A smart, modern acoustic-electric grand auditorium that’s beautifully built and supremely playable.
Founded in 2001 by Adam Cole and Brad Clark, Cole Clark builds everything from acoustic guitars to lap steels and ukuleles. But the Australian company’s original intent was simpler—make steel-string flattops from unique, sustainable, and local tonewoods, such as bunya and Queensland maple. Cole Clark’s most recent offering, the Angel AN2A3-BB, stays true to the company’s original mission. But in many ways it’s a sum of the lessons Cole Clark has learned since the company started, and this adds up to a modern grand auditorium guitar of superlative quality.
The Design and Craftsmanship
At a glance, the Angel AN2A3BB looks more or less traditionally built, but like many Cole Clarks, it has a lot of constructional attributes that distinguish it from the average steel-string. For starters, it’s built with a Spanish heel, a construction method more associated with classical guitars that integrates neck and neck joint and is thought by many to transfer sound better than a dovetail joint. The top and back feature surfaces of standard thickness and ridged sides instead of the kerfing that reinforces most flattop bodies. According to Cole Clark, these alternative methods contribute significantly to the guitar’s projection and volume.
The Angel is built from a selection of solid Australian species—a bunya top, Tasmanian blackwood (a relative of koa) back and sides, and a Queensland maple neck. Meanwhile, the bridge and fretboard are made from the more conventional choice of rosewood, and players with traditional tastes can opt for a top built from grade AA spruce.
The woods from Down Under used in our review model are certainly attractive. The top glows with a reddish hue and is dotted with bird’s-eye figuring here and there, and it complements the warm reddish-brown streaks of the blackwood back and sides. A thin, satin nitrocellulose finish reveals the details of all the woods in their natural glory. A rich chocolate-like brown, the fretboard and bridge make a smart counterpoint to all of the lighter-colored woods. The woods are a tactile delight too, especially the bridge and fretboard.
Ornamentation on the guitar is beautifully Spartan. There’s no back strip or end strip, just a narrow ring of maple binding on the top and back of the guitar. The rosette comprises rosewood and blackwood rings, and the fretboard is dusted with traditional snowflake inlays in mother-of-pearl. Overall the design feels very organic, though that effect is diminished to some extent by the plastic elements used for the electronics, which include controls for the preamp on the lower bout and a battery compartment on the butt end.
Cole Clark put the Angel together nicely. The neck-to-body junction is smooth and solid, the binding is perfectly flush with the body, and other tricky areas like the volute on the headstock are clean and carved precisely. The 20 Dunlop 6230 frets are flawlessly polished and entirely free of jagged edges, there are no tooling marks on the fretboard, and the TUSQ nut and saddle are tidily notched.
Inside the guitar, you’ll see some slightly rough woodworking apparent on the unfinished back and sides, and on the opposing A bracing, as well as a few very small glue spots. But these are hardly unusual, don’t affect the sound in the slightest, and on the whole, the Angel is a well-built guitar.
Smooth Playing Aussie
Removing the Angel from the included molded plastic case, I was pleased by the guitar’s light weight and the sweet smell of the wood. The Angel feels a little deep for a grand auditorium guitar, but it’s perfectly balanced between body and neck. It’s a pleasure to cradle on the lap, and it feels just as good to play slung over your shoulder.
The C-shaped neck has a medium-deep profile and comfortable rounded shoulders. With an agreeably low action and the perfect amount of neck relief, the guitar plays smooth and superbly right out of the case, and stretchy barre chords and speedy single-note runs are all easy to execute without excessive hand fatigue. The 44.4 mm nut (about 1.75") makes the fretboard feel super-spacious and perfect for fingerstyle techniques, and this effect is compounded by the long 25.5" scale. The fretboard’s 12" radius facilitates string bending too, and the guitar felt elastic and bend-happy, even with the .012 set of Elixir strings the guitar ships with.
Easy and Adaptable
The visual appeal of the Angel is echoed in the tones that lurk within, warm and alive with clarity. A simple open-E chord rings beautifully, sustains with swirling harmonics, and is well balanced from the 6th string to the 1st. Perhaps due to the integral neck, output seems remarkably consistent up and down the fretboard. For instance, a B played at the 6th string’s 7th fret does not sound dissimilar, in terms of timbre or volume, as one played at the 5th string’s 2nd fret. Overall, the Angel feels very responsive and is equal to the task of the gentlest fingerpicking and most frenzied strumming. The sound loses none of its luster or harmonic richness when the guitar is tuned to open G, DADGAD, and even down to low C. These alternative tunings are quite easy to access, thanks to the smooth-feeling Grover 18:1 tuners.
Being a grand auditorium-sized instrument, the Angel begs to be fingerpicked, and it has a very adaptive voice that you can apply to everything from Renaissance lute pieces to country blues and chord-melody jazz. Still, it’s plenty cooperative when played with a plectrum, whether for delicate arpeggio work or more aggressive soloing and strumming—though the latter might be less advisable, given the lack of the optional pickguard.
Pros: Distinct, stylish looks and unique tones in a smart, modern grand auditorium.
Cons: Hardcore traditionalists will prefer a grand auditorium with a dovetail joint, a shallower body, and more effectively concealed electronics.
Street: $2099 (with hardshell case)
Three Ways to Get Electrified
These days most mid-priced electric-acoustic guitars use undersaddle electronics, which can sound bass-heavy, quacky, and not entirely faithful to the instrument’s natural sound. But just as a home audio system incorporates subwoofers, midrange boxes, and treble horns to best distribute a full-range sound, the electronics on the Angel incorporate three separate transducer elements to handle all of the sonic frequencies. These include six individual piezo sensors under the bridge for the low end, a FaceBrace (soundboard transducer) for the midrange, and a condenser microphone for the high end.
The preamp includes two dials: One blends the output between the piezo and soundboard transducer elements, and the other controls the level of the mic. Once this balance is right, you can tailor the tone using standard volume, treble, mid, and bass controls, it’s unfortunate that this system doesn’t include the commonplace built-in digital tuner.
I plugged the Angel into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier. Because acoustic guitar amps are designed to compensate for the shortcomings of traditional acoustic electronics, it took a bit of tweaking of the blend controls to get the most natural sound. What seemed to work best for this purpose was a slight emphasis on the undersaddle elements. Plugged into GarageBand, the electronics have an uncommonly warm, lifelike sound and generate a minimum of extraneous noise—this is plug-in-and-play at its best.
Cole Clark’s Angel AN2A3BB is a smart, modern acoustic-electric grand auditorium that’s beautifully built, supremely playable, and capable of generating voices that are at home in many musical contexts—especially with its super-flexible electronics. What’s more, the Angel is built from a selection of solid, sustainably sourced tonewoods that lend a unique flavor to otherwise familiar tones. Though it’s not inexpensive, it’s a total winner when it comes to playability and style. And if you crave breaking away from the pack sonically and visually, the Cole Clark Angel is a great way to do it.
Watch our video demo: