An auditorium model from Glasgow-based builder Jimmy Moon finds its way into the hands of reviewer David Mead
Jimmy Moon began building guitars in 1979 on the island of Arran off the west coast of Scotland. In 1985, as demand for his work grew, he relocated to Glasgow and set about producing electric instruments, but after ten years or so he decided to return to his roots and build acoustic guitars and mandolins. Today, he works with a small dedicated team producing a selection of hand-built instruments that include a Standard Series through to Master Grade guitars. The guitar I have before me now is an auditorium sized model from Jimmy’s Select Series, currently for sale at Ivor Mairants in London – and I’m looking forward to putting it through its paces!
In order to produce a fuller picture, Jimmy Moon’s Select Series includes instruments built using some of the world’s finest tonewoods. Others in the range include the concert sized C-Z3 which features Ziricote back and sides with master grade Sitka spruce for the top and the similarly sized C-AR3 with African rosewood for its back and sides. Each instrument is available as a custom order which naturally means that there are some build options along the way and I’ll mention them as we go through the review. Note, though, that this particular instrument is ready and waiting for you in London’s Rathbone Place, should you feel the urge to add it to your guitar armoury!
We’ll begin our grand tour of this guitar’s build inventory with a look at the top wood, which is a piece of triple-A grade Sitka spruce with some truly remarkable bear claw figuring. I know that opinion is pretty much divided where bear claw is concerned, with some finding its randomness upsetting, preferring instead the more stable symmetry of a plain bookmatched grain. Here, in any case, I think the “bear” concerned must have been having a paddy because the patterning in the wood is some of the wildest I’ve seen. There’s a three dimensional shimmer if you turn the guitar in the light which I think is really beautiful and it offers the guitar a level of uniqueness at the same time.
The rosette is three rings, the centre one being abalone bordered with black and white either side, matching the binding around the body.
Back and sides are Pau Ferro, which is also known as “Bolivian Rosewood” despite not being a true member of the Dalbergia genus. Coming from tropical South America, around the Bolivia and Brazil, the wood is becoming a popular substitute for Brazilian rosewood as it can be almost as wildly patterned and sonically on a similar level, if not quite as rich in overtones. Furthermore, it’s not endangered or CITES listed and it will be interesting to hear what it sounds like a little later on. Here, the grain pattern is quite ornate with a colour variation that goes from milk chocolate to black. It would be true to say that it reminds me a little more of East Indian rosewood than Brazilian, but it really is rather nice at the same time.
The PF0003’s neck is a single piece of mahogany which feels substantial in the hand, while not being overly chunky and so it should suit a wide variety of players. Obviously, if you wanted a custom version of this guitar then you could specify practically anything you want as Moon’s options list includes a wider nut, bound fretboard, various purfling and things like that. In any case, this neck feels fine to me as it is.
Tuners are Grover V97s which have a sort of vintage Waverly look to them – open backed with butterbean buttons. Over on the front of the ebony plated headstock there’s the maker’s logo, complete with crescent moon, in pearl.
The 43mm nut is Tusq and sits at the top of an ebony fretboard with pearl position and side markers and it’s Tusq once again for the string saddle which itself is seated in an ebony bridge.
The first thing I noticed when I picked the Moon up was that it weighs more than I anticipated. But after doing a little research, I think this can be put down to the Pau Ferro being a heavier wood than either Indian or Brazilian rosewoods. It’s not as heavy as African Blackwood – that really does sit on your lap like a rock!
At first, the playing action on the bass side seemed a little high, but when I wielded my ruler it came in at 4mm on the bass side and 2mm on the treble which is about right and so it must have been some sort of weird optical illusion. It feels perfectly fine though, which is the main thing. As I’ve said, the neck feels quite substantial in the hand – a sort of generous C profile – but if this isn’t your cup of tea then I’m sure you could discuss different neck profiles with Jimmy were you to order a custom version.
Tonally speaking, the PF0003 has quite a sparkle to it when played with a pick and it puts out quite a lot of volume, too. As far as what difference the Pau Ferro makes, I don’t think it comes quite up to Brazilian rosewood standard, but then nothing really does. Instead it has a character all its own; a sort of depth with strong basses and rich trebles but without that combination of airiness and complex overtones that you get from a real rosewood. Some luthiers compare the sound of Pau Ferro to walnut and I think that might be the case here.
There’s a darkness to the sound which I like, too – I guess you could call it the dark side of the Moon if you’ll excuse the terrible pun. But where some guitars have a silvery shimmer to their tone, here it’s more like bronze, which translates to a kind of richness that’s appealing and suits mellow fingerstyle really well.
The more time I spent with this guitar, the more I liked it. It has some great tonal attributes which will definitely mature with time, producing a wholly significant instrument. Let’s face it, for a totally workshop built auditorium using quality woods, £2k is not a high price to pay, especially when you take into account some of the boutique builds we feature in these pages. If you wanted to order your own model direct from Jimmy himself, it would add £200 to the price, but you’d be buying a quality instrument either way.
Pros: Totally hand built acoustic with a good array of timbres
Cons: A tad weighty, but nothing else to report!
Overall: The bear claw top and the presence of the Pau Ferro add a few layers of uniqueness to a fine instrument
SOUND QUALITY 4 stars
BUILD QUALITY 4.5 stars
VALUE FOR MONEY 4.5 stars
Model: PF 0003
Retail Price: £2000 (£2,200 for custom orders)
Body Size: Auditorium
Made In: Glasgow, UK
Top: AAA Alaskan “bear claw” Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Pau Ferro
Tuners: Grover V97
Nut Width: 43mm
Scale Length: 650mm
Strings Fitted: Elixir PB .012 – .053
Left Handers: To order
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hiscox Liteflight Standard