Coming in under $1000 could this be the most affordable, and surprisingly sweet sounding, domestic take on a T-style guitar?
Overview & Final Score: 8.6 out of 10
My first experience with a CMG guitar was pretty inspiring, as I found their Ashlee LP derivative to not only be gorgeous looking (killer construction) but also smooth as hell to play. CMG’s reputation as shockingly affordable USA-made guitars shouldn’t overshadow how great the final products are, regardless of price. The Mark is no different, supplying premium Tele tones with a few CMG tweaks on a vintage Tele owned by the owner’s brother back in the day. Perhaps the easiest tweak to notice is the handy “E bend cut” which makes that lower horn smaller thanks to a deeper cut. This provides some pretty impressive access to the higher frets and is a common feature on CMG guitars.
Moving into the spec sheet you’ll find the body made of Mahogany or Natural Ash (the one I got was Ash), a Maple neck, and Rosewood fretboard. The masked binding around the body is a phenomenal touch, that really lets the natural beauty of the wood shine through. Somewhat surprising, this T-style is actually a 24.75″ scale length beast, so much more Gibson than Fender in that regard. Alongside the impressive Nitrocellulose lacquer, you’ll find Frog Dog pickups, a Wilkinson bridge with brass saddles, Grover 18:1 tuners, and standard Tele controls.
CMG did a great job giving this “Mark” T-style a familiar yet versatile sonic quality. Just like your standard Fender Telecaster, this guitar can do a little bit of everything. You can jump to country from pop and then back into Jimmy Page-inspired riffs with a just a few clicks of the pickup selector and a gain pedal. The cleans are clear, responsive, and snappy, though they have a bit of a jangly sound that I imagine comes from the lower tension on the strings due to the shorter scale length. However, it doesn’t not sound like a Tele, and this little feature really comes out when plugged into a chimey amp like a Vox, and I loved it! The Frog Dog pickups are smooth in the neck, twangy in the bridge, and surprisingly full in the middle. Conveniently enough, there wasn’t any extraneous buzz or 60 cycle hum, which is always nice. CMG Guitars has put together something that can do a little bit of everything, making it feel and sound like a real workhorse for gigging or studio musicians.
The most impressive thing about the CMG Mark is the feel and playability. That E Bend Cut makes a huge difference, for me at least, when it comes to playing down the neck. I feel a sense of control over those high frets that I don’t always have on my more traditional T-style guitars. Merge that with the nice fret work and really high quality set up, and you get a wonderfully high score. It’s a player for sure, and something that I would trust on stage night in and night out. Despite the shorter scale length, it didn’t feel foreign at all, in the sense that I still felt like I was playing a Tele. However, I’m sure that shorter scale paired with the E Bend Cut is what made soloing and improvising so comfortable up and down the neck. Tuning stability was pretty impressive too if I’m being honest. I think I tuned it maybe once the whole time I had it? Obviously I let it acclimate to my apartment for a few days before playing so that likely helped, but I’m finding it crazy how much tuning stability varies between guitars. Th CMG Mark was great, a guitar twice the cost sometimes sucks, it’s all a bit odd.
Finish & Construction: 8.5
With a slim price tag, you might be expecting this area to be where costs are cut on a domestic made guitar. But you’d be wrong, it seems the costs are low because the CMG Guitars Mark prioritizes functionality over frills. The guitar I was lent came in a nice “Bubba Blue” color, but the finish is pretty standard, normal, and really makes you focus on the experience of playing the guitar. I’ve seen some impressive finish colors on their site, but what you should focus on is how good this guitar feels to play. CMG is going to get high grades here despite not having the flashiest spec sheet because the end product is better than the sum of its parts. The hardware was well adjusted, the Mark was ready to go out of the nice padded CMG gig bag, and the emphasis is put on making this feel like a tool of the trade, not wall art. To me, that’s the sign of a good luthier/builder, when you craft a guitar that is not meant for the rock stars but is meant for the guy or girl playing in a bar.
It blows my mind that you can get a USA-made Tele for about $800. And you’re not sacrificing really anything to get it, sure maybe it won’t have the finish options or fancy wiring of a Fender Pro II Tele, but it will sound great, play great, and support small builders without breaking the bank. The CMG Mark is ready to be someone’s workhorse on tour or when jumping between studio sessions. And if you’re like me (and most of us during the pandemic), it’s a real joy to just sit down and play into a little amp around the house. I think the target audience here is hard working musicians who want to support a local builder, but can’t always afford to. At the same time, they can’t rely on just any guitar, and the superior performance and reliability of this CMG Mark T-style fills that niche perfectly for me.
Good for: Classic Rock, Country, Blues, Pop, Gigging Musicians, Versatile Session Players, Songwriters, Tele Fans