Here’s something new in the guitar line. Certainly it created a bit of a buzz at the recent NAMM music equipment show, earning a Best of Show award in the process. It’s the Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster, which was only released in January of this year and I’ve got one to play with for a whole lovely week.
The Acoustasonic looks for all the world like a standard Telecaster, until you get up close and notice things like the acoustic-style rosewood compensated bridge, a two-tiered knob where the tone control should be and a small volume/tone/selector control panel on the upper edge, such as you might see on a plug-in acoustic. There’s also a recessed 9-volt battery on the back, hidden beneath a black pop-out panel with a discreet little mono/stereo switch.So clearly we’re looking at something rather more evolved than the humble Tele plank.
The Acoustasonic is a hybrid electric/acoustic with a recommended retail price of $2100, which offers a choice of four pre-set acoustic emulations, or ‘images’ as Fender refer to them, by utilising a Fishman under-saddle peizo pickup and Aurasystem pre-amp. It also operates as a standard electric with its neck position Custom Shop ‘twisted’ single coil pickup, although the angled bridge pickup responsible for the famous Tele twang has been sacrificed to the requirements of the acoustic transducer. I suppose you can’t have it all, but it would have been nice to have full Tele tone when playing in electric mode.
The chambered ash body has a spruce wedge through the middle for resonance and sustain, while the ‘C’ section neck is that industry standard of maple with a rosewood fretboard.
Although built in Mexico, rather than the US of A, the finish, set-up and intonation are as good as you would expect from an instrument daring to call itself a Fender (rather than a Squire), and the trimmed-back tortoiseshell pickguard adds a classy touch to the off-white polyester finish. Where there is normally a gleaming (or sweat encrusted) chrome bridge plate, instead we have a very sober-looking rosewood plate, which takes a little getting used to, but certainly doesn’t detract from the look of the guitar.
Fender are making all sorts of claims for the Acoustasonic being the first instrument of its kind ever built, but switched on readers may recall the all-carbon Parker Fly had a peizo pickup under the bridge as well as three conventional pickups, with the two systems, like the Fender, able to be blended, used on their own or bypassed.
Where the two differ is the Fly was essentially an electric that could make a reasonable fist of sounding like an acoustic, whereas the Acoustasonic has been more highly geared towards acoustic performance at the (slight) expense of its electric capabilities. Hence the acoustic-style, metal-free rosewood bridge, absent bridge single coil and the guitar arriving with a wound G string as is the norm on acoustic guitars. Try playing whole tone bends on that and see how long your fingers last! Of course there’s no reason why you couldn’t slap a set of regular gauge or extra-slinkys on if bending notes is your thing, but there would undoubtedly be a corresponding trade-off in the authenticity of your acoustic tone.
And authentic the tones certainly are, the four presets offering a nice range with a couple of big-bodied dreadnought or jumbo emulations and two smaller, brighter-sounding ‘parlour’ guitars. They’re all highly useable and comparable in quality to a reasonably high-end, plugged in acoustic. But if you’re really serious about getting the best out of this set up you’ll need to look at tapping into the stereo capabilities of the Acoustasonic and using a dedicated acoustic guitar amp for the peizo pickup in conjunction with your regular guitar amp.
The guitar comes with a Y cable which splits off from the guitar’s stereo output, so that the acoustic signal is routed only to your acoustic amp and the conventional pickup to your standard amp. But things get really interesting when you start looking into the possibilities of blending the two signals. Running in stereo mode (mono blending is also optional), suddenly you’ve got two amps running simultaneously, which instantly sounds massive, one putting out pristine acoustic tone while the other can add a layer of whatever electric loveliness or mayhem your imagination and equipment allows.
This was the turning point for me with this guitar, the ‘eureka!’ moment as it were. Suddenly whole new vistas of possibility were opening up and I couldn’t put the thing down. The beauty of the acoustic tone chiming away underneath meant that even woolly and distorted electric sounds had a clarity and focus at the front of the note – it’s exactly like having a super-psychic acoustic player in the room with you, doubling everything you do – magic!
Dialling up a nice clean flanged and delayed electric sound doubled with acoustic and I was compelled to play Purple Rain for positively ages. I didn’t want to stop because it sounded so damn good. Interestingly neither the electric sound nor the acoustic (I don’t own a dedicated acoustic amp) sounded all that amazing on their own, but splice them together and OMG what a sound!
The other cool thing is you can control the amount of each sound you hear in the mix simply by adjusting between the two volume controls. The bottom part of the two-tiered knob is for electric tone, the top for electric volume, while the acoustic volume and tone are accessed on the little black Fishman panel. The knob directly behind the three-way pickup selector is a master volume control for both pickups. It sounds a little complex to write, but really doesn’t take very long to become comfortable with.
Part of the Interweb chat I glanced at was along the lines of; “All well and good for gigging but I wouldn’t record with it when you can mic up on a real acoustic”. That’s a fair comment, it’s pretty hard to beat the authenticity and tone of a Martin D20 with a $2000 mic in front of it. Yet I feel compelled to say that I would record with it any day in acoustic/electric blend mode, because it’s such an amazing hybrid sound that would be very difficult to emulate by overdubbing. It’s the sort of wide-screen, glistening sound I would find incredibly useful in the studio, and by splitting the signal to two tracks the engineer could control the balance and stereo imaging with ease.
There are other tricks you could get up to with this guitar; things like running the acoustic output through a looper, laying down a chord sequence then jamming over the top with your electric sounds. As I said, you’re really only limited by your imagination and effects arsenal in what you can get out of it.
Fender have delivered a very well-designed and thought out addition to the guitarist’s bag of tricks which will certainly have the audience straining to see where the band has concealed their acoustic player. “I can see the guy with the Tele playing the power chords but where is that pristine acoustic coming from?” It’s not the least bit gimmicky but a bona fide professional quality instrument that greatly expands a guitarist’s tonal palette.
On the slightly unfortunate side of things the review model turned up with a dodgy connection to the peizo pickup which required a fair bit of wiggling to get going. I suspect the fault was with the stereo lead rather than the guitar as it worked fine in mono mode with a mono cable, and although probably a rare fault it’s a little black mark for the hombres at quality control.
This minor glitch aside I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with this unique guitar – I played it for longer than I can remember for a review model, simply because I didn’t want to put it down. My wife kindly took our three-year-old boy out to his nanna’s for the day so I could have a good loud fang and get a good chunk of writing done. When they returned several hours later I hadn’t written one word because I was still playing the damn thing! It falls firmly in the select band of instruments I definitely did not want to give back, which is about as high as praise gets with me.