it would need to be imported, which would push the price of the instrument up. It also wouldn’t necessarily make for a better guitar either. Okay, so a bolt-on neck, mahogany guitar isn’t really the norm but I don’t think that’s a bad thing and it does give us an angle.”

With ergonomic shaping, belly and forearm contours, and smoothly rounded edges, the guitars are pleasantly tactile to snuggle up to, and the four-bolt heel also benefits from a subtle level of recessing.

On top of the bodies, the necks themselves are all-rosewood – something that’s very out of the ordinary, especially at this price point. They certainly feel very special, though, with a super-smooth satin ‘hand burnished’ finish.

“That’s my expression for what I do with cellulose lacquer on my own guitars.” Eggle explains of the finish. “The lacquer is sprayed on in the same way as if it were to be polished up to a high gloss, and when you have that ‘off the [spray] gun’ finish you get a sort of orange peel texture to it.

That’s fine when the guitar’s new but as it starts to polish up through playing, you do notice it more and more, and it doesn’t really look all that good. So what I do is use a high-gloss nitro lacquer, flat it back with 800 [grade paper], and use something called renaissance wax and a fine wire wool to literally burnish it with my hand. It gives the wood this sort of luster and it stays like that.”

While not as clubby as some US Music Man guitars we’ve played, the comfort is not a million miles away, which is impressive. The headstock is all-new too, with a modern GraphTech nut and three-a-side configuration of locking tuners offset by the classic Shergold shield. In addition, while the measurements of all the guitars are the same, there is a very slight yet discernible difference in profile between our three, perhaps due to them being hand-shaped using a template.

The original Masquerader’s dual humbuckers could be split and phase-reversed to obtain a wide spectrum of tones and, while Eggle hasn’t gone quite as far as to include the slider switches, he has opted for pickups from the hotter side of the Seymour Duncan catalogue.

“We wanted a high-output pickup in the bridge that had the right string-spacing. It came from conversations I had with the guys at Seymour Duncan and we went with both what they recommended and what we wanted to use,” Eggle expands. “We get a good consistency and they do have a great reputation, and having worked the figures out, it’s nice to be able to put Duncans into guitars at this price.”

The SM01 and SM02 both feature an Alnico V TB-4 JB Trembucker in the bridge, accompanied either by a stacked P-90 or a pair of over-wound SSL-6 Custom Flat single coils, the centrally-located of the latter being reversed-wound to offer hum-cancelling when combined with its sibling. It’s the SM03 that’s something of a black sheep, with its bridge-loaded STL-2 Hot Tele single coil kept company by a pair of SSL-2 Vintage Flat Strat singles.

With either a three-way or five-way selector depending on pickup complement and a single volume and tone pot (those fitted to the SM03 are rated at 250k rather than the normal 500k pots for SSS electrics), the guitars are straightforward to use, with the SM01 and SM02 also incorporating a push/pull humbucker coil split.

In Use
It’s easy, not mention great fun, to become consumed by the voodoo surrounding pickups, but, with the SSL-6’s DC resistance rated at 13.3k in comparison to the SSL-2’s 6.5k, we assumed the SM01 and SM02 would provide modern tones, with the SM03 offering a more restrained performance. However, while broadly true, all three guitars possess an exceedingly dark character to their tone that, had Eggle opted for some more subtle pickups, could have been overpowering.

The marriage of mahogany and rosewood is immediately apparent in the thick chocolatey sound that comes from the TH-4 in both the SM01 and SM02. It was part of Eggle’s desire to make these new Shergolds suitable for rock and he’s certainly succeeded.

Billy Gibbons, AIC’s Jerry Cantrell and even Angus Young all come to mind when riffing away, with the low-end almost overpowering at times. Upping the gain clarifies trebles and tightens rhythms, while the massive sound resulting from downtuning should carry a health warning.

In contrast, the SM03 is, as expected, slightly more reserved but no less fun to play. It tonally mixes the best parts of a Tele and Strat, with the characteristic twang and crystal highs we’ve all loved for decades beefed up by the tonewoods in a far more organic manner than, say, a boost circuit, would.

General highlights include the toasty wonder of the SM01’s P-90, ideal for smooth bluesy chords and massive rock solos, while we’d suggest that fans of Mark Knopfler should check out the in-between tones of both the SM02 and SM03. The enhanced single-coil character on offer is inspiring and, take it from us, all tonal descriptions here are relevant irrespective of which of our test amps we used, be it a tiny Blackstar HT-1R or our Marshall 2203 and 4×12 cab.

The guitars are well-balanced when strapped on, but there is one gripe we’d bring up. The hand-laid aluminium line inlays tend to be obscured behind the strings from our point of view when playing standing up, and should stage light catch the ’board’s top edge, the markers there also disappear.

