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Last Friday, I saw Eric Rachmany and Kyle Hearn of Rebelution playing this guitar and after doing some research on it over the next few days, and then playing one at my local Guitar Center yesterday, I just had to have it (F-in’ GAS).

I took some pictures of it this morning. I’ll talk about it after.

Impressions

Looks

First off, the look of this guitar is spectacular. The grain on the mahogany top – even in a natural finish – is so three-dimensional. I’m glad that Taylor didn’t put a gloss clear coat on the guitar. The satin finish lets the grain of the wood speak for itself. It’s a sexy guitar. In fact, at the concert the other night, I was thinking about how awesome the guitars looked and my wife must’ve been reading my mind and commented on how gorgeous the guitar were.

What amazes me about the grain of my guitar are the pronounced striations of dark and lighter wood. Most of the pictures I saw of the guitar and the guitars that Eric and Kyle were playing didn’t have these. I totally lucked out with this! It almost looks like walnut!

Fit and Finish

True to Taylor’s workmanship and quality, there is absolutely nothing out of place; no crooked joints, no blemishes in the finish. The machine heads are perfect and silky smooth to tune.

The jumbo frets – yes, jumbo frets – are clean and smooth. Some people in the past have remarked on the relatively sharp edge of the fret board, but I have to problem with it. I like that pronounced edge.

The body is perfect on this guitar. It’s a little wider than a Les Paul, but it feels like holding an electric. In fact, Taylor calls it an electric guitar (more on that later – it’s important). The body size combined with the weight which couldn’t be more than 5 lbs. make for a very comfortable guitar to play.

Playability

The scale length on the T5z is 24 7/8″. We’re getting into Les Paul territory here and all be damned if this guitar doesn’t play like an electric. It comes strung standard with Elixir Nanoweb 11’s (electric), which are perfect for this guitar. The thicker string gauge provides pop for the acoustic mode, but the Les Paul-like scale length makes bending super easy.

The neck radius, which is 12″ is down three inches from the original T5’s 15″, with a nut width of 1 11/16″. The neck profile is a shallow C; more shallow than a Les Paul, but it makes playing up and down the fret board a dream!

And reaching notes in the upper bout? FUGGETABOUTIT! The neck is attached to the body via what Taylor calls a “T Lock.” You ever assemble IKEA furniture before? You put pieces together and turn what looks like a large screw head to pull the pieces tight. It appears to be a similar principle with the T Lock mechanism. It pulls the neck in tight to the body. What this means is that there’s no heel on the neck, allowing access to the notes in the upper bout super easy. You don’t even have to change your wrist angle to reach the notes! F-in’ A!

Sound

Looks and build quality aside, it’s the sound of the T5z that pushed me over the top to buy it which, interestingly enough, kept me from buying the original T5 when I evaluated it almost 13 years ago. Back then, though I got what Taylor was going after, I felt as if it was an acoustic guitar trying to be an electric and not able to do the job of either very well. It gave me the impression at the time that Taylor couldn’t quite decide on what they wanted the guitar to be.

But with the T5z, it’s unabashedly an electric guitar that has an acoustic setting, and more importantly, it does both acoustic and electric duties incredibly well.

The guitar is meant to be plugged in. Demonstrators say that it has a nice unplugged sound. It doesn’t. It sounds like a mildly deeper acoustic sound of an electric guitar. It’s serviceable for quiet playing, but contrary to what a demonstrator said about it having a good acoustic sound for songwriting, I personally would have to plug it in if I’m writing music. But for practicing or learning songs, it works good enough.

But the plugged in sound? Wow! The acoustic tone is wonderful and a lot of that has to do – at least in my opinion – with the body sensor right behind the bridge. It provides for a very natural-sounding tone. It’s not quite acoustic, but it’s pretty damn close, and for use in a live performance, it works great. When I saw Eric Rachmany, the performance tone was crystal clear with the qualities I’d expect from a plugged-in acoustic guitar.

I will be playing it at Christmas Eve Mass today, so I tested it direct into my JBL Eon One PA. It sounds spectacular through my PA, so I’m now looking forward to playing some solo gigs with it.

As soon as I brought the guitar home yesterday, I immediately played it through my BOSS Katana Artist, going through every single setting. In the acoustic channel, it was awesome, and I only had to do some minor tweaks to dial it in for use today.

On the electric side of things, I just have to smile. I was able to Tele-like tones out of it using the neck pickup and turning up the highs. Then was able to get fatter and more driving tones with the other pickup settings.

