Fender doesn’t mess around when it comes to acoustic guitars, as anyone who caught Phil Manning at the Melbourne Guitar Show will attest. The acoustic world is very competitive and while Fender doesn’t try to be a Martin or a Taylor, their acoustic range has a lot going for it beyond name recognition and affordability. The four instruments reviewed here represent just a fraction of Fender’s Classic Design series, which is based on a philosophy of solid wood tops, rolled fingerboard edges and ‘easy-to-play’ neck shapes. The care put into the feel of the neck means this is a guitar that will feel great out of the box, while solid tops are known for sounding better and better as they age. So these are guitars that are designed to grow with you.
Parlour guitars are great because their smaller size nudges their voicing more towards the midrange, helping them to really cut through, whether in a band or accompanying a lone vocalist. They record really well and they’re comfortable to handle since they’re not all big and bulky. Fender’s Classic Design take enhances the playability further with that nice neck and rolled fretboard edges, and as a result you’ll find yourself encouraged to attempt chord voicings and fingerpicking patterns that might otherwise feel a little cramped on a typical parlour.
This is a new body shape for Fender – the travel. It’s more compact and with a shorter scale length (23.5”), giving you just the right mix of portability and tone. It’s great for smaller hands or just for those who want a guitar they can more easily take with them, but it also has its own unique tone too. The body shape is based on a scaled-down Auditorium type, and what it lacks in sonic low end it more than makes up for in character. In fact, stick a mike in front of it and it’s a great recording guitar because you don’t need to do a whole bunch of processing to help it fit into a mix. Younger players will appreciate the easy-to-play neck, but this doesn’t feel like a beginners’ guitar by any means.
The CN-140SCE is a nylon-string guitar, but it’s designed to be more playable and familiar to players who don’t get along with the extremely broad string spacing of a traditional classical. Instead the spacing is the same as its steel-string cousins. It has a solid cedar top with rosewood back and sides, while the inbuilt preamp has volume, middle, treble and bass controls. And although it’s very well-voiced for classical guitar, with all the required detail, warmth and sweetness, it’s also really nice for players who use a pick or play more rhythmically. It’s very well suited to Jack Johnson-style players but it’s also at home playing jazz. In fact, if all classical guitars played like this, we’d probably be hearing a lot more nylon string out there.
The CB-60SCE is an acoustic bass with the same slim-taper neck as all Classic Design guitars (but adapted to the needs of a bass scale length), with a solid spruce top and Mahogany back and sides. The body is a comfortably manageable concert size, which gives you a surprisingly full low end, and a nice degree of treble detail as well. When you need to plug in, there are controls for volume, bass, middle and treble to help you find your place in a mix. The thing you’ll probably notice most about this bass - unplugged or amplified - is that it’s very interactive. Pick with your fingers and you’ll get a deep dubby tone, but add some fingernail and you’ll really hear the extra treble. The dynamic range is also very broad, from the softest brush of the string to the hardest thwack.
Hits and Misses
Broad variety across the 22-model Classic Design range
Very comfortable necks across the board
Careful tonewood consideration
Some designs look a little bland
All that choice and no baritone?