Patrick James Eggle Macon Carved Top review
After focusing on acoustics in recent years, one of the UK’s best luthiers is back in the electric game.
Patrick Eggle will be a familiar name to most readers, whether because of the Berlin electrics of the early 90s or his more recent acoustic designs under the Patrick James Eggle and Faith banners. Patrick’s last serious foray into electric guitars was in the early noughties with the Discus, made in collaboration with Zemaitis engraver Danny O’Brien. It’s in the chambered, double-cutaway Discus that you’ll perhaps find the seeds of the instruments that mark his return to electric guitar manufacture proper over a decade later.
“I don’t think I ever didn’t want to build electric guitars again,” Patrick explains. “It’s just that the time wasn’t right. We built a few about four years ago, just a very limited run, but I wasn’t really able to devote the time to building more. We are now building both acoustic and electric guitars though. It’s a different mindset and a lot of fun.”
Crafted with meticulous care by Eggle, Sam Gill and Frank De Haan in the company’s Oswestry workshops, the new Patrick James Eggle Macon electrics (just like Little Richard’s birthplace in Georgia, it’s pronounced like bacon, only with an `m’) are available exclusively from World Guitars in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire.
The series began with chambered, flat-top models with a slightly enlarged (by approximately 6mm) double-cut Junior outline, and it now encompasses contoured and carved-top versions, still with chambered construction and the vintage Gibson-inspired body shape.
The classic double-cutaway Junior format is something that’s always appealed to Eggle: “I like the stripped-down functionality. Plus they’re really great looking guitars. We have a flat-top version of the Macon. It’s very, erm, utilitarian and non-blingy. That plain Jane aspect is very cool to me as a player. That said though, as a guitar maker, I cannot resist a pretty piece of timber. So we will definitely be putting together some real lookers”
Lifting our model out of its black and white tweed hardcase, we’re struck by how light and alive it feels; the low-gloss, hand-burnished nitrocellulose finish and aged hardware mean that, despite the depth of the figuring on the redwood top, this is an instrument that’s a little more rock ‘n’ roll than many a boutique machine with an exotic cap.
Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t mean thrown together, of course; there’s some formidable luthiery on display here, too, in the elegant lines of the deep carve of the redwood top that flows into the scraped edge binding, and the snug ribcage contour in the subtly ‘burst-finished mahogany back.
Initially, the nitrocellulose finish is applied in exactly the same way as it would be if it was to be buffed to a high gloss. “We can make that choice right at the end,” says Eggle. “The hand-burnished finish is rubbed back using a fine abrasive paper, followed by extra-fine wire wool and wax to achieve this soft sheen. It’s no better or worse than the gloss finish, just a different look that lots of our customers prefer.”
Though every Macon is different and custom orders can be placed, the most obvious departure exhibited by our review guitar is its tailpiece. All of the other Macons we’ve seen have had German-made ABM wrapover bridges, but here there’s a tune-o-matic and trapeze of the same origin that are milled from solid bell brass and nickel plated.
The relatively short 41mm (bass side) and 45mm (treble side) distance between saddle and tailpiece means there’s plenty of tension over the bridge and as a result, in combination with the 24.75-inch scale length, the feel and response is close to a typical ABR-1 and stopbar arrangement, with only extreme bends in combination with open strings betraying the fact that the tail floats.
Aesthetically, it’s an unusual touch on a boutique double-cut and, along with the open-gear Waverly tuners at the peghead end, there’s an old-time vibe that complements the rich beauty of the deep-stained redwood and dramatic striping in the ebony ‘board and headstock veneer.
Eggle’s `fat C’ carve is spectacularly good. Over the years, this writer has consistently found chunky necks easier to play than slim profiles, but spend some time with a neck such as this and make up your own mind; we’re willing to bet most players would be converted.
Twin rear strap buttons ensure the guitar is less likely to topple if you lean it against an amplifier, but more importantly provide greater scope for adjustment than a single button, helping offset any neck dive that might otherwise occur with a lightweight, chambered instrument such as this.
“I love redwood” admits Eggle during our conversation. “It’s very light and has a really open acoustic ring to it. The redwood I buy is old, salvaged from the stump wood of those really large old trees that were felled by hand with saws in the latter part of the 19th century. Foundation wood is super dense, due to it being at the base of the tree and supporting that incredible weight for so many years.”
What about that wonderful neck shape? “I like a fatter neck” he says. “I think they’re very comfortable, but more importantly stiffer with more mass. This helps the guitar to hold a note, even when the body is very light. We also put a carbon fibre strip either side of the truss rod. Some of our customers ask for a thinner neck. This is fine, but I want it to be stiff and pretty much inert.”
“This mainly has come from my experience with acoustic guitars, where this is crucial, as I want the energy from the string to dissipate through the bridge, not the neck. At the moment, customers can choose from three body formats: flat top, drop top and carved top. Then the body can be chambered or not. We can cut f-holes, etc. Customers can select the tonewood, choose scale length, neck size and profile, inlays, frets – we are in the process of designing a larger-bodied, proper semi. This should be ready by the end of the year.”
If you feel a little disillusioned with twin humbucker-loaded electrics, the Macon is a breath of fresh air, and not just because of the chambered construction. The Bare Knuckle Mules are excellent PAF-alikes, but as ever that’s only part of the picture; the Macon has a real voice and a three-dimensional quality before you even plug it in.
When you do, there’s a top-drawer sonic quality and an expressive sophistication that puts our own ES-335 in the shade, and is one of the best-sounding humbucker-loaded guitars we’ve encountered, vintage or modern.
The three humbucking voices alone would be enough for many players – in this guise, the Macon can do anything an ES-335 can do and then some. But when you pull up the tone control to engage the split-coil mode the midrange is hollowed out, the output lowers slightly and there’s a whole world of jangle and springy, Fender-like tonalities to play with for those lighter indie and 60s pop moments: whether that’s Harrison or Marr, it’s equally effective.
If you can afford it, then make no mistake, this is a British-made electric with a real soul and an all-round level of craft and quality that’s up there with the best that the US boutique market has to offer. If you can’t afford it, you’ll wish you never played it…
Patrick James Eggle Macon Carved Top
• Price £3,595
• Description Set neck, double-cutaway electric with chambered body. Made in UK
• Build Chambered mahogany body with carved redwood top, Mahogany ‘Fat C’ neck with 304mm (12”) radius Macassar ebony fingerboard with dot inlays and 22 Sintoms 6105 frets. Macassar ebony headstock fascia and trussrod cover
• Hardware Aged Waverly tuners, aged ABM tune-o-matic bridge and trapeze tailpiece
• Electrics 2x Bare Knuckle Mule humbuckers with aged covers, three-way toggle pickup selector switch, master volume, master tone (pull coil-split)
• Scale Length 628mm/24.75”
• Neck Width 43mm at nut, 52mm at 12th fret
• Neck Depth 22mm at first fret, 24mm at 12th fret
• String Spacing 35mm at nut, 52mm at bridge
• Weight 2.7kg/6lbs
• Left-Handers Yes (no extra charge)
• Finishes Hand-burnished, double-stained tobacco nitrocellulose (as reviewed). Numerous other finish and material options – call to discuss
• Contact World Guitars