To be honest, and I’m actually very glad about this, the T5z has its own tone. It’s not trying to be a Strat or a Les Paul or an ES335. But what it offers is the ability to shape the guitar’s tone to fit whatever genre I’m playing. That’s really the promise of this guitar and at least from my very short time playing it thus far, Taylor has fulfilled that promise, where I feel it fell short in the original version.

Granted, I still need a few more hours with the guitar. Every time I pick it up and plug it in, I find some new tone from tweaking the gain and EQ knobs which, I have to say, function incredibly well. I love that there are independent bass and treble knobs which is significantly better than having a single tone knob which, as you know, when you roll off the tone can get really muddy as the highs become muted.

Overall Initial Impression

I’m going to refrain from raving about the T5z, though I’m very tempted to do so. My gut tells me that this is truly a great guitar, and there’s no denying its versatility. But I want to save the raves for my formal review once I’ve had a few more hours on the guitar.

I am SO looking forward to playing it at Christmas Eve Mass today!

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Cleaning Your Guitar

If you spend much time on forums, you’ll see threads occasionally popping up about cleaning and maintaining your guitar. Based on the threads, it seems that there are some folks who are absolutely obsessive about cleaning and oiling their fretboards, like every couple of weeks. But having spoken to my guitar tech and a couple of luthiers about this very subject, they all seem to be in agreement that people tend to clean and oil their guitars way too much.

My guitar tech put it this way: “Think about it. Your guitar is like a nice piece of furniture. In fact, the wood used for making a guitar – especially the fretboard – is almost always a higher quality than used in furniture. But even if you have a furniture piece that’s made of high-quality wood, how often do you clean and polish it? Generally, you just wipe it down with a soft cloth to remove the lint and fingerprints and what-not. The same applies to a guitar. Wiping it down regularly with a soft cloth will prevent gunk building up. Oh, and please remove pick and skin dust from your playing area.” He directed the last statement specifically at me because I’m notorious for not cleaning that area. 🙂

I got that lecture a decade ago. And since then, I followed his advice on some simple things to do to clean and maintain my guitars.

  1. First off, if you don’t see any gunk buildup, don’t be tempted to do a cleaning. Most likely the guitar’s clean, but it’s always a good idea to wipe it down with a soft cloth.
  2. If you do see some gunk buildup, before you do anything, see if you can scrape it off with some soft plastic, like a credit card. Chances are that it’s just on the surface. Then finish that off with wiping it down with a soft cloth (seeing the pattern here? Have a soft cloth always handy).
  3. There are times where even a scrape won’t do the job. But for cleaning, DON’T USE OIL! For your fretboard, use a 50-50 mixture ratio of water to white distilled vinegar (a little stronger if you have a fairly nasty buildup). Dip a cloth into the mixture – you don’t want to pour it on – and work the cloth into the gunky area. If you have a particularly pesky area, use a super-fine steel wool with the mixture. Once you’re done cleaning, thoroughly dry the wood, then use oil. Personally, I use linseed oil, though many people say to use lemon oil. Martin guitars recommends against using lemon oil because the acids in the oil can break down the fretboard wire. Hmm… In any case, use it sparingly, applying a small bit on a cloth, then wiping and working it into the wood. And by the way, you should only need to do this once or twice a year – at most.
  4. As for the body, regularly wiping it down with a soft cloth should suffice most of the time. But if you have to clean it, use a highly diluted soap and water and use circular motions to clean. There are also various cleaners compatible with nitro or poly finishes. These can be picked up at either a guitar store or even a hardware store (but you’ll have to do your research on the types of finishes they can be used on).

These are really simple things to do. And you shouldn’t have to do more than wiping your guitar down very often.

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If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen that I have a fairly sensitive bullshit radar. It’s not that I’m a natural skeptic, but I’ve been around gear for so long that when I see something that has a super high price and claiming all sorts of improvements to my tone, I become quite a bit wary. And especially when it comes to cords and wires, I tend to be quite a bit of a skeptic. But the exception to that is instrument cords.

Now this is not going to be a comparison article where I say one particular cord is the best, blah, blah blah… When I see articles like that, that’s when my BS alarm goes off. But by the same token, I’m also not of the belief that you can just use any old cable and you’ll sound great.

On Low Capacitance

Since the ’90’s, cable manufacturers have been touting their low capacitance cables, and how a low capacitance cable opens up your sound. The argument is that with a lower capacitance, less electricity will be stored in the cable, allowing more signal to pass through. Amazingly enough, I actually agree with this. The effect of capacitance in a cable is that it acts like a low pass filter, essentially rolling off the highs. By lowering the capacitance, more highs pass through the cable, thus allowing much more of the signal to get to your amp.

