By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
In early January in New York City’s Greenwich Village, the Fender company offered a preview of its latest products, a few weeks before their official launch at the NAMM Show in southern California. On one side of the showroom was, as you might expect, a battery of electric guitars—the American Performer series of Stratocasters, Telecasters, and their brethren—as well as pedals and amps. The most prominent display, however, was a wall of acoustic-electric guitars, with the classic Telecaster shape but with hollow bodies, spruce tops, round soundholes, and acoustic-style ebony bridges. These are Fender’s American Acoustasonic Telecasters, a new series of hybrid instruments that represents a big step up in the company’s acoustic offerings. “This is the first time in Fender history,” said Fender CEO Andy Mooney, “an acoustic guitar will take top billing at NAMM.”
The American Acoustasonic Telecaster, in development for three years, is a very different guitar than the Acoustasonic Telecaster introduced in 2010, which had a chambered body and no soundhole, or other Fender hybrids from over the years like the Telecoustic, Telecaster Acoustic, and Stratocoustic. Built alongside Fender’s flagship solid-bodies in Corona, California, the new Acoustasonic is a higher end guitar (list price $1,999.99) that prioritizes delivering the acoustic goods, plugged and unplugged, while still offering the kind of electric tones that made the Fender name. Like the Taylor T5, Godin A6, and Michael Kelly Hybrid 55, the Acoustasonic Telecaster offers players the tantalizing possibility of accessing the sonic palette of both flattops and solid-bodies—and creating blends in between the two—without swapping instruments.
These new Acoustasonic is, inside and out, a hybrid of electric and acoustic design. As Fender’s Billy Martinez explained, the guitar’s solid mahogany body starts off in the construction process similarly to a solid-body, then is hollowed out with a CNC machine, leaving a lip on which the solid spruce top is inset. With that lip adding stability and support, the top has minimal bracing—just two transverse braces. The top’s most striking feature is what Fender calls the Stringed Instrument Resonance System (SIRS), a soundhole port that extends into the shallow body, functioning like a speaker horn to help project the acoustic sound.
The guitar’s color options (natural, sunburst, black, sonic gray, surf green) are printed on open-pore spruce tops—a process that, Martinez pointed out, allows Fender to add color flair without a lot of finish layering. The band of mahogany surrounding the tops, in conjunction with the natural color variations in the ebony fingerboards, creates an attractive modern-yet-earthy look.
In keeping with its Telecaster lineage, the guitar has a bolt-on Tele neck, with Fender’s Micro-Tilt mechanism for quick adjustments to the neck angle. One nod to the acoustic world is the use of mahogany for the neck over Fender’s traditional use of maple. On the headstock, instead of the string trees used on many Fender electrics to create the optimal break angle, the guitar has staggered-height tuners—lowest on the first string, farthest from the nut—and a laser-engraved logo.
The new Acoustasonic has a mono output, unlike the earlier Acoustasonic Telecaster, which allowed splitting of electric and acoustic signals into separate channels. Next to the output jack is a micro USB port for charging the battery that powers the onboard electronics. (Fender estimates 20 hours of power from a fully charged battery.)
In my lap, the guitar felt light and immediately comfortable, and navigating the C-profile neck was smooth and easy. The body is thin already, but a top contour makes the picking arm reach even more comfy—this would make a great couch guitar. In a big, open room with multiple electric guitars and amps being tested out at the same time, I couldn’t fully assess the acoustic tone, but it was clear that the Acoustasonic does have presence unplugged.
Plugging in, though, is where the adventures begin. The guitar has three pickups: a Fender Acoustasonic Noiseless magnetic pickup between the soundhole and bridge, a Fishman undersaddle transducer, and a Fishman body pickup known as the Acoustasonic Enhancer that senses the up and down movement of the top. Fender kept the controls for choosing and blending these sources nice and simple—the design goal, according to Martinez, was to keep everything “extremely easy to use and understand.” The guitar has just a volume knob, a voice selector with five positions, and a “mod knob” that shifts each voice between two settings. That gives a baseline of five voice pairs, or ten voices in all, created through a combination of analog blending of pickup signals and onboard digital processing.
The Acoustasonic’s voice pairs range from what Fender calls core acoustics (the documentation labels one setting as Sitka spruce/rosewood dreadnought, and the other as alpine spruce/rosewood auditorium) to alternative acoustics (Engelmann spruce/maple small-body and Sitka spruce/mahogany dreadnought), percussion and enhanced harmonics (Sitka spruce/Brazilian rosewood dreadnought, plus body pickup), acoustic and electric blend (Sitka spruce/mahogany dreadnought, plus electric pickup), and electrics (clean and fat/semi-clean). The fact that eight of the ten voices are acoustic-oriented gives you a sense of Fender’s priorities with this guitar.
Voice Selection Summary
The Acoustasonic Telecaster offers five discreet voice pairs, selected with the 5-position switch and blended between each pair, A and B, using the knob in the center.
- Position 5: Core Acoustic (A) Sitka spruce/rosewood dreadnought; (B) alpine spruce/rosewood auditorium
- Position 4: Alternative Acoustics (A) Engelmann spruce/maple small-body; (B) Sitka spruce/mahogany dreadnought
- Position 3: Percussion and Enhanced Harmonics (A) Sitka spruce/Brazilian rosewood dreadnought; (B) plus body pickup
- Position 2: Acoustic and Electric Blend (A) Sitka spruce/mahogany dreadnought; (B) plus electric pickup
- Position 1: Electrics (A) clean; (B) fat/semi-clean
At the New York showroom, I spent some time exploring these sounds with a natural finish Acoustasonic plugged straight into a Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb tube amp. Overall, the acoustic voices struck me as warm and full, especially considering they were coming through an electric amp with no pedals or additional tweaking. (Though I wasn’t able to test these capabilities myself, I imagine the guitar would shine through an acoustic amp or straight into a PA.)
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I didn’t pay much attention to whether a certain voice was labeled as rosewood dreadnought or maple small-body or whatnot—to me, the physical feel of different types of guitars is as much a part of their identities as the tone. But my impression was that the Acoustasonic is packed with usable, musical sounds. Whether I was playing a boom-chuck strum, Travis picking pattern, rock power chords, swing rhythm, or lead lines up the neck, I was able to dial in complementary sounds in short order. The body pickup offered rich percussion sounds, too, that would work well for tappers and loopers. I appreciated that the mod knob doesn’t just toggle between presets but allows you to adjust the blend incrementally and find the sweet spot for your ear.
For Fender, the new Acoustasonic is much more than a one-off model; the company views the series as, in Mooney’s words, as “an entirely new creative platform to join iconic electric platforms such as the Stratocaster or Precision Bass.” It’ll be interesting to see how players receive and use these guitars—whether they’ll be seen as electric instruments with acoustic capabilities, acoustic instruments with electric capabilities, or something else entirely. The Acoustasonics are clearly are well suited to the stage and band use, but also have studio potential—the young pop-rock artist Patrick Droney, who was demoing guitars at the New York event, described to me how, while recording on a tour bus, he’d quickly laid down acoustic and electric tracks with the Acoustasonic with just a quick change of settings.
For his part, Droney doesn’t feel the need to categorize the instrument at all. “I think the beauty of this,” he said, “is players are just going to find unique sounds for themselves.”
Look for a full review of the Acoustasonic Telecaster in an upcoming issue. See the full specs here.