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Four Affordable 12-String Flattops Roundup

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Fender CJ-290SCE-12
The combination of a jumbo body and maple back and sides is a classic recipe for a great sounding 12-string. One of the instrument’s definitive blueprints, it has been used on iconic and significant 12s like the Guild F-412 and Taylor 655, and it’s a cool recipe for the CJ-290SCE-12 reviewed here.

With a width of 16 1/4" at the lower bout, the CJ-290SCE-12 isn’t as wide as some jumbos. But because its waist isn’t as pinched as some jumbos, the surface area of the top and internal volume is comparable to bigger-looking guitars (it also leads to a somewhat stout appearance). The maple used for the back and sides is laminated, which lets Fender to use an outer veneer of highly flamed wood and give the guitar some flash without driving the price through the roof.

The CJ 12 has a solid Sitka spruce top, and the top on our review guitar was particularly nice, with even grain over the entire soundboard. The guitar’s neck is also made from maple (though our guitar revealed significant color irregularities between the woods used on the neck itself and the heel), and the fretboard and bridge are made from rosewood. Fender added some cool details that enhance the up-market look and feel of the guitar, including an abalone rosette, white fretboard and body binding, black-and-white purfling, and gold tuners.

Ratings

Pros:
Classic 12-string vibe. Versatile sounds.

Cons:
Preamp placement somewhat awkward.

Tones:

Playability:

Build/Design:

Value:

Street:
$549

Fender CJ-290SCE-12
fender.com

This Fender also comes loaded with Fishman’s Presys electronics package, which includes an under-saddle pickup and a side-mounted preamp with a chromatic tuner and controls for volume, bass, middle, treble, and phase.

If you’ve ever played one of the classic maple 12s, you’ll likely find the CJ-290SCE-12 familiar in feel and tone. The jumbo body and chunky D neck profile (measuring 1 7/8" wide at the nut) make the Fender feel substantial. And the blend of the large body’s low-end capacity and the maple’s dry, reactive brightness give the guitar an expansive tone palette.

Set up with medium action, the CJ-290SCE-12 is jangly and sparkling when strummed, and its note-to-note definition is very good when played fingerstyle. The guitar is most responsive to a heavy attack and sounds best at the volumes you get from an aggressive fingerstyle approach. Still, it sounds fairly complex when played softer.

Plug the guitar in and you flip the equation a bit: Through an amp, it sounds best with a softer approach. The combination of maple, spruce, and the Fishman system sounded bright and snappy when I dug in with a pick, but very sweet and balanced when I played softer fingerstyle pieces.

The onboard EQ proved helpful for adapting the guitar to different playing styles, but I found the preamp’s placement in the lower bout area of the side to be awkward in terms of reaching the controls and reading the onboard tuner’s display. Those small gripes aside, it’s hard to find fault with the CJ-290SCE-12. And it offers stage-ready practicality and classic 12-string vibe—both in terms of appearance and sound—for a very reasonable price.

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