The Big Review: Ancoats Guitars New Islington – A British-made mash-up of Junior, Esquire and Cabronita
Built inside a large metal box in Manchester, this one-pickup stunner has the green credentials to match its killer tones and long custom options list.
The days of ‘Madchester’ may be a distant and somewhat foggy-brained memory, but this famously creative city still has good things to offer the world; and believe it or not, some of them are emerging from a shipping container. Part of the Pollard Yard co-working space in the post-industrial east of Manchester, this is the home of Ancoats Guitars.
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Ancoats is an up-and-coming indie maker with a modern philosophy that’s all about individual builds using responsibly-sourced timber and eco-friendly water-based paints. That attitude also extends to using locally-wound pickups – which is quite handy, as the renowned Creamery Pickups is based just across town.
There’s a similarity here with the excellent work being done by Elliott Trent down in Dorset: like the Trent Model 1 we reviewed in December 2021, the Ancoats New Islington we’re looking at today has an obeche body with a thin finish that really shows off the grain of the timber. And as with the Trent, this has been beautifully applied to a body with a design that’s classically cool yet distinctively stylish. In other words, it’s a proper sexy guitar.
Our review instrument has a neck made of sapele; a more sustainable alternative to mahogany, but you can also specify maple. And that brings us to a key point about small-scale makers like Ancoats: custom options. Basically you can have whatever you want.
Our double-cutaway guitar is finished in moody Marine Blue, with a tortoiseshell guard (note the matching trussrod cover!) and a sawn-off T-style bridge strung from the back. The scale length is a Fender-esque 25.5 inches (24.75 inches is also a custom option), the fretboard radius here is a gentle 12 inches and the neck profile is skinny. But all of those variables are up for grabs, most of them at no extra cost.
Oh, and we haven’t even discussed the pickup options yet. You can specify anything in the Creamery catalogue here, and even upgrade to more than one of them if you’re feeling particularly extravagant – or if you just aren’t down with the whole Junior / Esquire single-pickup purist thing.
Our Ancoats arrived with the P-90 you can see in the photos, and you might well feel this would be the perfect option for classic Les Paul Junior-style tones; but in fact, a P-90 is not what we’ve tested here. That pickup was damaged in transit after the photoshoot – not our fault, honest – so the guitar went back to Manchester and returned to us with something quite different installed: a Super Fat Black Cat humbucker, one of the Creamery’s numerous takes on the Filter’Tron, and wound for “a richer, fuller overall sound” than the Gretsch original. Well, it’s definitely not a P-90, but could it be even more interesting?
In theory, having an electric guitar handmade in the UK with your own choice of woods, scale length, fretboard radius, neck profile, hardware, pickup(s) and colours for a little over a grand looks like a heck of a bargain. We’d best find out what it’s actually like, then.
You have to be careful to avoid confirmation bias when judging the feel of a handcrafted guitar – just because it’s supposed to be lovely, that doesn’t mean it is. But the Ancoats New Islington… well, it is.
This is one of the skinniest necks you’ll see outside of shredding circles, but we wouldn’t be in a hurry to specify a chunkier option if we were buying this guitar – it feels supremely cuddly as it is. Part of that is down to the welcoming texture of the open-pore finish, and the gently rounded board and fret ends. But the relative flatness of the back of the neck is also a contributing factor. If that’s not your usual preference, it’s not ours either, but it works here.
On the strap this lightweight guitar is slightly but not troublingly neck-heavy, and our exploratory thrashings reveal a sweetly balanced acoustic tone. It doesn’t have the thump of our favourite double-cut Les Paul Junior, but it is a little warmer than our regular Telecaster, and it can match both of them for natural zing.
Plugging into a clean black-panel amp, we immediately save at least eight seconds of precious widdling time by not having to decide which pickup to start with. The Super Fat Black Cat proves to be a moderately meaty pup, delivering more low-end shunt than the Tele but a touch less overall output than the LP Junior.. If we were expecting unrefined punk power, that’s not what we get – it’s really all about twangy clarity and snap here.
That remains the case when we dollop on some Marshall-flavoured overdrive: this humbucker doesn’t snarl and spit like the Junior’s P-90, but there’s a pleasing character to its mid-focused tonality that applies just as much to windmilling power chords as it does to face-pulling runs up the neck. It’s tight, sticky and articulate.
In the absence of a pickup switch, the volume and tone controls have some work to do here. They’re up to the job, giving us lower output and softer treble respectively without losing anything important along the way. If you do want to cool things down for a minute to appease an egomaniac singer, you’re just a pinkie-twist away.
The only black mark on our otherwise joyous experience with the New Islington is a maddeningly persistent buzz on the D string, but no doubt this would be covered by the warranty. That covers you for 12 months, and the purchase price also includes a free setup within that first year if you’re able to bring the guitar back to the workshop.
It’s a shame we didn’t get to test this thing out with the P-90 in the pictures, if only to find out how Gibson-like that would have made it sound. But what we’ve ended up with instead is a unique instrument that sits somewhere between a Junior, an Esquire and a one-pickup Cabronita Tele. As a desert island guitar, we might just take the Ancoats over any of them.
- PRICE £1,100 inc hard case
- DESCRIPTION Six-string solidbody electric guitar, made in the UK
- BUILD Double-cutaway obeche body, set sapele neck, 12” radius rosewood fingerboard with 21 medium frets and graphite nut
- HARDWARE Vintage-style tuners, Wilkinson short T-style bridge
- ELECTRICS Creamery Super Fat Black Cat humbucking pickup (as reviewed, pictured with Creamery P-90), volume and tone controls
- SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
- NECK WIDTH 42.1mm at nut, 52.1mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 18.9mm at first fret, 21.2mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 34.5mm at nut, 54mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 2.8kg/6.1lb
- FINISH Mid Azure Green (as reviewed); any colour from littlegreene.com available on request
- LEFT-HANDERS Yes, no extra charge
- CONTACT ancoatsguitars.co.uk