Given that Mario Martin credits his guitar-building education to a stint at the Fender Custom Shop, it’s no surprise that his Serpentine is a working player’s instrument: comfortable, light, and versatile, with quality workmanship and an inviting neck. It also explains why he’s inspired by Fender body shapes of old, like the Duo-Sonic.
Imagine the surprise, then, to find the Serpentine is a closer cousin to the Gibson SG, with its lightweight mahogany body, rosewood fingerboard, and solid fistful of neck. The Serpentine reviewed even featured a wine-red Heritage Cherry finish (very close to the finishes on SGs seen in the hands of Angus Young, Derek Trucks, and others). A three-ply black-white-black pickguard and double cutaways completed the connection. The shape does remain distinct, with asymmetrical cutaways and a slightly offset lower bout, plus a very Fender-ish six-on-a-side headstock.
More to the point, when overdriven, the Serpentine delivers that revved-engine tone of an SG. The Serpentine is at its best throttling a tube amp, which fully reveals its big sweet spot in the low midrange – there’s a lot of body and overtone in there. Even with the pickup selector thrown to the bridge, single-note lines are thick and chewy, and crunched chords have depth and darkness. That’s due in part to the resonance of the lightweight string-through body (the whole guitar weighs just six pounds, ten ounces) and a well-built pocket for the bolt-on neck. You can feel in both hands how well the body and neck resonate together.
Credit is also due to the Lollar Mini-Humbuckers. Lollar describes these neck (resistance 6.6k) and bridge (7.2k) minis as “slightly brighter and tighter than a full-size humbucker,” and they do manage a nice balance of presence and punch. Those qualities pay off in neck position, too, where overdriven chords hang together compactly rather than getting floppy and loose. Played clean, in the neck position the tone can be surprisingly soft and full. Mid position is balanced and mild-mannered, and the bridge begs for snarl and twang.
The scale length is 24.75″ (again, like a Gibson), and the neck is consistent and comfy. The tuners and hardtail bridge by Gotoh are set in chrome, as are the pickup covers.
Like all Mario instruments, the Serpentine is fully customizable. Change up the body woods, order a single-pickup version, go with TV Jones Power’Trons, specify a neck profile, choose a color, and even decide between a one- or two-piece body. The Serpentine may be Mario’s flagship instrument, but you’re invited to make it your own.
This article originally appeared in VG January 2017 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.