BUT… Low Cap Doesn’t Mean It’s Better for YOU

Manufacturers of low cap cables will make you think they are simply better because they allow more signal to pass through to the amp. In general, that’s a good thing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. You see, more of something doesn’t mean it’s better. Sometimes, it’s just more.

I have a couple of low capacitance cables, but I only use those for certain guitars, like my acoustic, where I want the full range of signal to pass to my acoustic amp or a board. But I actually tend to use a cable that has a higher capacitance for my electric guitars because my entire chain is set up to be pretty bright. I actually like to have some of the highs rolled off.

And since I started using my Godin Artisan ST-V, I’m actually in search of an even higher capacitance cable for that guitar. It’s bright, Bright, BRIGHT! And though I roll off the highs on my amp when I use it, I want a little help prior to my amp. That way, I can effectively set up my amp one way to serve a couple of guitars during a gig. It’s a kind of a convenience thing.

Does Low Cap = Better Quality?

Yes and no. I say this because in general, it seems that higher quality materials need to be used to achieve lower capacitance.

But as we all know, build quality varies from manufacturer. For instance, hands down, Mogami makes about the best cables in the business, at least as far as build quality goes. They use really high-quality materials and have all sorts of features built into them. But you pay for that quality and those features; on the order of at least twice as much as a similar cable.

I use Mogami XLR cables for vocals. Even my cheapo Sennheiser e835 and my Sennheiser e609 instrument mic sound much better with my Mogami XLRs. And with a great mic, it’s like removing a blanket from the mic. Admittedly though, the sound difference is subtle – the “blanket” is thin as it were – but it counts. But I cherish those (read: I don’t want to “f” them up), so I rarely take them to gigs. For gigs, and frankly because the audience won’t be able to tell the difference, I just use some generic brand cables like Monster or whatever the house may have.

Back to instrument cables, I generally get cables whose quality is good enough, so I tend to go with middle-of-the-road Hosa cables. Their build quality is solid, though nowhere near on par with Mogami. But I’m also a real stickler for treating cables well, so my instrument cables tend to last a long time.

And by the way, Hosa makes a line of low cap cables that are very affordable and work just fine; no hiss, no crackle when the tips move. That’s all you need right? You can get a 10-foot cable for around $20.00.

The point to this is that yes, you can get the ultimate build quality with something like a Mogami or some boutique cable maker. But low cap can be had at a decent build quality and you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get it.

So… Does It REALLY Make a Difference?

Yes. But you have to look at it from the perspective of how the cable fits in with the rest of your rig. I know I took some time to get this conclusion, but I wanted to take some time illustrate this very important point: Low cap cables will give you more of your signal, but you may just find that you don’t like getting everything.

ROCK ON

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As with anything we learn over time, playing guitar is a journey replete with ups and downs, feasts and famines, motivations and let-downs. It’s a never-ending, circuitous path that always guarantees that there’s something else around the next bend to discover and explore.

As guitarists, we’re seekers. We’re explorers. We’re trailblazers into a wilderness that is simultaneously both familiar and new; familiar in the sense that we can see the paths that others have taken, and new in that while we may tread the same ground as others, the tracks we make are ours and ours alone.

There is no wrong journey. Some journeys have several stops along the way. Some go at a snail’s pace. Others, like my own, meander all over the landscape. Others take a straight path and reach higher and higher pinnacles of skill and technique quickly. But no way is better than the other.

Along the way, we may pick up things from other sojourners. But we make the choices in how to apply and use those things in our own journey.

The gear we use is also a reflection of the nature of our journey. Some travel light with only a single guitar. Others need a wagon or large transport to get them along. Others use the latest in high-tech gadgetry while others go unplugged. And still, it’s all good, no way is better.

And the nature of our journey will change over time. Sometimes, we may just need a guitar and an amp and perhaps one or two pedals if any. There will be times when we’ll be lugging a stack and two full-size pedalboards and three backup guitars. At other times, we may go digital or may go completely analog. And still, it’s all good, no way is better.

Along with our journey, we may experience doubt about our equipment. We can see what others have and wonder if our own equipment is good enough. Furthermore, we will encounter people on our journey who are passionate about the right way to travel. They’ll tell us to follow their path and to provision ourselves with the same things they’ve provisioned for themselves.

Sometimes it’ll make sense. Other times it won’t. Just remember that those who give out the free advice are speaking from what they see through the lens of their own experience. We have to live with our own choices and the choices others have made well, they have to own.

