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
The fight between commercial viability and environmental friendliness has always been present in the business world, but now we see its subtle creep into the guitar world. Lines are quickly being drawn in the sand—choose between exquisite tone and old growth lumber, or more earth-friendly options being made out of sustainable woods and space age materials like carbon fiber. And while neither side is technically or morally correct—tone is, after all, a beautiful, noble aspiration—it does seem about time that someone finds a way to bridge the two worlds, or at least pare down the divide.

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.