From the November/December 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Mark Goldenberg
After Fender introduced the American Acoustasonic Telecaster at the 2019 Winter NAMM show, the instrument generated a buzz—and along with it controversy, as some purists were troubled by this radical new design. But thanks to its great practicality, the Acoustasonic Telecaster (reviewed in the May/June 2019 issue)—which effectively splits the difference between a solidbody electric guitar and a steel-string acoustic—has already won many players over.
The second offering in the new line, the American Acoustasonic Stratocaster is a double-cutaway variation that, like its predecessor, is equipped with Fender/Fishman-designed electronics and is capable of delivering a range of convincing acoustic and electric tones in a single package. I spent a month with the Strat version and it served me quite well both as a practice and recording instrument.
At Once Familiar and Novel
At a quick glance, the Acoustasonic Stratocaster seems familiar and iconic, with its offset double cutaway and forearm and back contours. But a closer look reveals some unique features. Unlike a classic Strat, the Acoustasonic is not a solidbody but a semi-hollow guitar, with a chambered mahogany body and solid Sitka spruce soundboard. On the guitar’s top, acoustic elements are seen in the sculpted sound port and traditional belly bridge, while the electric components include a magnetic pickup, twin control knobs, and a five-way selector switch.
Flip the instrument over and you’ll find two black metal plates, for access to the pickups and controls. On the neck heel, a recessed plate with a small hole allows for the neck angle to be adjusted. There’s an instrument jack that also contains a USB Mini-A input on the lower bout. Unlike on a typical acoustic-electric guitar, there’s no 9-volt battery power; the Acoustasonic is charged just like your smartphone, only you get 20 hours of use per full charge. Slick. And sorry, no internet or GPS.
The review model is cleanly and precisely built. Its spruce top is seamlessly applied, as is the binding around the top and sound port. The 3-Color Sunburst matte finish is rich and attractive, and flawlessly applied. (The instrument is also available in Black, Dakota Red, Natural, or Transparent Sonic Blue.) Overall, contrary to some naysayers’ assessments, I’d say the guitar feels classy and clean, utilitarian and handsome.
Under the Hood
Though the Acoustasonic Stratocaster has a simple layout, there’s a lot going on under the hood. As with the Telecaster version, Fender teamed up with Fishman to create the Acoustic Engine, a mix of an undersaddle piezo pickup and an internal body sensor. Piezo meets modeling—woot! Add to that a Fender Acoustasonic noiseless magnetic pickup for electric sounds and you have a great system that grants you access to myriad voices and is pretty easy to use.
Each position of the five-way selector switch lets you access two different tones, A and B, a completely different set from the Telecaster version. Starting with the fifth position, which is closest to the neck, the sounds are as follows:
Position 5: Core Acoustics
A: Sitka Spruce/Mahogany Dreadnought
B: Sitka Spruce/Rosewood Concert with Slotted Headstock
Position 4: Alternative Acoustics
A: Sitka Spruce/Walnut Small-Body Short Scale
B: Sitka Spruce/Mahogany Americana Dreadnought
Position 3: Percussion & Enhanced Harmonics Acoustic
A: Sitka Spruce/Rosewood Auditorium
B: Adds body pickup to Voice A
Position 2: Acoustic and Electric Blend
A: Engelmann Spruce/Rosewood Dreadnought
B: Fender Electric Clean
Position 1: Electric
A: Fender Electric Fat/Semi-Clean
B: Fender Electric Dirty
Instead of a tone knob, there is a blender knob for dialing in any ratio of the A and B tones on a given selector-switch position. Turning this control fully counterclockwise gets you the A sound on its own; fully clockwise, the B sound.
The review model arrived in a sturdy gig bag with the appropriate case candy—a USB cable! I gave the guitar a once over, admiring its comfy, familiar body and light weight; just over five pounds. Unfortunately the guitar also came with a buzzy fret around the seventh position, which was kind of a mood killer. But I soon came to ignore it, as I was really enjoying the guitar—and who plays in the key of C# anyway? In any case, this was perhaps a transit or weather-related problem, as Fender guitars are usually good to go right out of the box.
Played unplugged, the Acoustasonic Stratocaster has an appreciable resonance—not a ton of bass or volume, but surprisingly enough to make for a great practice instrument without an amplifier. This is apparently owing to the sound port, part of Fender’s patented Stringed Instrument Resonance System (SIRS), which acts like a speaker horn.
The mahogany neck has the same scale length as a regular Strat—25.5 inches. Its slightly chunky modern C profile, 12-inch radius, 22 narrow tall frets, and 1.6875-inch GraphTech nut give it a great feel that electric guitarists will dig. While some fingerstyle players might find the neck too narrow, I appreciated that it made it easy for me to play stretchy chords.
Unfortunately, thanks to the coronavirus, I was unable to play the Acoustasonic Stratocaster on a gig, but I did spend a bit of time practicing and recording with it in my studio. Whether I plugged the guitar into a Henriksen Blu combo amp or Universal Audio Apollo Quad interface, I got very pleasing results. Do the guitar’s modeled tones sound faithful to the real deals? Having had experience with most of the included wood and body combinations, I’d say yeah, pretty darn close. I did experience a wee bit of that piezo “ice pick” sound when I played hard with a flatpick, but hey, this is an acoustic/electric instrument after all.
When recording some rhythm parts for a tune written by my pals Jennifer Condos and Debra Dobkin, I experimented with the Acoustasonic’s different sounds, did some double tracking, and added a bit of compression but no EQ. Sitting in a mix with bass, drums, and percussion, the tracks sounded wholly authentic and acoustic. It was only when I went crazy adding high frequencies to the tracks that I noticed those piezo-like artifacts.
The electric guitar pickup sounded great going direct through the Henriksen, and also into a Fender Princeton Reverb tube amp. Granted, it’s only a single pickup in the bridge position—this guitar isn’t intended to provide all the flavors of an electric guitar—but it did the job really well, with warm, fat, and dynamic tones. The overdrive setting was fairly light in the grit department and had a midrange bump like you’d get from an Ibanez Tube Screamer pedal. It was great and fun to rock out with.
Going through my Princeton, the guitar sounded delightful on the electric pickup when combined with various fuzzes, overdrives, and modulation pedals. The acoustic voices also paired well with these gizmos; there are definitely some unusual and fun sounds to be had in that arena.
So, after living with the Acoustasonic Stratocaster for a while, would I ask Santa for one? You bet! With excellent sonic options, familiar and comfortable design and playability, and excellent build quality, the American Acoustasonic Stratocaster is a unique, versatile instrument that would make an excellent addition to any acoustic guitarist’s stable.
BODY Mahogany body, modified Stratocaster shape with transverse bracing; solid Sitka spruce top with Stringed Instrument Response System (SIRS) resonator; polyester satin matte finish
NECK 25.5″-scale mahogany bolt-on neck with modern C profile; 22-fret ebony fingerboard with 12″ radius; two-way truss rod; 1-11/16″ GraphTech Tusq nut; sealed-gear tuners; satin urethane finish
ELECTRONICS Fishman undersaddle transducer; Fishman Acoustasonic Enhancer internal body sensor; Fender N4 magnetic pickup; master volume control; “mod knob” voice blender; five-position voice selector; 1/4″ output jack with USB Mini-A input
OTHER Ebony bridge with compensated Tusq saddle and GraphTech Tusq bridge pins; Fender Dura-Tone 860CL Coated Phosphor Bronze strings (.011–.052); Fender deluxe gig bag
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