Think Fender and your mind fills with images of Stratocasters, Telecasters, and a wide array of tube-driven electric-guitar amplifiers. However, of late, Fender has been busy developing several lines of acoustic amplification that range in price from $99 to $999, offering options for every level of player.
At the 2017 NAMM show in Anaheim, California, in January, the Fender folks unveiled the Acoustic 100 and 200 amps. Each combo amplifier sports a handsome wood cabinet, a brown speaker cloth cover, and a set of easy-to-use controls for two channels that have separate effects, volume, and tone knobs. The 100 model is a hundred watts of power matched with one 8-inch whizzer-cone speaker. The 200 doubles the wattage and speaker count.
The 200 that I reviewed emerged from its shipping box easily via the top-mounted hand grip, which might seem a minor detail, but can be a lifesaver when you leave the club at 2 AM after a grueling three-hour set with hands full of guitars, mic stands, and other paraphernalia.
Inputs for the two channels are located on the top panel at opposite ends of the cabinet. Each channel accepts either XLR or ¼-inch inputs. The channels have duplicate controls that allow you to dial in volume, bass, middle, treble, phase (button), FX, and FX amount. An interesting feature is the effects LED display, which is in the middle of the control panel, separating the two channels.
The Test Drive
With all the tone dials set to noon, I plugged in my Martin 00-18 outfitted with a Fishman Matrix blend pickup system. Immediately I had to turn down the bass, as I was getting a heavy amount of low-end feedback and a “woofy” tone. After achieving low-end equilibrium, I was able to get a pleasant and warm sound from the Acoustic 200 (Note: I usually keep the Fishman pickup dialed permanently at 75 percent pickup and 25 percent mic, but the Fender had me playing around with the amount of pickup vs. mic. I ended up with about 10 percent more mic than normal). All three tone controls are responsive, yielding a colorful spectrum of tonal options.
I’m not a big acoustic-guitar effects guy, so I was a little dubious when I flipped through the various options, which range from room/hall reverbs to echo, delay, “vibratone,” chorus, and a couple of combos: delay + chorus and delay + reverb. The reverbs were serviceable, adding some richness to the sound. On the other hand, the chorus sounded shimmery and lush—I felt my inner Andy Summers get all “de-do-do-do, de-da-da-da.” The “vibratone” is a tremolo effect—think pulsating “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”-type sound. It’s a great sound to throw in once in a while. There is also an echo and delay that can be adjusted via a tap tempo foot controller, which our review model did not have.
I took the Fender to a gig at a local brewhouse to see how it would fare for the working musician. It was easy to set it up and dial-in a good sound. I plugged a Shure SM58 microphone into the second channel and dialed in some reverb to give my vocals a little color. The Fender had plenty of volume to fill the beer garden, which I estimated had about 75 to 100 folks.
The venue parked me on an outdoor stage with no cover from the sun, so I was a little concerned—based on a previous experience with a different amplifier—that the Fender might get too hot and shut down. But the amplifier performed great through my entire three-hour set, with no ill effects from the solar onslaught. I, on the other hand, was pooped, so when I had to return my equipment to the car I was glad that the 23 lb. amplifier was easy to transport.
I did not use the Bluetooth feature on the Fender, but I see how this would be a great application for the gigging musician. You can connect your phone, tablet, or other electronic Bluetooth-enabled device wirelessly and provide your own backing tracks or between-set music. The extra benefit being that, unlike a USB connected device—which the Fender also has—this one lets you remotely change music or settings.
One quibble I have is that the Fender has no master volume control: each channel has a separate volume control. Most acoustic amplifiers have not only an individual volume control for each channel, but a master control that allows you to set your individual levels and then bring the master up when you start your set. I would say this is a minor annoyance, and did not negatively affect my performance.
Over all, the Fender makes for an affordable, stylish, and good-sounding combo amp for gigging and non-gigging musicians alike. It can fill a decent-sized room and has a number of solid-sounding effects and features that should satisfy a wide variety of musicians.
Fender Acoustic 200
FEATURES 200-watt amp with 2 channels, each with 3-band EQ and XLR/1/4-inch combo inputs; 2×8-inch speakers with whizzer cone; plywood enclosure; USB input; Bluetooth
EFFECTS Reverb, delay/echo, vibratone, chorus
DIMENSIONS 16 x 18.5 x 9.5 inches; weight: 23 lb.
OPTIONS 4-button footswitch (Mustang Series, $64.99 street)
PRICE $549 street
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.