We could go on and on about the tones on offer here, but we’re convinced that all three offer sounds that are rarely found elsewhere, and certainly not at this price point. We’d concede that not everyone will be fans as proceedings can be almost too dark, so our advice, as ever, would be to try one. We do feel that guitars do offer something genuinely new and Eggle and the team should be applauded: if you’ve even felt a little underwhelmed by the usual suspects these new Shergolds could certainly be an option.

What’s more, while the SM01 and SM02 certainly sound like rock guitars, they don’t look it – which we rather like. The SM03 is more restrained in tone, but it’s no less radical a veer away from the norm, and thanks to the burnished finish and sensible neck profile, all three play wonderfully.

Ironically, the one thing they don’t resemble is an original Masquerader, but that’s not strictly a bad thing – we don’t remember the old-school models playing as well as this trio.

We’re all aware of the powerful lure of those classic electric guitar designs, but sometimes you just want something a little bit different. These Shergolds won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s rather the point – if you’re looking for a guitar to set yourself apart, Shergold is now a great place to start.

Key Features

Shergold Masquerader SM01-SD
• PRICE £765
• DESCRIPTION Solidbody 6-string guitar with a gloss polyurethane finish on the body. Manufactured in Indonesia, setup in the UK
• BUILD Mahogany body with high-gloss polyurethane finish and Bakelite (as reviewed) or brushed silver scratchplate; bolt-on solid rosewood neck with hand-burnished satin finish; rosewood fingerboard with a 304.8mm/12” radius; 22 medium-jumbo nickel frets and hand-inlaid aluminium fret and side position markers; GraphTech Tusq nut
• HARDWARE Shergold Custom T bridge with compensated brass saddles; locking tuners
• ELECTRICS Seymour Duncan TB-4 JB Trembucker (bridge), P-901N stacked single coil (neck)
• CONTROLS Volume and tone A500k pots; push/pull coil split for humbucker; 3-way blade selector
• SCALE LENGTH 648mm/25.5”
• NECK WIDTH Nut 42.5mm; 12th fret 52mm
• NECK DEPTH 1st fret 24mm; 12th fret 25mm
• STRING SPACING Nut 36mm; bridge 53.5mm
• WEIGHT 3.18kgs/7lbs
• FINISHES Thru-Cherry (as reviewed), Thru-Black, Thru-Dirty Blonde and Battleship Grey
Key Features

Shergold Masquerader SM02-SD
• PRICE £835
• DESCRIPTION Solidbody 6-string guitar with a gloss polyurethane finish on the body. Manufactured in Indonesia, setup in the UK
• BUILD Mahogany body with high-gloss polyurethane finish and Bakelite (as reviewed) or brushed silver scratchplate; bolt-on solid rosewood neck with satin finish; rosewood ’board with 304.8mm/ 12” radius; 22 medium-jumbo nickel frets and aluminium fret and side position markers; GraphTech Tusq nut
• HARDWARE Shergold Custom T bridge with compensated brass saddles; locking tuners
• ELECTRICS Seymour Duncan TB-4 JB Trembucker (bridge), SSL-6Rw single coil (middle, SSL-6 single coil (neck)
• CONTROLS Volume and tone A500k pots; push/pull coil split for humbucker; 3-way blade selector
• SCALE LENGTH 648mm/25.5”
• NECK WIDTH Nut 42.5mm; 12th fret 52mm
• NECK DEPTH 1st fret 24mm; 12th fret 25mm
• STRING SPACING Nut 36mm; bridge 53.5mm
• WEIGHT 3.18kgs/7lbs
• FINISHES As SM01-SD
Key Features

Shergold Masquerader SM03-SD
• PRICE £809
• DESCRIPTION Solidbody 6-string guitar with a gloss polyurethane finish on the body. Manufactured in Indonesia, setup in the UK
• BUILD Mahogany body with high gloss polyurethane finish and Bakelite (as reviewed) or brushed silver scratchplate; bolt-on solid rosewood with hand-burnished satin finish; rosewood fingerboard with a 304.8mm/12” radius; 22 medium-jumbo nickel frets and hand-inlaid aluminium fret and side position markers; GraphTech Tusq nut
• HARDWARE Shergold Custom T bridge with compensated brass saddles; locking tuners
• ELECTRICS Seymour Duncan STL-2 Hot Tele single coil (bridge), SSL-2Rw Vintage Flat Strat single coil (middle), SSL-2 Vintage Flat Strat single coil (neck)
• CONTROLS Volume and tone A250k pots; push/pull coil split for humbuckers; 5-way blade selector
• SCALE LENGTH 648mm/25.5”
• NECK WIDTH Nut 42.5mm; 12th fret 52mm
• NECK DEPTH First fret 24mm; 12th fret 25mm
• STRING SPACING Nut 36mm; bridge 53.5mm
• WEIGHT 3.18kgs/7lbs
• FINISHES As SM01-SD
• CONTACT Barnes & Mullins 01691 652449 www.shergoldguitars.com

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