Few guitars carry more historical weight than the Fender Telecaster. With its compact body and brash, incisive twang, the Telecaster—first introduced by Fender in the 1950s—played a pivotal role in the evolution of country music, electric blues, and, most of all, rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards, and Joe Strummer are all Tele guys. And when Bob Dylan mounted his first tour as an electric act, he did it with a Telecaster around his neck.
But if the Fender American Acoustasonic Telecaster had been around when Bob was breaking hearts and blowing minds back in ’66, he would have been able to play both the acoustic and electric portions of his concert on the same guitar.
With its round sound hole and naturally resonant body, the Acoustasonic plays and sounds like an acoustic guitar. But inside the instrument is an array of electronics that lets the player dial in a wide variety of sounds; when amplified, the Acoustasonic can take on the tonal character of different styles of acoustic guitar as well as solid-body and hollow-body electrics.
You can see one pickup positioned next to the bridge in the image above. Hidden inside the body is a three-piece system designed by Fender with the folks at Fishman, a company famous for its acoustic guitar pickups. (A 20-hour battery, which you charge via a USB port next to the cable jack, powers the pickups.) The Acoustasonic also has two wooden knobs and a selector switch. On a normal Telecaster, the selector switch would allow the player to swap between pickups, turning one on and the other off. But on the Acoustasonic, that switch lets you scroll through a series of digitally modeled tones that mimic different guitar types.
Flip the switch forward to get the forceful bass of a big, spruce-top dreadnought acoustic. Move it into the middle to find the fingerstyle-friendly midrange tones of a small-bodied mahogany guitar, or the propulsive drive you’d get from a flat-top acoustic with a hot pickup in it. Push the selector switch all the way back and you can even make the thing sound pretty close to an electric guitar.
Each of the five positions on the selector switch actives two distinct tones, and that’s where the knobs come into play. That second knob, the one closest to the tail of the guitar, toggles between the two sounds you’ve selected using the switch. Rock it all the way forward to get the first sound, rock it all the way back to get the second sound. Twisting the knob to any position between the two sounds blends them together. So if you want 71 percent of sound A and 29 percent of sound B, you can do that. (The knob closest to your hands still controls the volume like you’d expect.)
So how does it sound? Anybody who plays an acoustic guitar on stage with a band is going to love it. Most of the selectable tones are bright and lively, with lots of punch and glassy harmonics. The best ones respond with a warm, percussive thwack when you strum with a pick. The mellower, folky sounds of a true hollow-body acoustic guitar are tougher to dial in. But that driving sound you get when you fit a full-size acoustic guitar with a pickup and plug it into a great vintage amp—this guitar can do that sound.
The ability to blend the various sounds together is the Acoustasonic’s best feature. Not only does it give the instrument a tremendous sonic palette, but I found the most interesting stuff tends to happen not with the blend knob dialed all the way to one side or the other, but somewhere in the middle.
Purists will scoff at the Acoustasonic as a soulless digital abomination, and that’s fine. This sort of 21st-century machine is never going to be for everyone. I will say that the feel of the instrument is excellent. It’s set up like an acoustic guitar (complete with a wound G string), but the small Tele body and slim neck make it much easier to noodle around on than your typical big box. Still, it’s meant to be plugged in. It has the character of an acoustic guitar when you strum it unplugged, but it doesn’t come close to filling a room or drawing forth rivers of human tears the way a real-deal acoustic does.
It’s the same on the other end. The “electric” voices in the Acoustasonic sound nothing like an actual Telecaster, but they do make it sound more like an electric guitar than an acoustic guitar—an impressive feat anyway.
The idea is that if you’re an artist who treasures sonic variety, you can just buy one of these guitars (which lists for $2,000 by the way) and play it all night instead of switching guitars between every song. I would argue that people who switch guitars multiple times during a show are cool. That’s a very cool move, pulling out some shiny vintage showpiece for this song, then another for that song. The Acoustasonic negates that cool factor. But since you can’t buy cool, why not just buy convenience?
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social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/fender-american-acoustasonic-telecaster