As a humorous aside, here’s a video clip from “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”

As the dude said: Remember, no matter where you go, there you are… In other words, if we translate that to our own journey, wherever we’re at, we have what we have, we know what we know, we play what we play. And the cool thing with that is that what we have, know or play can be in flux depending on wherever we’re at. Chew on that for a bit!

You see, the journey of playing and learning guitar is intensely personal. Even if your primary motivation is to emulate a guitar hero or someone whom you idolize, you still have to make your own choices and YOU have to be the one who learns. It’s fine to seek advice and mentorship from others; in fact, I’d say that one of the beauties of being on a guitar journey is that there is a large, global community with which to interact and from which to learn.

So Sojourner, JOURNEY ON!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-12-19,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

Aroma AGS8 Instrument Stand

Summary: For me, this is a gigging musician’s wet dream as far as guitar stands go. Not only is it sturdy, well-designed and well-built, it is light AF!

Pros: Did I mention that this stand is light? It doesn’t seem to weigh much more than a pound if that. But don’t be fooled by the lightweight. The aircraft-grade aluminum is tough!

Cons: None.

Price: $16.99 – $17.99 (Amazon, depending on color)

Features (from Amazon, and I assume Aroma):

  • THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FOLDING STAND LASTS LONG. Top aircraft grade aluminum tubes used, with high strength ABS joints, ensure a long lifetime usage. A frame structure, when unfolded, is the most stable design to support your instruments.
  • THE MOST PRACTICAL STAND FOR FRET AND STRING INSTRUMENTS. The ladder designed base arms, length adjustable, let the stand suitable for different thickness instruments. The vertical arms opening degrees adjustable for different sizes of instruments. The rotatable contact surface on the stand top for different instruments leaning angles. (NOT for V-shape or other special shapes instruments)
  • ALL THE WAY ROUND PROTECTING YOUR INSTRUMENT. All contact points where touching your instruments are covered with soft silicone material, which is dull to any chemical reaction with your instrument surface. The 4 landing points are also covered with slip-resistance silicone material.
  • USE YOUR STAND ANYTIME ANYWHERE. The smart adjustable and collapsible design is to fold your stand into one piece. Lightweight. Easy to carry along with your instrument anywhere anytime.
  • SHARE YOUR CREATIVITY. Join Aroma Facebook account, post your using tips, your fun with this stand. Jam your thoughts with others.

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ Sometimes, even the mundane can get me excited, especially when that mundane thing makes my life so much easier.

It’s a guitar stand for goodness sake! Who the hell cares?

I do, for one. With the number of gigs I do per year, gear weight is a factor, so is compactness when you don’t have the luxury of a road crew. And when I can get those two things plus a great design that’ll protect my investment, well, I flip out!

One of my bandmates purchased one a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was cool with its compact design and adjustable base arms. But I was most impressed with how light it was. I resolved then that I’d get one. I am not disappointed in the slightest!

Fit and Finish

The days of “Made in China” being associated with poor quality are long gone. This stand is absolutely well-built. The aircraft-grade aluminum tubing is super-strong, and the plastic ABS joints should withstand a lot of wear and tear. I got mine in blue, but you can get the stand in black, rose gold, gold, and silver. The latter three will cost you a buck more for some reason. I guess black and blue sell the best. 🙂

The design of this stand is great. It folds up nice and compact. You can see in the pictures above where I placed a quarter next to the folded stand. Nice and small.

As for its sturdiness, I have no issues with it. But if you notice how I’ve set up my acoustic guitar, I have it so it stands fairly upright. This is to make sure that the bottom edge of the guitar abuts against the end stoppers of the base arms. Plus, it will put minimal pressure on the apex pad. With a stand this short, you don’t want a lot of weight at the top of the stand. You’re just asking for trouble.

Either the weight of the guitar will make the stand tip back (not too likely – I put my Les Paul on this stand and set it up to lean back and it stayed in place), or as someone reported on Amazon, the top pad put a slight depression into the back of his ES-335. To me, it’s just common sense to let physics work for you. When you place the guitar in a more upright position, more of the body surface will contact the pads. So stand the freakin’ guitar up! 🙂 Sheesh!

Finally, I dig the bottom footpads. They elevate the entire structure of the frame, so the chance of spilled liquid contacting my guitar is pretty much nullified.

Overall Impression

I love this stand! I’m probably going to get a couple more of these. Well-made, well-designed and lightweight. A perfect combination, even it’s just a lowly stand.

