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Archive for August, 2017

fender_fa135ce

Fender FA 135 CE Concert Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Summary: Part of the Fender Classic Design series, this lower-end model is a real surprise; especially in the sound department. Nice, low action, and a great feel. If you’re looking for a starter guitar or getting your child his or her very first guitar, you can’t go wrong with the FA 135 CE.

Pros: Some reviews have questioned the build quality of this guitar, but I’m very impressed with how solid this guitar is built. The guitar stays in tune and playing it is so, so easy. And for a smaller concert size guitar, this has a very rich sound; it’s quite unexpected.

Cons: The only nit that I have – and it’s really just a nit – is that the tuners are bit fast for my tastes. Fine tuning is a little challenging at first, but it’s easy to get used to.

Price: $179 street

Features:

  • Laminated bass wood sides and back
  • Laminated spruce top with X-bracing reinforcement
  • Nato wood neck
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Compensated rosewood saddle
  • Single cutaway
  • Fishman Ion-T Preamp with built-in tuner

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ For what it is, I can’t help but give this guitar a great rating. Fender really surprised me with this guitar!

My 12-year-old son has been taking Ukelele lessons for a couple of years, and after he finished his last lesson, he came out and told me that he wanted to start playing guitar. His teacher, Michael, had accompanied him out of the lesson room and told me that he was ready. And since his birthday was coming up, I thought I’d get him a new one, as opposed to fixing up one of my old ones. My thought is that just like my dad did for me, I’d give my son a brand new guitar for his first one.

So today I went to Guitar Center and spent a couple of hours in their acoustic room evaluating all sorts of acoustic guitars. I didn’t want to spend over $200 for this guitar, but luckily, as a big-box retailer, Guitar Center has a pretty wide selection of “value” guitars. I tried guitars from Mitchell, a used “Little Martin,” several Yamaha guitars, and even a Gretsch.

The Little Martin was impressive and solidly built and was at a great price of $189, but it wouldn’t be available until Wednesday due to some city ordinance about a waiting period for used guitars. I needed a guitar today. So I sat in the acoustic room, and my gaze fell upon the Fender. I immediately thought to myself that it looked really nice. But, the thought also occurred that it was a Fender acoustic, and my previous experiences with those haven’t been all that good.

But in spite of my preconceptions, I decided to give it a try and was immediately surprised by the tone of the guitar. For a smaller-body guitar, I wasn’t expecting much sound-wise. But this had a sweet, gorgeous, rich tone. It completely took me by surprise. Then I started playing it, and thought, This couldn’t be a Fender acoustic! It sounds and plays way too nice – especially at $179!

Folks, this guitar is a sleeper, and it reminds me of the experience I had with my Squier Classic Vibe Tele. Great sound, great playability at a SUPER-affordable price!

Fit and Finish

The build quality of this guitar is awesome, just like my CV Tele. There are no uneven paint lines, and all the seams are clean and straight. The neck is straight, and the action is set up low, though it does raise just a little bit in the higher registers; but it’s not so bad that it’s not playable. This is a great guitar for fingerstyle playing, but even strummed, there’s no buzz. But more importantly, the setup is perfect for a beginning guitarist like my little boy.

Playability

Quite frankly, the main criterium for choosing a guitar for my son was playability. I could live with a guitar that had only okay sound just as long as it was easy to play. The frets are medium wire. Not great for bending and vibrato, but hey! This is a beginner’s guitar, so that’s not a big issue. The spacing is great between the frets as this is a shorter-scale guitar. For a seasoned player, this guitar plays with ease. For a beginner and a young player at that, the short scale will help them build up confidence.

How It Sounds

For a low-priced guitar, the FA 135 CE is amazingly articulate. As expected, it has a bit brighter voice as compared to a larger body guitar. But it has some nice sustain, and the spruce soundboard resonates with a surprisingly rich tone. Projection is great with this guitar due to the X-bracing under the top to provide stability and to help with projection. What also surprised me about this guitar is that it’s louder than I expected.

Tone-wise, as for me, I prefer a brighter-sounding guitar. While I liked the Little Martin, doing an A/B with that vs. the FA 135, it was as if a blanket was put over the Martin. The sound was much warmer and a bit too subdued for my tastes. That guitar projected very loud, but it would get lost in the mix when played with other guitars. This shouldn’t happen with the FA 135 CE.

