Gadgets

Fender’s latest acoustasonic guitar is cheaper, but not cheap enough

When I tested them Fender Acoustasonic Jazzmaster At the beginning of the year I was admittedly skeptical. One of the main reasons was the price. I just couldn’t justify $ 2,000 for something this niche. But I said if the price ever fell below $ 1,000 I would consider it. Well, the new one Acoustasonic Player Telecaster does not quite reach this benchmark, but at $ 1,200 it’s much cheaper.

Obviously, the company had to give something to save $ 800 off price, but from a sheer build quality standpoint, it doesn’t seem like you’re losing much. The Acoustasonic player, made in Mexico, can hardly be distinguished from it Made in America models. The body and neck have a similar satin finish on a combination of mahogany and spruce. And the components, from the tuners to the buttons, are exactly the same. This certainly doesn’t feel like an entry-level guitar.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

There are some physical differences, however. Most notable is the fingerboard, which was made of ebony on the original but is made of rosewood here. Still, I wouldn’t say ebony is better; it’s just a slightly different experience. The rosewood fingerboard in combination with the lower mechanics in the delivery state allows the new Acoustasonic Telecaster to play more like an electric than an acoustic – in my experience a strong contrast to the Jazzmaster version.

The biggest differences here are in the electronics. While the more expensive Acoustasonics have three pickups and a five-way switch for a total of 10 different guitar sounds, the player model has only two pickups and a three-way switch with six sound options.

The Acoustasonic player also loses the battery and replaces it with a standard 9V. I’ll say this: the guitar eats up 9v batteries surprisingly quickly, but being able to easily swap out a new one (instead of waiting for it to charge) is a nice convenience.

Fender Player Acoustasonic Telecaster

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Just like the other entries in the Acoustasonic series, the main controls are simple, but a little different than on a typical guitar. There’s a volume control, but the selector doesn’t just toggle the pickups (although it does that too); it toggles between pairs of “voices” while the second knob mixes between the two.

From back to front, the pairs of voices on the three-way switch here are Noiseless Tele and Fat Noiseless Tele, Lo-Fi Clean and Lo-Fi Crunch, Mahogany Small Body Short Scale, and Rosewood Dreadnought. What is immediately noticeable is that there are far fewer acoustic simulations than with the other acoustasonics. The two models here, the Rosewood Dreadnought and Mahagony Small Body, cover quite a lot of ground. It’s very satisfying to play a simple chord loop on the Rosewood and turn the Blend knob forward toward the mahogany to play leads over it.

The two acoustic voices here are good, but not as convincing as with the Jazzmaster Acoustasonic. I attribute this to the missing third pickup: Fishman’s Acoustasonic Enhancer. The two pickups here – Fender’s Acoustasonic Noiseless and Fishman’s Under-Saddle Transducer – do an admirable job of delivering electrical and piezo-acoustic sounds, but they’re not quite as good at delivering the variety and nuances of the enhancer system as it seems.

Fender Player Acoustasonic Telecaster

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

That being said, I actually prefer the electrical sounds of the Telecaster over the Jazzmaster. It sounds a bit more like the guitar it inspired to my ears and plays better with pedals. The “Fat” Tele-Sound has just the right amount of bite for my taste. The “lo-fi” voices are basically exactly the same piezo sounds that you would find in your average acoustic / electro. That’s not bad, to be clear. I love the crunch of a slightly overdriven piezo pickup. If you’re putting out Neutral Milk Hotel covers or playing along to Nirvanas Unplugged, this is the attitude for you.

The dreadnought and small-body voices are still more convincing acoustically than what you would get with average acoustic / electro. They have depth and character that your average piezo can’t quite achieve on its own. But those two votes alone are not necessarily worth the premium you’re paying here.

Indeed, the price remains the major obstacle to the Acoustasonic line. $ 1,200 is not exactly cheap for a guitar. Sure, it’s better than $ 2,000, but even many avid gamers will never spend more than $ 1,000 on a guitar in their entire lives. A standard Mexico-made player telecaster will cost you $ 800, and you can buy decent acoustics / electrics from Fender for around $ 400 – and those two as separate instruments are arguably more versatile than the hybrid Acoustasonic. And the value gets worse when you consider that the US-made Acoustasonic Telecaster is currently available for $ 1,600.

The Acoustasonic Player Telecaster remains a near-perfect couch guitar, and it’s exciting to see Fender reduce its hybrid guitar technology to a more affordable instrument. But it’s still too expensive for most.

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