Wanna play an acoustic guitar, but consider the necks to be a turn-off? Fender has some California for ya. By Peter Hodgson
There’s a lot that sets Fender’s new California Series apart from other acoustics on the market, but the most obvious right away is the neck. Fender has outfitted the entire line with a Stratocaster-style headstock, which gives you a bit of a semiotic cue that this isn’t your typical acoustic – it’s clearly a guitar that aims to appeal to electric players.
But before we get deeper into that, let’s take a moment to skim the model range. There are nine guitars in the series, divided into Player, Special and Classic models, the Players being the most affordable with an RRP of $699, moving up to the Specials at $1,299 and the Classics at $1,599. The available shapes are the Malibu (a small‑body, short-scale instrument with a bit of a parlour guitar vibe), the Newporter (a medium body shape with a treble-side cutaway, loosely falling into the concert guitar category) and the Redondo (a big-bodied dreadnought-style guitar with a treble-side cutaway).
No matter where you go in the range, you’ll find colour-matched headstocks and the same oversized bridge. The guitar we’re looking at today is the Newporter Player.
A NECK ABOVE
The Newporter Player has a solid spruce top with glossy mahogany back and sides and an oiled mahogany neck. The neck is carved to a very Strat-like slim taper ‘C’ profile, and has a walnut fingerboard and bridge. And for anyone who’s ever struggled with an acoustic neck, you’ll immediately fall in love with the Newporter. The action is nice and easy, the string spacing is very electric-friendly and the neck shape itself makes things very, very easy for you – even with the dreaded F Chord that gives new guitarists so many headaches. Other appointments include a Graph Tech NuBone nut and saddle for improved sustain, a Fishman preamp system with integrated tuner, plus controls for Bass and Treble, and a battery life indicator.
Visually, the Player line distinguishes itself from its pricier siblings with a uniquely-shaped gold-toned scratch plate, which I prefer over the more spartan look of the other models. It has creme binding around the body, and is available in four finishes: Jetty Black (as reviewed), Candy Apple Red, Champagne and Rustic Copper. In fact, skim the California Series website and you’ll notice some very eye-catching colour choices. Just wait ‘til you see a Redondo Special in Electric Jade in person.
A SOUND INVESTMENT
Sonically, this is a very evenly toned instrument with great playing dynamics, yet simultaneously a very musical sounding natural compression. Very gentle notes have a pleasing sense of volume to them, but there’s still plenty of headroom to really thwack the instrument to achieve a trebly, punchy sound. It’s very responsive to changes in picking style (for example, fingerpicking versus flatpicking), and is a hybrid-picking machine. If you’re the kind of player who likes to use complex chords with moving bass lines, this guitar will do everything you ask it to. But it’s a great strummer as well, with plenty of punch and projection.
Of course, the real selling point for many players will be the neck. No, it’s not exactly like playing a Strat – after all, the bridge is different, and that has an impact on how the strings feel. And of course we’re talking about bronze acoustic strings with a wound G rather than a lighter, nickel-coated electric set. You’ll still need some respectable finger strength to pull off a three-semitone bend on the G string, but in terms of sheer ease of playing, and most definitely in comfort for otherwise tricky chords, this is the most comfortable neck I’ve ever played on an acoustic. Perhaps hardcore acoustic guitarists will feel like it’s a bit of a cheat, but I can see it opening a lot of doors for players who spend most of their time on the electric guitar but need an acoustic for a few songs per gig as well, or who really want to open up their music to acoustic textures but don’t have the desire to wrestle with a traditional acoustic.
Although the Newporter Player is priced a little above the traditional beginner market, I would consider it the perfect first acoustic for a new player. The neck will definitely make that first year or so of playing easier, especially when you’re trying to build up those callouses and develop the finger strength to play barre chords. I could certainly see a case for steering mums and dads towards this guitar instead of a cheaper acoustic that may make for a painful, frustrating and discouraging learning experience.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a guitar that doesn’t shy away from Fender’s electric history, and while it most definitely sounds like an acoustic guitar, it doesn’t play like one. Therefore, it’s made for a very specific, yet very broad family of players who don’t want to wrestle with uncomfortable acoustics, but also don’t want to miss out on the tones. Fender has been very clever in creating three tiers of affordability and build quality – although even this most affordable level is a lot of guitar for the money.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Strat-style neck
• Walnut fingerboard and bridge
• Fishman preamp
• Graph Tech nut and saddle
• Six-in-line headstock
• Plays like an electric, more or less
• Beautiful and even tones
• Preamp is fairly simplistic
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