Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Mercury Head from B-Way Guitars
Ben Shin of New York's B-Way Guitars contacted us here at Guitarz with news of his new line, the Mercury Head guitar. It somehow manages to look new and familiar at the same time, and as I commented to Ben, reminded me of a Fender Strat hybridized with an Ovation Breadwinner and a little bit of Tele thrown in. I asked Ben about how the design came about, and whether he was thinking ergonomically. He told me:
How I arrived at the body shape: yes, it was partly based on ergonomics. I took some inspiration from Klein and Teuffel, which I would guess were in turn partly inspired by the Breadwinner. I also sat down and studied how my Strat and Tele sat on my legs and which parts actually touched me when seated in the typical electric and classical guitar positions and how the locations of the strap buttons and body contours affected the position of everything when standing. Then I started messing with a picture of a Strat on my Macbook, warping it this way and that, squeezing certain parts, blowing up others, trying my best to guess how the total mass and distribution of weight would work in reality. (I didn't have the resources to go through multiple prototypes.) Everyone's bodies and arms are built differently, but at least for me the shape feels very comfortable in both the standard horizontal and diagonal/classical seated positions.

I also had a theory that extending the overall length of the body and moving the center of gravity towards the tail without increasing the total volume might deepen the voice of the guitar a tad without making it heavier. Now that I have the prototype in my hands, I think it worked. Although to be honest it's hard to separate what's due to the body shape from what's due to that particular piece of alder. To my ears the bridge pickup has a nice bark to it, without the icepick highs that many don't like about Strat bridge pickups, the neck pickup has balanced highs and a good amount of tight bottom end without mud, and the in-between position sounds like your typical chimey Tele.
I think it looks and sounds great - you can hear it for yourself in this soundclip. It is indeed a quality instrument, with the bulk of the build process being carried out by Glenn Sweetwood of Sweetwood Guitars on behalf of B-Way. The Mercury Head features Sweetwood's innovative 2-bolt neck system using machine thread connectors and allows for a greater contact area under pressure in the neck join, which means better tone transfer.

Thanks to Ben for getting in touch with us and showing us this interesting new guitar. Here at Guitarz we're always happy to support indpendent luthiers and small, non-corporate, guitar companies. Keep in touch, Ben, and let us know of any developments.

G L Wilson

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  1. I like the shape and style, but think the $2,000.00 asking price is unrealistic.

  2. My first impression of this was it was a re-shaped strat! I really like the line at the front neck end of the body and the headstock is pleasingly odd. Overall very elegant and modern looking. Sounds nice too the demo makes a change from the usual generic and tedious shredding.

  3. Perceptions for me are always a tad askew on Friday but other than the 6 inline tuners..., solid body, not seeing a lot of Strat influence here? What I believe I'm seeing ( and the Ovation nod undeniable ) but 80's shredder meets Brian Jones. The headstock has something Phantomesque about it and any solidbody dual PU model, a direct snub to the Strat. Like Ritchie Blackmore, my middle may as well be a prop/dummy.

    That "Soundcloud" audio clip is perhaps one of the more interesting and authentic I've heard. Not like cr@ppy Youtube clips where everything is delivered via soupcan. One of the most critical components of any test drive for me, does your tone "thin out" when one takes a more aggressive pick angle? If so, it was a fun spin and back on the rack you go. The B-Way stood up remarkably well. Of course everything sounds good thru a '69 HiWatt amp! Well done Ben.

  4. Big thanks to Gavin for the mention!

    Leroy, I can understand how $2k may seem high. For some players, $2k may be too high for any guitar, and I understand that too. But for players who are looking at what's available in that price range, the most important question is how does a B-Way Mercury Head compare with what you can get for $2k from other guitar makers. I can't give you an objective answer, so instead I'm putting my prototype into the hands of as many players as I can here in NYC and will let the guitar speak for itself. It may take a while for word to get around, but I'm not in a hurry. :)

    Genghis and Will, thanks for the kind words. I know that when I'm shopping around for a guitar, hearing someone fire off blazing fast solos under heavy distortion doesn't really help me much. I wanted to convey how the guitar responds to pick attack and dynamics. Glad that came through! That being said, I will eventually try to get more accomplished players to record demos for me.



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