CD & Book Reviews
Christopher J. Eccleshall Electric Mandolin
By Michael Mable
I believe it was Sir Henry Royce (of Rolls-Royce Motorcars) who said, "The quality remains long after the price is forgotten." I doubt very much whether he was thinking of the Chris Eccleshall electric mandolin, but in my view, he should have been.
I've had my Eccleshall electric mandolin over 20 years now, and honestly, I cannot remember how much it cost. I know that at the time, I really couldn't afford it—I was a student, but hey, it just had to be done. Since that time, quite a lot has changed in my life, some people and places have come and gone, and my hairline has receded into a distant memory—but my Eccleshall mandolin still rocks!
I went to visit Chris Eccleshall at his workshop in Ealing Common, West London on a couple of occasions, and we talked quite a bit about his instruments—his mandolins in particular. He was just such a nice bloke—really down to earth, and a true craftsman. Not surprisingly, I think of him when I get my mando out and play it.
The mandolin I have is the standard model, which was distributed by Stentor Music at the time (1984), and it's beautifully plain and simple, though as I recall, Chris did do fancier versions with inlays and different woods to special order. The body and neck are solid mahogany, lightly stained to bring out the colour and grain of the wood. The flat fretboard is a nice slab of rosewood; the frets are generous and comfortable and there are plain pearl dot markers. The neck is one piece—no scarf joints at the headstock here—and it fits into the body with a glued joint. Everything is smooth and well finished. The head is a semi-snakehead style, canted back to keep all of the strings crossing the nut at the same angle. I seem to remember Chris telling me that there is a non-adjustable steel truss rod in there, and the neck has a nice crisp V profile which is very comfy and quick. After 20 years, everything is still straight and true. The metalwork is nickel/chrome plated, and the tuners are Schaller minis.
The single-coil pickup is purpose-built and gives plenty of output via the simple volume and tone controls. The tone knob gives plenty of adjustment—from a really bright, slicing treble to a smooth mellow sound when it's rolled back. The shiny black pickguard fits in well with the overall look of the instrument—no frills, simple and stylish. The bridge is also a purpose-made item, adjustable for action, and with saddles individually adjustable for intonation. Like the rest of the instrument, it's plain and simple, well finished, and does what it needs to. The setup of the instrument was fine when I got it, the action easy with no buzzes or dead spots. Intonation is spot on—there's a bit of fret wear now (not surprisingly), but nothing to cause concern. It's still a joy to play.
This is one of those instruments on which it is fairly easy to play almost anything—from folk to total "crank everything up to eleven" rock. I use light gauge strings, and bending notes is a joy. Zipping along to the dusty end of the fretboard is just so easy; hammer-ons and pulloffs are no problem; and the sustain is warm, ringing, and wonderful. I have acoustic instruments for most of my folky playing, so when I get this little axe out I tend to rock out a bit. I usually put it through a Korg AX1G multi-effects unit and then into my Yamaha amp, which gives me a pretty good range of sounds.
I've just found the original receipt for this mandolin—back in 1984 it cost £230. Whatever. Like I said at the beginning, my Eccleshall mandolin still rocks!