by Adam Perlmutter
In the mid-1960s, Fender introduced a line of laminated-wood acoustic guitars that, with names like the Malibu and the Redondo—references to Southern California beach culture—were more fun than serious. Fender’s Paramount guitars might share some of the cosmetics of their ’60s counterparts, like checkerboard detailing and unusually shaped pickguards, but these new, all-solid instruments are anything but whimsical. The PM-1, PM-2, and PM-3 I reviewed all feel and sound robust: more appropriate choices for the stage or studio than the beach.
Consistent Playability, Contrasting Voices
Designed in the United States and made in China, the Paramount series includes three basic body types—dreadnought (the PM-1), 12-fret parlor (PM-2), and triple-0 cutaway (PM-3). Each is available in a natural or sunburst finish and in a deluxe version, with Indian rosewood back and sides, or a standard version, with mahogany back and sides and streamlined appointments.
The first thing I noticed about the deluxe test models is how well they play. Their relatively thin C-shaped necks have a decidedly modern—and very comfortable—feel. The action is low and buzz-free in all regions of the necks, which have none of the dreaded dead spots, and the intonation is perfect. And even when playing barre chords for extended periods, I don’t experience any fret-hand fatigue.
All of the guitars sound good, though not necessarily knock-your-socks-off good. The dread has a decent amount of projection and the taut bass response typical of this body size. It’s good for strumming with a plectrum, whether in the Carter style or for the accompaniment to a song like the Beatles’ “Two of Us.” And though it has a narrower nut than its cohorts, the guitar works just as well for fingerpicking an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” in DADGAD tuning: the fretted notes and open strings ring together pleasingly.
The parlor, the smallest guitar of the bunch and the lone 12-fretter, also has good projection and a rich mid-range. It’s the oldest-sounding of the Paramounts, and lends itself well to a fingerpicked arrangement of a ragtime piano piece like “Maple Leaf Rag” or a jazz standard such as “Body and Soul.” It’s also got a nice bark when I really dig on some country-blues improvisations in E.
The triple-0 sounds more refined, with a good balance between its registers and a warm resonance. It might be the most versatile Paramount, a good host to everything from boom-chuck to Gypsy-jazz accompaniment, from bluegrass lines to chord-melody soloing. And, as the only cutaway in the bunch, it offers more extended—and usable—range than its companions.
All three Paramounts sport new electronics designed in collaboration with Fishman. Each of the three preamps is voiced specifically for the guitar’s body shape and includes bass, treble, master volume, and phase controls, as well as a readable and user-friendly tuner. The preamps are more attractive than most, blending in with the dark rosewood sides, and more important, the electronics deliver convincing reproductions of the guitars’ natural sounds when plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier.
A Handsome and Well-Built Trio
The Deluxe Paramount trio has some sweet appointments. The ornate fretboard inlays are borrowed from Fender’s 1960s Concert Tone banjos, and the vintage effect is rounded out nicely by the checkerboard purfling and rosette, and the open-geared tuners, with their black butterbean knobs. All of the test models are made from a nice selection of tonewoods: tightly grained, high-grade Sitka spruce for the soundboards, and richly colored, quarter-sawn East Indian rosewood for the backs and sides (the standard models in the Paramount series offer mahogany back and sides at a lower price).
The guitars boast good craftsmanship, the frets tidily crowned and completely smooth at their edges, and the nuts and saddles perfectly notched. Inside the box, the bracing (scalloped X on the top) appears to have been sanded and glued with care. Other than a touch of orange-peel effect in spots, the finishes are smoothly applied– if a tad glossy, giving them away as imported guitars.
There are many good options these days for all-solid imports costing around a grand, and even some US-made instruments by the likes of Martin and Taylor going for not much more than that. But with their distinctive styling, superb playability, and nice sound, not to mention their high-quality electronics, the three guitars in Fender’s Paramount deluxe series present themselves as worthy contenders: a far cry from Fender’s 1960s acoustics.
(PM-1) 14-fret dreadnought size;
(PM-2) 12-fret parlor size;
(PM-3) 14-fret 000 size with Venetian cutaway
Solid Sitka spruce top
Solid East Indian rosewood back and sides
Natural gloss finish
25.3-inch scale (PM-1 and PM-3); 24.75-inch scale (PM-2)
1.69-inch nut (PM-1); 1.75-inch nut (PM-2 and PM-3)
Nickel tuners with aged black buttons
Natural gloss finish
Fender/Fishman PM System electronics
Fender Dura-Tone 880L strings (12–52) (PM-1); Fender Dura-Tone Coated 80/20 Bronze strings (12–52) (PM-2 and PM-3)
Deluxe hardshell case and humidifier
$999 (standard models with solid mahogany back and sides run $799)
Made in China