Fender Cal­i­for­nia Se­ries New­porter Player

WANNA PLAY AN ACOUS­TIC GUI­TAR, BUT CON­SIDER THE NECKS TO BE A TURN-OFF? FENDER HAS SOME CAL­I­FOR­NIA FOR YA.

Australian Guitar - - Contents - BY PETER HODG­SON

There’s a lot that sets Fender’s new Cal­i­for­nia Se­ries apart from other acous­tics on the mar­ket, but the most ob­vi­ous right away is the neck. Fender has out­fit­ted the en­tire line with a Stra­to­caster-style head­stock, which gives you a bit of a semi­otic cue that this isn’t your typ­i­cal acous­tic – it’s clearly a gui­tar that aims to ap­peal to elec­tric play­ers.

But be­fore we get deeper into that, let’s take a mo­ment to skim the model range. There are nine gui­tars in the se­ries, di­vided into Player, Spe­cial and Clas­sic mod­els, the Play­ers be­ing the most af­ford­able with an RRP of $699, mov­ing up to the Spe­cials at $1,299 and the C las­sics at $1,599. The avail­able shapes are the Mal­ibu (a small-body, short-scale in­stru­ment with a bit of a par­lour gui­tar vibe), the New­porter (a medium body shape with a tre­ble-side cut­away, loosely fall­ing into the con­cert gui­tar cat­e­gory) and the Re­dondo (a big-bod­ied dread­nought-style gui­tar with a tre­ble-side cut­away).

No mat­ter where you go in the range, you’ll find colour-matched head­stocks and the same over­sized bridge. The gui­tar we’re look­ing at to­day is the New­porter Player.

A NECK ABOVE

The New­porter Player has a solid spruce top with glossy ma­hogany back and sides and an oiled ma­hogany neck. The neck is carved to a very Strat-like slim ta­per ‘ C’ pro­file, and has a wal­nut fin­ger­board and bridge. And for any­one who’s ever strug­gled with an acous­tic neck, you’ll im­me­di­ately fall in love with the New­porter. The ac­tion is nice and easy, the string spac­ing is very elec­tric-friendly and the neck shape it­self makes things very, very easy for you – even with the dreaded F Chord that gives new gui­tarists so many headaches. Other ap­point­ments in­clude a Graph Tech NuBone nut and sad­dle for im­proved sus­tain, a Fish­man preamp sys­tem with in­te­grated tuner, plus con­trols for Bass and Tre­ble, and a bat­tery life in­di­ca­tor.

Vis­ually, the Player line dis­tin­guishes it­self from its pricier sib­lings with a uniquely-shaped gold-toned scratch plate, which I pre­fer over the more spar­tan look of the other mod­els. It has creme bind­ing around the body, and is avail­able in four fin­ishes: Jetty Black (as re­viewed), Candy Ap­ple Red, Cham­pagne and Rus­tic Cop­per. In fact, skim the Cal­i­for­nia Se­ries web­site and you’ll no­tice some very eye-catch­ing colour choices. Just wait ‘ til you see a Re­dondo Spe­cial in Elec­tric Jade in per­son.

A SOUND IN­VEST­MENT

Son­i­cally, this is a very evenly toned in­stru­ment with great play­ing dy­nam­ics, yet si­mul­ta­ne­ously a very mu­si­cal sound­ing nat­u­ral com­pres­sion. Very gen­tle notes have a pleas­ing sense of vol­ume to them, but there’s still plenty of head­room to re­ally thwack the in­stru­ment to achieve a tre­bly, punchy sound. It’s very re­spon­sive to changes in pick­ing style (for ex­am­ple, fin­ger­pick­ing ver­sus flat­pick­ing), and is a hy­brid-pick­ing ma­chine. If you’re the kind of player who likes to use com­plex chords with mov­ing bass lines, this gui­tar will do ev­ery­thing you ask it to. But it’s a great strum­mer as well, with plenty of punch and pro­jec­tion.

Of course, the real sell­ing point for many play­ers will be the neck. No, it’s not ex­actly like play­ing a Strat – af­ter all, the bridge is dif­fer­ent, and that has an im­pact on how the strings feel. And of course we’re talk­ing about bronze acous­tic strings with a wound G rather than a lighter, nickel-coated elec­tric set. You’ll still need some re­spectable fin­ger strength to pull off a three-semi­tone bend on the G string, but in terms of sheer ease of play­ing, and most def­i­nitely in com­fort for other­wise tricky chords, this is the most com­fort­able neck I’ve ever played on an acous­tic. Per­haps hard­core acous­tic gui­tarists will feel like it’s a bit of a cheat, but I can see it open­ing a lot of doors for play­ers who spend most of their time on the elec­tric gui­tar but need an acous­tic for a few songs per gig as well, or who re­ally want to open up their mu­sic to acous­tic tex­tures but don’t have the de­sire to wres­tle with a tra­di­tional acous­tic.

Al­though the New­porter Player is priced a lit­tle above the tra­di­tional be­gin­ner mar­ket, I would con­sider it the per­fect first acous­tic for a new player. The neck will def­i­nitely make that first year or so of play­ing eas­ier, es­pe­cially when you’re try­ing to build up those cal­louses and de­velop the fin­ger strength to play barre chords. I could cer­tainly see a case for steer­ing mums and dads to­wards this gui­tar in­stead of a cheaper acous­tic that may make for a painful, frus­trat­ing and dis­cour­ag­ing learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

THE BOT­TOM LINE

This is a gui­tar that doesn’t shy away from Fender’s elec­tric his­tory, and while it most def­i­nitely sounds like an acous­tic gui­tar, it doesn’t play like one. There­fore, it’s made for a very spe­cific, yet very broad fam­ily of play­ers who don’t want to wres­tle with un­com­fort­able acous­tics, but also don’t want to miss out on the tones. Fender has been very clever in cre­at­ing three tiers of af­ford­abil­ity and build qual­ity – al­though even this most af­ford­able level is a lot of gui­tar for the money.

RRP: $699

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