Fender reimagines a vintage acoustic and creates a new classic.
Even though Fender began offering flattop acoustics more than 50 years ago, they’re probably not the instruments you most immediately associate with the brand. Given the world-changing success of Fender electrics, this is no surprise. But while the company’s early efforts didn’t take off with serious acoustic players, they were among the era’s few truly original flattop designs. Now Fender is revisiting some of these instruments as part of its U.S.-made acoustic line. With its bolt-on neck, the Kingman Pro Custom is among the closest relatives of those originals. But key design changes have transformed the guitar from an oddball also-ran to a unique and truly high-end flattop.A Brief History Lesson
Eager to cash in on the early-’60s folk trend, Leo Fender wanted his own line of acoustics. Realizing that a flattop was beyond his expertise, he hired German luthier Roger Rossmeisl, who’d worked down the road at Rickenbacker, where he designed many of the company’s most famous models. Rossmeisl was charged with creating a line of flattops and hollow-body electrics, including the Coronado.
Rossmeisl merged his traditional European instrument-building techniques (he’d received his training at the famed violin building school in Mittenwald, Germany) with Martin-esque body shapes. The big difference was that Rossmeisel used Fender’s existing electric guitar necks, most likely for maximum manufacturing efficiency. If that approach sounds questionable to you, you’re not alone. The instruments were a relative flop, and from about 1971 through the ’90s, Fender downplayed acoustic production.
How things have changed! Purchasing Guild in 1995 gave Fender access to some of the best acoustic guitar know-how in the business. The company ramped up its acoustic activity after moving Guild and Fender production to Ovation’s factory in New Hartford, Connecticut. Owning a state-of-the-art facility fine-tuned for acoustic production allows Fender to create true high-end flattops.Uptown Vibe
The new Kingman Pro is inspired by the Kingman models Fender produced between 1963 and 1971, but is far from a strict reissue. That’s a good thing—the new model far surpasses any vintage Fender acoustic I’ve played. The Kingman Pro has a dreadnought body built with a solid Sitka spruce top (with forward-shifted, scalloped red spruce X-bracing) and solid mahogany back and sides. The maple neck is similar to what you’d find on a circa-1968 Stratocaster, with a six-on-a-side headstock, Kluson-style tuners, white binding, and medium frets. It’s bolted to the body without a heel. Large pearl block inlays ornament the 10²-radius rosewood fingerboard.
Those attributes alone would make the Kingman Pro an unusual acoustic. But Fender goes further with the appointments: The Viking-style rosewood bridge, sparkling gold three-ply pickguard, and beautifully executed sunburst nitro finish lend a luxurious look. And I just love the checkerboard marquetry used for the top’s purfling and the rosette. Materials and construction are top-shelf, with high-quality woods and the extra-clean craftsmanship you see in the current crop of Guild guitars, which come from the same factory.
One of the biggest departures from Rossmeisel’s vintage designs is the Kingman Pro’s neck attachment. Vintage examples used long mounting screws and a “tone bar” running the length of the body. The new Kingman Pro uses a pair of Allen-head screws to secure the neck from underneath the fingerboard extension and inside the body. This eliminates the need for the enormous neck-blocks of vintage Fender acoustics, saving weight and allowing the body to resonate more freely. (The guitar has a shield-shaped chrome neck plate, but it’s strictly decorative.)Pickin’ and Strummin’
Even though the neck resembles one from a Fender electric, it feels more like that of a typical acoustic. Fender’s specs call the profile a “C,” but it actually has a slight “V,” a nice compromise between contemporary and vintage profiles. With its 1.7² nut width, the neck is a bit wider than most electric necks, and the guitar’s 25.625² scale is slightly longer than that of most dreadnoughts. The guitar came set up with light-gauge strings (.012 - .052) and medium-low action.
Strumming first-position chords, I was greeted by a lovely, rich voice with great balance and the complexity of a true high-end flattop. The guitar’s tendency toward natural compression limits its acoustic volume somewhat, but provides very even dynamics for fingerpicked and single-note passages.Plugging In
It would be a shame to not take a flashy guitar like this onto the stage. Fortunately, Fender had the foresight to install a Fishman Matrix Infinity pickup system, consisting of Fishman’s top-of-the-line Acoustic Matrix undersaddle pickup, an endpin-mounted preamp, and a small control unit with volume and tone controls in the soundhole. The rig is stealthy and easy to use. Plugging into an AER Compact 60 amp instantly provided a fine, balanced sound. The attack became a bit bright when I hit the guitar hard, but overall, the naturally compressed character reveals a rich amplified voice that would be particularly well suited to accompanying vocals or underpinning a band mix.
It’s great to see Fender entering the upper-level acoustic market in a concerted fashion. The Kingman Pro combines cool elements of the company’s acoustic past with smart design improvements. Like all the work I’ve seen from the New Hartford plant, the guitar’s craftsmanship is top-notch. With its solid tone and luxurious, show-stopping looks, the Kingman Pro will find many fans, particularly players eager to look beyond the Martin and Gibson standards.