Quick Demo

Here’s a quick demo I recorded just before posting this review. Sorry for the sound quality – and background noises – as this was recorded using my MacBook’s built in microphone, my new puppy was being a little playful across the room… 🙂

Preamp Test

As mentioned above, the guitar comes equipped with a Fishman Ion-T preamp. It’s a pretty simple preamp, so I thought I would give it a whirl. It’s not a bad preamp as preamps go, but it’s nothing special. In fact, its output is only okay. In order to record, I had to peg the guitar’s volume and add a lot of gain on my audio interface. Not a big deal. What was important to me was if I could get a good enough guitar signal to use the guitar in a song.

I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the result. I didn’t have to tweak the EQ at all. Of course, I did some production processing, but that was the point of the exercise, which was to see if I could get a good, mixable acoustic guitar sound from a plugged in guitar.

Overall Impression

I love this guitar! Who cares if it was manufactured in China. I have to commend Fender for finding an overseas manufacturer that does a great job at building guitars. The build, play and sound quality of this guitar have far exceeded my expectations. I think this is a guitar that my son will enjoy for years to come!

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Try this: No effects. Not even reverb. Just you, your guitar, and your amp. No cheating. Plug your guitar directly into your amp, and if it has built-in reverb, turn it off. Another thing: No cranking up your gain to get into full overdrive. Set your amp such that you have to hit it hard to break it up.

Play.

So what’s the point? The point is that you will see just how much you depend on your effects. But even after this “test.” Try playing and doing leads without any effects. For some, this isn’t an issue, as they normally play plugged straight in. But for others like me, we use effects and doing leads without them might just surface issues with technique.

Mind you, I’m not advocating for doing away with effects altogether. That would just be silly; especially if what you hear as your “sound” is from effects. But if you can be expressive without effects, imagine how much more expressive you will be when you have effects.

—–

At my last band rehearsal, I totally flaked and forgot to bring my pedal board, and it was too far to go back home to fetch it. So I said oh well, wtf… I’ll just deal with it. What the hell was I going to do? Call off practice? No way. That rehearsal turned out to be one of – if not – the best rehearsals we’ve had as a band since I joined. Our frontman came to the restaurant where I solo last night and we talked about how great that rehearsal was. So organic, and every song – even ones we were learning – felt tight.

For me, playing without effects forced me to work my guitar and get all my sustain with my fingers; not pressing hard and digging in, but making sure I fully sound out notes.

Might seem obvious to some players, but what I realized right away was that I was depending a lot on my effects to give me sustain and frankly, I got lazy. The net effect was that I slowed down my solos, and made sure that I was really taking my time expressing whatever message I had in a song.

Mind you, it wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing. I could hear that I was cutting off my notes a bit so I simply slowed down just a tad and let my guitar sing in its natural voice.

At the end of practice, I was so satisfied. Combine that with just having a great time with my bandmates, and that was simply an inspirational rehearsal.

Update

Some guy on Facebook accused me of pulling the “guitar machismo” card with this post. I guess he responded to me using the word “cheating” above within the context of turning your reverb off. Oh well, I actually found that to be quite amusing. But he did have a point just the same.

I guess we’ve all come across players who look down on others for using effects. They plug straight into the amp and that’s it and they look upon others using effects as somehow less of a player. Let’s just call it what it is: Bullshit.

It’s the same thing as people calling a capo a “cheater.” My feeling is that however you need to get your sound, use it. There are no rules. Just as I responded to someone saying I was cheating by using a capo that he should tell that to James Taylor, anyone who looks down on people using effect pedals should tell that to Satch, or Eric Johnson, or The Edge.

In any case, my post was about how my effects were masking deficiencies in my technique. Not having my effects on hand made me go back to basics and use my fingers to get my tone and sustain. It was a great exercise that will just enhance my sound when I have effects.

For instance, at my solo acoustic gigs this weekend, I took what I learned to heart, and though I played using my effects, I felt my sound was so much better because I was eeking out as much tone and sustain with my fingers and NOT relying on my effects.

So I apologize to the person who read this who may have been offended. Hopefully, with this explanation, he can see what I was getting at… Or not. 🙂

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The Genius of Mark Knopfler

I was browsing YouTube this afternoon for Peter Frampton videos from his days with Humble Pie; specifically, the 70’s version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” and comparing it to what he’s doing now. Amazing how he can still rock. While I watched one of the videos, I saw a related video of Mark Knopfler talking guitars.

Intrigued, I clicked on the link and was immediately drawn into his discussion. The video isn’t so much of him doing any teaching, but describing the various techniques that he employs. It is a bit instructional in that he says things like, “You can do this, or this…” But really, this video is a revelation, a view into the mind of a master, and how he approaches music and playing.

This is just too awesome to miss!

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