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Seymour Duncan SA-6 MagMic

Summary: The SA-6 MagMic combines a magnetic pickup with a condenser mic to capture full tone of your acoustic guitar, but does it at a lower price point than similar pickups. But don’t let the more than $100 price difference fool you. This acoustic pickup captures the full spectrum of your sound, down to the little harmonics. And being able to dial in the amount of condenser mic signal is a boon to adjusting the pickup for whatever sound system and venue you may play. There’s no midrange, lifeless tone with this pickup. But most importantly, once you dial in the amount of condenser mic that you like, what you’re left with is a very natural sound. It’s truly amazing!

Pros: Super, super, easy to install and use right away. Very easy to dial in a great balance between magnetic pickup and condenser mic to get the sonic presentation you want. The pickup is also super-quiet, no buzz or hum at all, which is what you’d expect out of a good acoustic pickup.

Cons: None. To be fair though, dialing in the condenser mic picks up a lot of high frequency, but rolling it off a tad fixes that nicely.

Price: $179.00 – $189.00 Street

Features:

  • Magnetic Pickup:
    • DC Resistance: 3.8K Ohms
    • Resonant Frequency: 16KHz
    • Gauss Strength: 780 max (adjustable)
  • Microphone Capsule:
    • Pattern: Omni-directional
    • Sensitivity: -35dB (it’s sensitive)
    • Frequency Range: -20 to 20 KHz
    • Signal to Noise Ratio:  >62dB
    • Current Consumption: -0.5mA (you’ll get 450 hours out of a single 9V battery)
  • Onboard Electronics
    • 2 Channels, summed at ouput
    • Supply Voltage: 9V
    • Current Consumption: 1.1mA (preamp + capsule)
    • Battery Life: 450+ hours
  • Noise:
    • Pickup channel: -102dBV with 5K ohm source resistance
    • Mic channel: -96dBV with mic capsule attached

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ Once I got it installed, which took about 5 minutes, I was off to the races! I have to admit that I had my doubts about this pickup. But I’m glad I got it. It’s a keeper!

I’ve been searching for a pickup for my Simon and Patrick PRO guitar for months. I’ve evaluated and played several guitars equipped with different pickups and pickup configurations. But every review I read and every video I viewed of the Seymour Duncan SA-6 MagMic further convinced me that this was the pickup I should go with. Funny thing was that I broke my own rule with gear and purchased it without doing an in-person test. I had to trust my instincts on this purchase and I can confidently say that my instincts were spot on with this acoustic pickup.

Fit and Finish

The MagMic is well-made. Built with what appears to be high-velocity plastic, I have no doubt at all that it will survive the test of time; especially after I have it mounted permanently in my guitar. But I’d expect no less from Seymour Duncan. I’ve got Duncan pups installed in half of my guitars, and they’re built to last. Once installed, the controls are easily accessible and reside on either side of the pickup. The volume knob is closest, sitting on the 6th string side of the pickup, while the condenser mic level sits on the 1st string side.

Luckily the battery lasts 450+ hours because the housing sits on the neck block, and the only way to change out the battery is to loosen all the strings and remove the pickup. Mind you, this is an expected inconvenience, not a complaint, per se. It’s the price you have to pay to be minimally invasive.

How It Sounds

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and this “pudding” is freakin’ incredible! As soon as I plugged my guitar into my DAW, I knew I had something special. Playing a dreadnought, I wanted whatever electronics I installed on it to pick up the deep lows and shimmery highs of my guitar, and this pickup does hands-down. To prove it, I recorded some sound samples. The first three were recorded completely dry. No EQ, no compression. I play the same riff three times in each clip, varying the amount of condenser mic in each. The first part isolates the magnetic pickup with no condenser, the second part has the condenser opened up wide. The third part has the condenser mic set to about 50%. Here they are:

Strum

Percussive Strum

Fingerstyle

Note that with the MagMic, the magnetic pickup is always on. From what I can hear, this picks up the low- and mid-range frequencies and provides a fairly warm, almost mechanical sound. The condenser mic picks up the higher midrange and high frequencies and harmonics. It’s sensitive and provides a bit too much high-frequency content for my tasts, which is why I dial back the amount of condenser mic to about 90%. In this final clip, I again recorded the guitar with no EQ, but I added compression, some stereo spread, and reverb like I would if I was recording the guitar for a song. The sound is natural and haunting.

To me, not having to EQ my guitar is important as I want my guitars recorded with as much of their natural sound as possible.

Overall Impression

I’m really at a loss for words with this pickup. I don’t think I can utter any further superlatives that could sufficiently describe the feeling I get from it.

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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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