When Roberto Baldwin wrote on the Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster for Engadget in January 2019, he said: “It’s a really impressive instrument that will more than likely win over skeptics once they start playing.” Well, confession, I’m skeptical. Something about an acoustic guitar, shaped like an electric guitar, loaded with a bunch of electronics (that’s supposed to make it sound After acoustics) just sounds… insane.
Well a few weeks ago Fender sent their new Acoustasonic Jazzmaster and I tried to approach it with an open mind. And, while I wouldn’t say I’m a convert, I have a better appreciation for what the company is trying to accomplish.
Let’s start with one thing that Fender convinced me about: the design. In the photos, the Acoustasonic series looks almost cartoonish. Up close, however, I have to admit that the Jazzmaster in Ocean Turquoise is a bit stunning. What might look like a toy on a website is actually fun, but not cheap.
It not only looks good, the Acoustasonic feels good. The materials are clearly top quality. The satin finish on the wood is amazing and the mahogany neck is smooth and solid. This is not an entry level guitar. But it should be obvious by the time you see the $ 2,000 price tag.
The most important thing though, is how it sounds. And this is where things get a bit tricky. Not because the Acoustasonic sounds bad (it doesn’t), but you have to set your expectations correctly. It is best to think of it first as an acoustic, which can sometimes be a pinch for an electric guitar.
Unplugged, the Acoustasonic sounds acoustically. It’s not as loud as real acoustics and lacks depth, but there’s more to it than an electric hollowbody. The fact that it’s not as loud as a regular acoustic guitar is actually a pro if you ask me. While I still can’t scratch this with all my might in the middle of the night, it’s quiet enough that I can use scales and work on my (excruciating) finger picking even after everyone has gone to the bed. Being smaller and quieter than my acoustics, the Acoustasonic is a great sofa guitar, but extremely expensive.
But, the real point is to plug in the Acoustasonic and take advantage of the three different microphones. There is a Fender Acoustasonic humbucker in the bridge position, then a transducer under the saddle and a Fishman “Acoustasonic Enhancer”. These can be combined in various ways using the on-board DSP to create various electrical and acoustic tones.
With the five-way switch all the way to the bridge, you get electric Fender tones. The button closest to the tail is the “mod” control and it blends between two different sounds. Sounds vary slightly from model to model. On the Jazzmaster, the first setting is a semi-clean electric Fender and overdriven. Now I’ve always wanted a Jazzmaster so I was pretty excited to be tearing up some Dinosaur Jr riffs when it came up, but I have to say – it doesn’t quite sound like a Jazzmaster. With the mod knob rolled all the way, it delivers generic and brilliant clean Fender tones. Not bad, but it’s not quite what I think of when I think of “Jazzmaster”. And the saturated sound is kind of brittle.
The two electric modes also oddly pair with dirt pedals. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but they just don’t respond the way you would expect with any other electric guitar. They didn’t sound bad, but they didn’t ring law, if that makes sense? The clean electric goes very well with big reverbs and delays, however.
(A quick note on the demos: they are all recorded directly into an audio interface with no additional processing.)
Another thing to note: the Acoustasonic is equipped with acoustic strings. This delivers more authentic acoustic sound, but it also means it doesn’t play like an electric. The turns in particular are going to be problematic.
The second position on the pickup selector gives you a Lo-fi Piezo and Lo-fi Piezo “crunch” sound. This will probably be the most controversial setting on the whole guitar. The sound of a piezo pickup in an acoustic guitar is very specific and a lot of people hate it, but personally I think it can be deployed with a lot of effect. This position with just a hint of crunch mixed in was one of my favorite tones. It has a grainy quality which works great for making Neutral Milk Hotel blankets stand out.
From there, the sounds become much more convincing and traditionally acoustic. The third position combines the body sensor with an emulation of a rosewood auditorium which is classic and brilliant all-purpose acoustic sound. As someone who doesn’t play a lot of acoustics, I’ve found myself taking a lot of interest in this option, just because it sounds great no matter what you play.
The fourth position is between a Mahogany Jumbo sound and a Mahogany Small Body, the former being full and bassy and loud, while the latter works best for the delicate pinch of the fingers. As we have established, I am not a big finger gripper, but I found that the halfway between the two softened just enough from my heavy playing that Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” feel good.
Finally, in position five you have a rosewood dreadnought and a mahogany shoulder. The former is ideal for big booming chords and is very rich. However, the slope shoulder was a little too bright for me and felt almost tiny.
Not all sounds here are created equal. And I suspect most people will find one or two that meet most of their needs. The emulations are also not 100% accurate. There’s a resonance and sustain that even my cheap $ 200 Acoustic Electric Fender has that the Acoustasonic can’t quite capture. And they don’t have quite the same dynamic range as real acoustics. Live, with a full band playing through a PA, it wouldn’t be noticeable. But in a quieter and more intimate setting, the differences begin to emerge.
Yet the Acoustasonic is a remarkably versatile instrument. It covers a lot of ground and you’ll probably have to buy eight different guitars to recreate each sound here. Fender pushes the boundaries in a way few other guitar makers do. But I’m still not sure if I could ever rationalize spending $ 2,000 on one. But maybe if the prices go down below $ 1000 I would consider it.