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Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster Electric Guitar Review

June 16, 2010
Guitarists are a finicky bunch. We argue endlessly about things like solid-state versus tube amps, digital modeling versus actual tubes, true-bypass pedals versus not, and directional cables versus standard models, etc. The list goes on and on. Most of the aforementioned clashes take place between electric guitarists, but acoustic players certainly have their sticky points, too. One thing they’ll usually agree on is a skepticism about modeling in any form.

Download Example 1
Image 1, fast fingerpicking
Download Example 2
Image 2 combined with neck pickup, low chord work
Download Example 3
Image 4, slight reverb added

Personally, I’ve long been against acoustic simulation. I’ve just never come across a pedal or software emulation that really gets close enough for my tastes. My hang-ups aren’t just about the tonal discrepancies, they’re also about the differences in feel. The vibrations from a nice jumbo make me play differently than when I play an electric guitar. But taking an acoustic onto a loud stage with a full band presents a lot of challenges—they’re difficult to amplify without getting a lot of feedback, and then there’s the issue of switching between acoustic and electric tones within a single song. Gigging guitarists who primarily play electric have been searching after ways to avoid both these issues and having to take their acoustic treasures—which are often more susceptible to damage than their electric counterparts— out on the road.

So, as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. At least that’s what Fender seems to be saying with their new Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster. Only in this case, Fender is literally joining the two ideas together. The Acoustasonic combines several acoustic and electric traits, with the intent of delivering convincing acoustic and electric tones that you can use either individually or together.

Split Personality
My first impression after picking up the Acoustasonic Tele was that it’s very light, despite being made of ash—which tends to be a weightier tone wood. Fender has chambered the body and inserted a center block made of spruce, which lightens the load. Spruce is, of course, perhaps the preeminent tonewood for acoustic guitar tops. It’s rather lightweight and has powerful projection qualities. The sunburst-finished body is topped with a rosewood bridge shaped roughly like a Tele’s standard bridge assembly. Taking sustain issues into consideration, Fender designed the body and bridge combination to take advantage of a string-through setup. The 21-fret maple neck has a modern C shape and is capped with a rosewood fretboard that has a nice, deep hue.

A Fishman undersaddle piezo pickup is embedded underneath the compensated plastic saddle, and it’s controlled by a Fishman Aura preamp. Like a standard acoustic- electric, the preamp controls—Volume and Tone knobs and a four-way Image switch—are conveniently located on the upper bout. The guitar’s top features a three-position selector, a master volume knob, and a concentric knob that controls the magnetic neck pickup’s tone and volume. In its leftmost position, the selector switch activates the neck pickup only, in its rightmost position it activates the piezo and Aura preamp, and in the middle it’s both. The battery compartment around back has a small DIP switch to flip between mono and stereo output, which means you can use a standard cable to route acoustic and electric tones through one amp, or use the included Y-cable to send the Aura tones to an acoustic amp (or a PA) and the neck pickup tones to a dedicated electric amp.

Traditional Tele neck-pickup tones can be found by flipping to the neck pickup, which is a Fender Twisted Tele model. According to the company, this pickup was designed to address common complaints regarding conventional Telecaster neck pickups, which sometimes sound weaker than the typical Tele bridge pickup. The concentric volume-and-tone knob is a really great feature, because it allows you to mix in just the right amount of electric guitar tone with the acoustic sound when you’re using both.

Super Sonics
Since the Acoustasonic is tailored to cover a wide variety of tones, I chose to play it through a Quidley 22 head and matching 2x12 cabinet—an amp that handles clean tones very evenly and honestly. First, I soloed the piezo and set its tone and volume controls at noon. The Image switch allows you to select between four digital emulations of popular acoustic sounds: dark folk, bright folk, dreadnought, and jumbo. Dark folk sounded surprisingly crisp and clean when I picked through a basic E major chord. It really took me by surprise, because I’ve played high-end acoustic guitars that didn’t sound that even and full when amplified with a pickup. Flipping to bright folk brought a major bass boost, with a slight roll off in the upper frequencies. It sounded really good, albeit scooped in the midrange. I was a little dumbfounded, because that position was supposed to be brighter, but the dark folk position seemed to have more high-end sheen. Regardless, both were impressive. I’m a big fan of acoustic tones that sit well in the mix while another instrument (such as brass or woodwind) takes the lead, and the second position was perfect for that—and it was even better for jazz progressions when you dialed the tone back to 9 o’clock.

The third Image setting kicked in even more mids while keeping the same amount of bass. It was certainly the most prominent and aggressive sounding, perfect for rock riffing. The final position, the jumbo acoustic image, evened out the frequencies. For players who like to thicken up their electric riffs with an acoustic sandwiched between (think Ace Frehley’s “Ozone”), this setting is ideal. After playing with each setting for a while, I realized it could be tempting to go overboard with higher tone settings. I had to keep the control set rather low to help the instrument sit in the mix more comfortably. Once the tone gets up near the 2 and 3 o’clock range, some unpleasant harshness appears in the upper frequencies. Luckily, the tone control is extremely responsive, so it was easy to pull back when I had to.

Things really started to get interesting when I mixed the piezo with the magnetic neck pickup. The Twisted Tele is a fantastic pickup. It can feel a little strange if you’re used to the subdued tones of some traditional Tele neck pickups. It’s extremely usable and versatile, and its output blends nicely with the piezo to yield a fantastic, three-dimensional tone. It’s almost like when you have a nice piece of gear that you’re really happy with, but then you throw a booster in the chain and fall in love with it all over again. And I’ll admit that I was suspicious of the notion of blending a Tele neck pickup with an acoustic tone, but the Acoustasonic quashed my misgivings. The magnetic pickup frequencies never fought the piezos, they always seemed to complement them—and extremely well, I might add. The voicing that Fender and Fishman engineered is exemplary, with a near perfect balance.

That said, moderation is the key to crafting a great tone with this guitar. Too much high end or midrange can cause some really disagreeable tones, so keep your amp’s presence at a moderate level to stay in the realm of smooth, controllable timbres.

The Final Mojo
The Fender Acoustasonic Tele, quite frankly, has a ton going for it. First, the acoustic tones are all usable and sound great. Each has its own unique strength, making the Acoustasonic Tele a fantastic choice for the studio pro or the touring musician. Second, the ability to expand your musical possibilities with the blending options makes it a blast to play. Any instrument that gives me song ideas just from strumming around on it is a good instrument in my book. And finally, the Acoustasonic’s affordability puts it well within reach of most players. It’s a difficult task to meld the electric and acoustic worlds, but Fender has found a great balance with this guitar.
Buy if...
you’re looking for a solid, well-rounded guitar with acoustic emulated tones that stand out from the pack.
Skip if...
you need a piezo-equipped guitar that also features a magnetic bridge pickup.

Street $999 - Fender -