Cole Clark Fat Lady 1AC Acoustic Guitar Review
June 17, 2009
|Download Example 1
Fingerstyle - Pickup, Amp, Mic'd
|Download Example 2
Strumming - Pickup, Amp, Mic'd
|Download Example 3
DADGAD - Pickup, Amp, Mic'd
|Download Example 4
C Tuning - Pickup, Amp, Mic'd
|Mic: sE3 to Aphex 207D mic-pre; Amp: L.R. Baggs Core 1, mic: Audix i5 to Aphex 207D mic-pre; Pickup (Direct): Cole Clark pickup to Aphex 230 mic-pre Interface: RME Fireface
DAW: Samplitude V8 Pickup sliders: Volume 1/2, Bass 2/3, Mid flat, Treb 1/3, mix 50/50
Clips by Gayla Drake Paul
Perhaps not surprisingly, an Australian company has given it the best shot yet. Cole Clark Guitars, founded in 2001 by former Maton CEO Brad Clark, have combined modern technology with sustainable, locally grown woods to create some of the most unique, affordable imports in the market. This month, we’re stepping into the review chamber with a Cole Clark Fat Lady cutaway dreadnought to see just how toneful “eco-friendly” can be.
The Fat Lady Up Close
The Fat Lady 1AC is, if anything, a study in stylish sustainability. While Cole Clark acoustics are still built out of solid woods, they make use of an entire crop of native, fast growing and abundant Australian woods such as Bunya pine and Queensland maple. The Bunya soundboard is perhaps the most striking feature on this acoustic; its varied, colorful grain—alternating between tight, light stripes and wide, deep browns—gives this guitar a striking and immediately recognizable persona. The back, sides and neck are all fashioned from lightly flamed Queensland maple, a wood originally used as a stand-in for mahogany, while the fingerboard is made of solid rosewood. A spruce top is optional and available. The back is also available in Tasmanian blackwood.
For the most part, Cole Clark lets the woods do most of the talking here on this base model; appointments are kept to a minimum: thin pinstripes of rosewood surround the soundboard and form the rosette; miniaturized pearl dots mark the fingerboard; an angular black pickguard adorns the top; and a stylized three-dimensional headstock displays the company’s decal, but that’s about it. And the thing is, it truly works here—the Bunya top gives this Fat Lady a completely different look from all of the other spruce and cedar variants out there, while the absence of binding and a thin satin nitro finish showcase the seamlessness of the guitar’s construction. The result is an earthy, natural-looking dreadnought that should win over minimalists and environmentalists alike.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that the relative lack of ornamentation means that corners have been cut—quite the opposite, actually. Even though Cole Clark makes use of CNC machines during the production of the Fat Lady to keep the price affordable, the guitar includes features and attributes unheard of at this price point. For example, this Fat Lady is reinforced in all the right places: the guitar makes use of a variation on the Spanish heel at the neck joint, which tightly locks the neck block and body together, giving the Fat Lady a palpable feeling of “oneness” and great sustain, while the headstock is grafted onto the neck and reinforced with a beautifully crafted volute to add strength. The interior of the guitar dispenses with the age-old X bracing, and instead uses an internally carved soundboard and two A-shaped braces, which run the length of the instrument in opposite directions.
Also of quick note is the guitar’s feather weight and balance—both Bunya and Queensland maple are lighter than the traditional woods used on a dreadnought (even though they have similar strength properties), and the result is a body that almost seems to float in your hand and on your lap. Despite the fact that it’s still a thick dreadnought, the Fat Lady is incredibly comfortable to sit with and its sense of balance between the headstock and the body is perfect.
For being such a light-feeling guitar, the Fat Lady definitely sings like its name implies. This acoustic is truly remarkable for the ground it covers—everything from soft fingerpicking to good-time strumming comes through clearly and with a well-balanced tonal range. Everything seems to be in proportion here, from the guitar’s crisp highs to its full-but-not-overpowering bottom-end, and it really feels like each part of the instrument adds to the greater whole in just the right amount. The dreadnought body style and bracing give the sound depth and body; the Queensland maple body and neck provide shimmering highs; the Bunya top gives this guitar just the right amount of warmth (almost akin to a cedar-topped acoustic, without the mushiness at higher volumes or intensities). Perhaps even more impressive is the guitar’s responsiveness; despite its size, this Fat Lady is nimble, dynamic and brilliantly expressive at all points.
The Fat Lady’s electronics have been custom built by Cole Clark to compliment the guitar’s tonality, and I’m proud to report that they do a hell of a job. The system is comprised of six individual piezo sensors under the bridge and a Face Brace transducer with three sensors mounted under the soundboard. A unique Blend slider on the guitar’s preamp allows you to adjust the crossover point of where the guitar’s high-end frequencies are captured from—moving the slider away from you causes more of the bridge piezos’ high-end to be amplified; pulling the slider towards you causes the system to amplify more highend from the sensors. It’s a fairly ingenious and natural-sounding system that allows you to really dial in the nature of your high-end— the Face Brace provided the Fat Lady with a little more “airiness”—although playing through a Genz Benz Shenandoah Compak 300, I found the best sounds to be in the central range of the slider, drawing equally from both sources. The system does a great job of bringing out the warmth and clarity of the guitar, and the only time feedback was an issue was at high volumes with the Face Brace sensor fully engaged.
The preamp interface itself is fairly pedestrian, Blend function aside. It has a Volume slider, and a 3-band EQ allowing you to dial in your Highs, Mids and Lows. This was really the only place that I had any quibbles with the instrument— the labels for the sliders were damn near invisible in anything short of bright light, and the conspicuous lack of an on-board tuner seems like a major omission for such a welldesigned system.
In terms of playability, the Fat Lady is certainly playable, but you’ll likely want to spend a little time dialing it in for your tastes. The guitar comes strung with .012s and a medium setup (.078" on the treble side and .098” on the bass side), and the company’s website says, “It is fully expected that specific settings are the responsibility of the customer.” The 12" fingerboard radius, the medium C profile and 1 ¾" nut width make this guitar extremely comfortable to play (although smaller hands might struggle with lower position chording), while a Graphtech TUSQ nut and Grover Rotomatic tuners keep everything stable and in tune, no matter how heavy-handed you get.
The Final Mojo
It’s safe to say that Cole Clark Guitars is on to something here—the Fat Lady is one of the finest acoustics you’ll encounter in the sub-$2000 market, and the fact that it’s made of more sustainable varieties of wood is the cherry on top. It looks great, it plays great and it sounds even better—what more could you ask for?
you're looking for a bright, articulate acoustic you can feel good about.
you're a spruce fanatic.
MSRP $1540 - Cole Clark Guitars - coleclarkguitars.com