I almost threw myself backward when picking up the deceptively heavy-looking container that held Fender’s new Acoustasonic 90 amplifier, which weighs in at a mere 18 pounds, but has a brawny voice and a wide range of sound-shaping capabilities. It’s a smart choice for the portable guitarist.
Fender is most celebrated for its electric guitar amps, which date back to those made by Leo Fender himself in the 1940s. The tube amps that the company produced in subsequent decades, categorized by their cosmetics—tweed, blonde, brownface, and blackface, with model names such as the Twin, Deluxe, Champ, and Princeton—are among the most coveted of all vintage amps. But in 1999, Fender embraced the acoustic guitar with the introduction of the Acoustasonic amplifier. Now a classic, it has appeared in numerous variations, each offering great new features to the basic platform.
The Looks & Layout
The Acoustasonic 90 is extremely compact at about 15 inches tall by 19 inches wide and 10 inches deep. Having the handsome, vintage-inspired combo of a tan tolex covering and brown control panel, the amp looks a lot like the 150 that AG reviewed in the April 2012 issue. But a closer inspection reveals that the 90 is essentially a streamlined version of that amp. The 90 has a bit less power (90 watts as opposed to 150) and does not include the 150’s Voicing and String Dynamics controls on the front panel or the effects loop and USB port on the rear panel. Absent, too, are the 150’s metal tilt-back legs, used to project the sound.
The layout of the Acoustasonic 90’s control panel is uncluttered and user friendly. There are two separate channels, identical except that one includes a jack for accepting a quarter-inch instrument plug while the other includes a mic/instrument jack that will take either an instrument plug or an XLR plug while supplying phantom power (+15VDC). Each channel includes a volume control; a feedback-elimination button; treble, middle, and bass controls; a knob for accessing a selection of time-based digital effects; and a knob controlling their level.
The amp’s power switch is on the rear panel, along with a balanced XLR out, for interfacing with external sound reinforcement; a quarter-inch footswitch jack, accepting Fender’s optional two-button footswitch ($69.99 street—ouch!), for turning on and off the digital effects on each channel; and a ground-lift button. While I would like to have seen a level control for the output, I was glad to find the 90 includes a handy feature missing from the 150—an eighth-inch auxiliary input allowing for a playback device like an mp3 player or smart phone to be patched into the amp, for jamming along with accompaniment.
Robust Sound & Lush Effects
I plugged an Ovation Celebrity Standard Plus into the Acoustasonic 90 and dialed in a flat EQ on both the guitar and the amplifier to test the amp’s sound, then did the same with a Gibson American Eagle. With both guitars, the 90 had an immediately satisfying sound, rich and natural, without any of the tubbiness or stridency associated with an amplified acoustic guitar—a sound that was consistent even as I edged the volume up past five. The 90 is plenty loud at higher volume levels, certainly ample enough for use in a medium-capacity venue.
At lower levels, the 90 is discouraging of feedback, and at higher levels the feedback elimination control—set on basic mode—works well to minimize this unwanted effect, though it doesn’t completely negate it on chords that are held for extended periods. For a particularly vexing frequency, the advanced mode comes in handy. To access that mode, I pressed the feedback button, held it until the LED turned green, then let the guitar howl for a few seconds. The control did a good job of “learning” to curtail that episode of feedback, greatly reducing its presence the next time I coaxed it from the amp.
The amp also holds up well for those who sing. I plugged a condenser microphone into channel 2 and a guitar into channel 1 and was able to easily get a natural vocal sound that blended nicely with the guitar. As such, this amp would be an ideal choice for the singer-songwriter who travels light, quickly setting up and breaking down in subway stations, on street corners, or at house parties.
As with the 150, the Acoustasonic 90 includes a suite of top-quality digital effects accessible via a single rotary knob—vibrato, chorus, reverb plus chorus, chorus plus delay, delay, reverb plus delay; and three additional reverb types—plate, room, and hall. These time-based effects are adjustable in terms of level, not individual parameters. As a player who only makes minimal use of effects, I found this to be a perfect arrangement; it’s nice to have access to so many lush, clean textures with a minimum of fuss. However, the lack of adjustability—and the absence of an effects loop—might be a minus for players who rely extensively on effects to customize their sound; for example, precisely timing a delay’s repeats to the tempo of a song.
Fender’s Acoustasonic 90 is a streamlined version of its top-of-the-line 150, costing $200 less than that amp, but sounding just as good. Most significantly, this slightly less-powerful amp does away with features that are geared mostly to the acoustic guitarist who doubles on electric. In a compact and lightweight package, this amp produces more than enough sound to fill a moderately large hall, and its excellent-sounding, preset digital effects are perfect for acoustic guitarists and singers who are not inclined to sonic tinkering.
AMP: 90 watts
SPEAKERS: Eight-inch cloth-surround low-frequency woofer and high-frequency tweeter.
OTHER: 18 pounds; Separate instrument and microphone channels with independent EQ and studio-quality effects sections including reverb, delay, chorus, and vibrato; optional two-button effects control footswitch; feedback-elimination control; XLR line-out with ground lift; auxiliary out; lightweight five-ply hardwood cabinet with tan tolex covering.
MADE IN: Mexico
PRICE: $299.99 street