By Adam Perlmutter
Much to love about this new limited-edition mahogany model from Cole Clark.
This all-mahogany instrument, from Cole Clark’s Fat Lady series, is a deceptively modest guitar. With its satin finish and minimal adornments, it feels a bit downscale, but when engaged, it really sings with a confident and authoritative voice. The FL2EC-MMAH has a clear, focused sound characteristic of a good all-mahogany guitar, with strong fundamentals: A sound that will complement other instruments in any style, live or recorded, with fine playability to boot.
Cole Clark, the Australian company that Adam Cole and Brad Clark started in 2001, has always used such sustainable, local tonewoods as Queensland maple in its steel-string acoustic offerings. Mahogany, a tropical hardwood, is typically sourced from the Caribbean and Central and South America, but Cole Clark recently came across some domestically harvested mahogany on the Queensland plantation of one of its wood suppliers.
This special mahogany makes an appearance in two limited-edition guitars, the dreadnought AG received for review, as well as a grand auditorium. The FL2EC-MMAH, which I’ll refer to simply as the Fat Lady, appears to have a traditional construction. But, like all Cole Clark guitars, it’s made using techniques borrowed from classical-guitar building. Instead of a dovetail joint, the integral neck is fashioned in the Spanish style—the neck is glued to the soundboard, for a better transfer of sound between the neck and body.
Things are nonstandard inside the box, as well. The bracing is in an opposing-A shape instead of the usual X pattern. While the exterior surfaces of the back and sides are flat, inside they’re carved, kind of like an inside-out archtop. And there’s no kerfing—instead the sides are ridged. All of the details were engineered with loudness and responsiveness in mind.
An Agreeable Companion
The test model—at four pounds, 13 ounces—is hardly fat, but it feels solid and reliable. The C-shaped neck has a moderately deep profile and at 1.73 inches, the nut is fairly generous. Out of the box, the action is agreeably low, and the guitar’s playability is good. Chording comes easy on the instrument, but when it comes to uptempo soloing, the guitar feels a little stiff.
The Fat Lady’s tonal balance is right on the money. The bass is firm, but not overpowering like on some dreadnoughts, the mids punchy, and the trebles crisp. There’s a consistently good sound from string to string and between the lower and higher frets. Overall, the guitar sounds sweet and warm—not a big surprise, considering the mahogany construction.
What’s also great about the Fat Lady is her responsiveness and adaptability. When strummed with a pick, the guitar has an authoritative but not overpowering presence, and its fundamental-heavy voice keeps chords of all qualities from sounding cloudy. The guitar fares as well when flatpicked—it has good clarity, volume, and punch.
When played fingerstyle with the pick-hand fingers barely touching the strings, the guitar has impressive volume, and when the fingers really dig into the strings, the instrument sounds beautifully clear and not distorted. The Fat Lady retains its brilliant sound and responsiveness when played in alternate tunings like DADGAD and open C.
It also sounds terrific plugged into a Fender Acoustastonic amp, thanks to the onboard electronics—Cole Clark’s proprietary three-way pickup. This system includes six piezo sensors under the bridge, a soundboard transducer, and a miniature condenser microphone. An upper bout-mounted preamp has a knob for controlling the ratio of bridge to soundboard sound, and another for adjusting the level of microphone signal, allowing for an uncommonly wide range of sounds. Having the Mic control cranked yields the most satisfyingly realistic acoustic sound.
A Formidable Competitor
Aside from a wackily shaped pickguard with a gold outline that feels a little chintzy, the Fat Lady is a nicely designed guitar with a handsome streamlined look. A particularly attractive detail is the headstock’s central fascia, fashioned from rosewood that provides a nice counterpoint to the lighter-colored mahogany surrounding it.
And the Fat Lady is well built. Inside, there’s only the occasional (and subtle) glue or sanding mark. Outside, all the joints are cleanly articulated, and the binding and inlay work is precise. The fretwork is similarly tidy, and so are the slots on the Tusq nut and saddle.
With its high-quality build and lovely sound, the Fat Lady definitely recommends itself as a fine modern acoustic-electric dreadnought. Cole Clark might not have the longstanding reputation of its stateside competitors, but if this test model is any indication, the Australian company’s offerings stack up favorably well.
Solid mahogany top
Solid mahogany back and sides
Indian rosewood bridge
Satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
Indian rosewood fretboard
25.5-inch scale length [fact check]
Gold Grover tuners
Satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
D’Addario EXP16 coated phosphor bronze strings (.012–.053)
Cole Clark 3-way pickup system
$3,319 list/$2,549 street
Made in Australia