Framus: Mayfield Custom -

Framus: Mayfield Custom

GERMANY’S LONG-ESTABLISHED FRAMUS (THE TRADEMARK dates back to 1946) was a popular brand from the 1950s to its demise in 1977, producing guitars and basses that made their mark on ’60s rock in the hands of Bill Wyman and John Lennon, as well as in jazz circles courtesy of Jim Hall, Attila Zoller, and Charles Mingus. Framus bounced back to life in the mid ’90s thanks largely to the efforts of its founder’s son, Hans-Peter Wilfer, who, after establishing Warwick in 1982, resurrected his dad’s company in the city of Markneukirchen, which is in a region of Germany affectionately known as “music corner.”
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Gibson’s electric and acoustic models clearly inspired Framus, so it’s no surprise that the new Mayfield Custom closely follows the pattern of the “thinline” Gibson ES- 335. The quality of materials and workmanship in the Mayfield Custom are extremely high, and, as if carefully aged woods and meticulous construction aren’t enough, Framus also uses Pleck technology to ensure absolute consistency in the finished product. Looking over the Mayfield, it’s easy to be impressed. The quilting of the maple top and back is stunning, and the tri-color sunburst finish adds vintage flair without overshadowing the depth of the figuring. Change your viewing angle of the body, and the quilting appears to move in three dimensions—on some guitars, even very expensive ones, the graining can appear static, so this is the true mark of finely finished quilted maple.

Move to the set neck and you appreciate similarly deep figuring in the single chunk of maple it’s carved from. A shapely volute strengthens the headstock transition area, and right above it, guiding the strings on a straight path to the tuners, we find a small graphite nut that is tightly set and well finished. The fretboard, a mirror-smooth expanse of polished ebony, holds 22 gleaming frets and a set of flawlessly inlaid snowflake-with-pyramids pearl position markers. The Mayfield Custom sports multi-ply binding on the body (though not on the neck or headstock), and the ivory-hued trim is rendered with absolute precision. Even the f-holes are bound, a detail that serves no function other than to give the top even more pizzaz.

To spend over $3,000 for a guitar—any guitar—you have to love more than its looks, and here too the Mayfield Custom has much to offer. The slim, ultra-smooth neck on this guitar delivers the fast playability that early ES-335s were famous for. The light-gauge strings bend with such ease on the highly polished frets that even the slightest finger shifts can be musically expressive. The intonation of the neck is good, though slight tweaks of the tuners were needed to get tenth position and higher chords sounding as tuneful as their firstposition counterparts. In general, I’d rate the Mayfield’s overall intonation as on par with top-line models from Gibson.

Another thing you expect from a premium offering like the Mayfield Custom is great sound, and the Duncan SH-2 and SH-4 pickups are a perfect match here. Before we go on, though, it’s worth noting that within the Mayfield’s body is a maple block, that, as with a 335, is what the neck, bridge, and pickups are anchored to. It’s also what allows this type of “hollowbody” instrument to achieve solidbodylike sustain and resistance to feedback. The balance of output and the clarity of the Duncan pickups work beautifully in this context, allowing for everything from warm, jazzy voicings to savagely overdriven rock tones. Thanks to the dual Volume controls, you can vary the ratios of silky neck pickup roundness and the more present and punchy contributions of the hotter bridge unit to elicit the widest range of sounds that two humbuckers can deliver without coil-splitting options. The Tone controls also have the innate ability to produce slightly wah-like inflections as you roll them through their middle ranges. Their fully off positions are a little too murky to be useful, but these controls give you plenty to work with when it comes to putting subtle textures on your tones, whether you’re trying to channel Wes Montgomery on octave workouts, cop soulful B.B. King-style bends, or go for a full-bore bluesrock assault à la Gary Moore.

The classic thinline was all about versatility, and that’s why players as diverse as Larry Carlton and Rick Derringer have done some of their finest work on Gibson ES-335s. The Mayfield Custom brings the same sense of flexibility backed with a rock-solid authority, which comes from a great match of woods, pickups, and hardware, and a clever melding of hollow- and solidbody design. The biggest difference with the Mayfield is its maple neck (335s have mahogany necks)—which might seem a contributing factor for a brighter overall response. I didn’t put an ES-335 up to the Mayfield to test the theory, but if anything, the Mayfield Custom errs on the warm side of the sonic spectrum—as do many famous jazz archtops that also sport glued-in maple necks. (Interestingly, Framus doesn’t make a Mayfield model that replicates the 335’s maple body/mahogany neck recipe, although they do make an all-mahogany version called the Legacy.)

Nice as this guitar is, the Mayfield Custom’s lofty price will be an obstacle for many players. And that’s why the Mayfield Pro, which offers the same features (albeit with less cosmetic bling) at a street price of around $1,800, may be a more practical option for working guitarists who want to get into this celebrated European marque.