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While guitar manufacturers have been combining electronic components with acoustic instruments since the 1930s, conventional electric and acoustic guitars remain largely separate instruments with their own unique sounds, strengths, and limitations. Sure, an electric pickup can be placed into an acoustic guitar but it still won’t sound like a solid-body electric guitar—or vice versa. That all changed for Fender Musical Instruments in 2010 when the company—which has been producing guitars since 1946—introduced its line of Acoustasonic hybrid guitars, effectively blurring the line between acoustic and electric and offering an entirely unique way to produce both sounds with a single instrument. I recently had a chance to test the latest Acoustasonic Player Telecaster and, as someone who’s never played a true hybrid guitar, I found the experience to be as fun, inspiring, and surprising. Let’s take a look at whether the Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster’s range of sounds fits a range of players.
The Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster design
Following in the footsteps of the original and more expensive Acoustasonic line, the all-new Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster hails from Fender’s brand-new Ensenada, Mexico, factory and aims to bring the guitar’s versatility to a wider player base via a streamlined design that costs roughly 40% less than that of its predecessors. Visually, the guitar features the same off-the-wall combination of organic delicacy and retrofuturist shapes for which the Acoustasonic line is known, while its electronics have been pared down to the bare essentials to make for a more straightforward playing experience.
At its foundation, the Acoustasonic Player Telecaster is built just like a standard acoustic guitar: it has a mahogany body and neck with a braced spruce top, it’s hollow, and it features a traditional acoustic-style bridge. This combination of design features allows the guitar to project and resonate with a similar level of definition and clarity to a traditional acoustic guitar, even when it’s not plugged in, in spite of having a much smaller body. The guitar also features a naturally oily and easy-to-play rosewood fretboard, which is a less expensive alternative to the denser ebony wood found in the fretboard of the original American-made Acoustasonic.
To provide the electronic element of its hybrid design, the Acoustasonic Player Telecaster—which can partially trace its inspiration back to the first mass-produced solid-body guitars, released in 1950—utilizes a pair of pickups designed in collaboration between Fender and Fishman. The first is a sleek, noiseless Telecaster-style pickup that sits between the guitar’s sound hole and bridge, while the other is a mini piezo-style pickup that lives underneath the saddle. These pickups work in concert with the guitar’s three-way blade switch to offer six hand-picked amplified sounds and an infinite number of combinations thereof via a blend knob. The three-way switch system is an adaptation of the five-way system found on the American Acoustasonic guitars, which feature 10 sounds to work with. The entire electronics system is powered by a single 9V battery and can run for roughly 22 hours continuously before needing to be replaced.
Getting started with the Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster
The Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster comes in a Fender F1225 gig bag and is strung up and ready to play out of the box. The first thing I noticed was just how light the Acoustasonic Player Telecaster felt in my hands—it weighs just shy of 5 pounds—and, upon sitting down with it, I felt a bit of a downward pull on the left side of the guitar due to the weight differential between the body and the neck. It’s not particularly uncommon to experience “neck dive” with guitars, but I think that, in this case, the effect was pronounced due to the guitar’s small hollow body and its solid wood neck.
The Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster’s sound
To explore the range of Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster’s tonal capabilities, I used a combination of heavy chord strumming with a pick, picked single-note lines, and fingerpicking. The test consisted of unamplified playing with and without a microphone, as well as through a Fender ‘68 Custom Deluxe Reverb amplifier. For the microphone tests, I used a Barbaric Amplification BA49C condenser on the guitar’s body combined with a Royer 121 ribbon mic on the neck and recorded straight into Apple Logic Pro X via a Universal Audio Apollo x8 interface.
When played as a purely unamplified acoustic instrument, I found the Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster to be modest in its volume output and not particularly well-rounded from a harmonic standpoint. The guitar’s very responsive spruce top allowed the instrument to project plenty of rhythmic punch and string attack, but its shallow body and small sound hole lacked the ability to push low and low-mid frequencies in any meaningful way. To be very clear, I’m referring to the guitar’s ability to hold its own against other traditional acoustic guitars either unplugged or in front of a microphone; I found its performance, in this case, to be mildly disappointing, but this was done for test purposes and has little to do with the actual hybrid electronic performance of the instrument.
After testing the guitar’s unpowered sound, I switched on my amp and began my cycle through the six preset sounds with the three-way blade in position one. In this position, the guitar’s amplified sound emulates that of a traditional spruce and mahogany acoustic guitar like the Martin D-18, with the blend knob providing a gradient between the sound of a large dreadnought guitar and a small-body parlor acoustic. Compared to the rather toothless sound of the instrument when unplugged, this mode offered a harmonically rich and full acoustic guitar sound with dead-on emulations of each body type. In dreadnought mode, the Acoustasonic Player Telecaster was absolutely booming and full of sustain, while the small-body mode gave a snappier, almost brassy quality to the guitar’s amplified sound.
In switch position two, the Acoustasonic Player Telecaster enters lo-fi mode, which gives players access to the pure, unaffected sound of the under-saddle piezo pickup. To me, this mode sounded so direct, sensitive, and detailed that I felt the term “lo-fi” sold it a bit short. The isolated sound of the piezo pickup results in an almost clinical guitar tone that brings a lot of incidental finger and string noise to the forefront, which I can see having a lot of interesting creative applications, particularly when used with effects. In this mode, the blend knob offers access to a DSP-enabled crunch overdrive, which users can add to taste or turn up all the way. I really liked the quality of this overdrive, which obscured and compressed the signal in a very smooth and musical way reminiscent of tape saturation.
The final and rightmost switch position engages the noiseless bridge pickup to enable the guitar’s traditional Telecaster sound, with the blend knob as a toggle between clean and overdriven tones. I was initially confused by this mode, having expected it to more or less reproduce the sound of a solid-body Telecaster. As I continued to play, I realized that what the guitar actually does is a bit more special than that: the pickup delivers all of the twang, spank, and responsiveness of a classic Telecaster—think “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones—while the hollow body and acoustic hardware provide a subtle warmth and resonance that’s normally absent from its solid-body counterpart. This results in the Acoustasonic Player Telecaster delivering a very unique and versatile guitar tone while channeling the same attitude, spirit, and playability of its namesake.
So, who should buy the Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster?
The Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster isn’t a traditional acoustic or electric guitar, but that’s exactly why it might be desirable to some players. It has meticulously designed sounds that are easy to manipulate and offer a creative immediacy that may be appealing to songwriters and improvisers. Working musicians looking to streamline their workflow and eliminate the hassle of traveling with two instruments will also appreciate the guitar’s ability to deliver authentic acoustic and electric guitar tones with a responsive, fun-to-play feel. While the Acoustasonic Player Telecaster doesn’t really hold up as an unplugged guitar and some may be put off by its eye-catching appearance, it’s undoubtedly an incredibly unique and well-built musical tool versatile enough to be your go-to studio or stage axe.