When I gig as a solo acoustic blues guitarist and vocalist, I usually take a small amp. But there are some instances, like when I play for crowds of more than 100 people, when the amp doesn’t quite cut it. Because of this I became intrigued with the idea of using powered speakers, instead of an amp, in situations where I need enough volume to fill up the space.
In a lucky coincidence, I received Fender’s new Fortis F-10BT for review and put it to its paces, both in my studio and at a local gig. This 10-inch 1,300-watt powered speaker is not only plenty loud, but it sounds great and is quite portable. And, at under five hundred bucks, it won’t break the bank.
Straightforward and Sturdy
A powered speaker is not only, uh, powerful, it can be used in a number of different acoustic guitar-related scenarios. You can simply plug straight in and play, though with limited control over your equalization. To work around that problem, you can use a DI box or preamp with EQ control in between your guitar and the speaker. For the ultimate flexibility, you can use a powered speaker in conjunction with a multi-channel mixer, allowing you to bring microphones, guitars, or other instruments—not to mention separate volume and EQ controls—into the equation.
As far as powered speakers go, the Fortis F-10BT (the BT stands for Bluetooth) is a pretty modest package. It’s the little brother to the Fender’s F-12BT and F-15BT, in case you haven’t guessed, having 12- and 15-inch speakers, respectively. The F-10BT’s two-way speaker system consists of a 10-inch cone paired with a one-inch compression driver. Used alone or as part of a larger system, the F-10BT is a good match for small- to medium-sized rooms.
The Fortis has a sturdy look, with its metal grille and black-painted nine-ply wooden cabinet. The unit’s pentagonal shape means that it can be used as a monitor when angled up, or as a conventional speaker, with pole mounts that can be placed on a stand. On the Fortis’s back panel are one mic/line input and a dedicated Bluetooth channel, which also has a stereo mini jack, should you want to hardwire your connection.
Beer Garden Blues
At home, I plugged my Waterloo WL-14 (outfitted with an LR Baggs Session VTC undersaddle pickup) into an LR Baggs Para Acoustic DI, into the mic/line channel of the Fortis. A pair of three-way switches gave me some control over the EQ: one for the higher/treble with flat/mid/high selections and another for the lower-end frequencies: sub/flat/boost.
The sub option cuts out much of the bass frequencies and redirects to a subwoofer if you have that as part of your system, which I didn’t. I kept everything flat and used the DI to make EQ adjustments. The quality was clear and crisp, better than a lot of the small acoustic amps I’ve tried.
In preparation for a gig at a beer garden, I packed a couple of guitars—my Martin OM-28V with Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend pickup and my National Style O with Highlander Biscuit pickup—as well as the Fortis and an MXR M300 digital reverb pedal. I arrived at the venue before the soundman. The Fortis was easy to set up on my own, and it sat right behind me so I could easily make adjustments on the fly.
I planned to use the Fortis as an amp/monitor, so I fed it into the house sound system. Sending a feed from the extension speaker output to the PA was a snap. The Fortis’s sound was crisp, clear, and warm, and the soundman, who had now arrived, agreed.
The Fortis has a small drawback—it only has one instrument input. But because I was playing solo guitar at the beer-garden gig, I was fine with the Fortis as is. And if I wanted to add a microphone or other guitars into the mix, all I would need is a small mixer. Luckily, there are several good ones on the market for under $100, like Mackie’s Mix5 or Mix8.
I didn’t have the opportunity to try the Fortis’s Bluetooth functionality, but this would no doubt be a great option if I were to play with backing tracks from an iPad or any other Bluetooth-enabled playback device.
The Fender Fortis F-10BT is a sturdy and excellent performer in a live setting. It’s making me rethink my rig for small- to medium-size venues, as the sound quality is a big improvement over my small amplifier setup—inspiring me to play my best.
Fender Fortis F-10BT
Features 10″ Woofer and 1″ titanium compression driver; 1,300-watt peak output; Bluetooth functionality; 90° x 35° coverage pattern; separate EQ settings for high- and low-frequency drivers; XLR/instrument input; 3.5mm stereo aux input
Dimensions 11.5″ x 11.75″ x 20.5″; 30.5 lb.
Price: $549.99 list/$449.99 street
Made in China, fender.com
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.