Fender’s Classic Design line of acoustics takes in 22 models, all with their own flavour. They sent us four to give an interesting overview. By Peter Hodgson
Fender’s Classic Design series of acoustic instruments hits that sweet spot between cost and performance. These aren’t the cheapest entry-level instruments, nor are they the kind of guitars that you need to buy their own plane seat for. They’re all as affordable as they can be while still incorporating ‘in it for the long run’ features like solid tops and super comfortable necks. Fender sent us four instruments from the enormously expansive 22-model series to check out: the CP-140SE Parlour, CT-140SE Traveller, CN‑140SCE Nylon and CB-60SCE concert bass.
All Classic Design instruments have a special slim taper neck for player comfort. In the case of the CB-60SCE acoustic bass, that neck is expanded out to bass scale length – it’s a good one to start with here because it shows us that these necks can be super comfortable regardless of string count or scale length. This bass has a solid spruce top (which will sound better and better as the instrument ages) and mahogany back and sides. The body is a concert size, which isn’t too unwieldy, and gives you surprisingly full low end and clear treble detail.
You’ll most likely want to boost this one’s character by hooking it up to a decent amplifier. There are controls for Volume, Bass, Middle and Treble to help you settle into the mix, which is very easy to do since it’s such a pleasantly voiced instrument regardless of whether you plug in or go acoustic. It’s also very interactive: pick with your fingers and you’ll get a deep dubby tone, but add some fingernail and you’ll really hear the extra treble. The dynamic range is very broad, too, from the softest brush of the string to the most solid pick strike.
Think of the CN-140SCE as a nylon-string guitar, not a classical guitar. The difference is that classical designs tend to have very wide fretboards with broad string spacing, whereas this feels more like a steel-string acoustic with the softer feel and sweeter tone of nylon strings. Remember in the ‘90s how every second song on the radio had a vaguely flamenco-sounding guitar solo? This will do that for you with no problems, but it’s also great for jazz and ‘surfer dude’ styles. It has a solid cedar top with a rosewood back and sides, while the inbuilt preamp has Volume, Middle, Treble and Bass controls. If all classical guitars played like this, we’d probably hear a lot more nylon string out there. Just don’t say that the classical guitar luthiers out there, because they tend to be very traditional and they’ll come after you with a saw.
The smaller size of the Parlour guitar favours the midrange, which is great for helping these guitars to be heard in a mix as clearly as they are felt. Whereas a dreadnought might strengthen the low end and add some zing to the top, a Parlour will cut right down the middle with a pleasant, musical ‘honk’ – that is, when they’re well-made. Thankfully, this guitar is and plays great thanks to its comfy neck and rolled fingerboard edges, and it rewards players who explore broad chord voicings all over the neck. The string spacing is also great for fingerpickers who like to pluck out a melody on the high strings while running a bassline and chords on the rest.
Fender has never made a travel-sized guitar before. This one is compact – although based on an Auditorium shape – and has a shorter scale length of 23.5 inches, hitting the sweet spot where portability and tone intersect. It’s perfect for players with smaller hands – or just for those who want a guitar they can more easily take out and about – but it has its own unique tone, too, with similar midrange to the Parlour but tighter bass and sweeter highs. Put a microphone in front of the CT-140SE and it becomes a great recording guitar, because you don’t need to do a whole bunch of processing to help it fit into a mix. Younger players will definitely appreciate the easy-to-play neck, but this doesn’t feel like a beginners’ guitar.
THE BOTTOM LINE
These are just four examples of guitars from Fender’s Classic Design series; ultimately, there are currently 22 to choose from, including plenty of dreadnoughts (with and without cutaway), several very nice 12-strings, a number of all‑mahogany instruments that are especially eye-catching, a few left-handed models, and a few especially gorgeous concert models. They’re all different enough that you can really zero in on the perfect Classic Design model for you, yet they all take the same approach to build quality and, in particular, that super comfy neck shape with the rounded fretboard edges.
Whichever model you settle on – and we encourage you to check out as many as you can in person, as they all have their own distinct characteristics and benefits for different playing styles – you can rest assured knowing that you’re going to get a truly great-playing guitar that will go easy on your fretting hand whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player. And the solid tops found on most models will ensure that you have a guitar with a sound and expressiveness that will grow and change alongside your own playing over the years.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Comfortable slim taper necks
• Solid tops
• Rolled fretboard edges
• Electronics in most models
• Distinctive mini position markers
• Broad variety across the 22-model range
• Very comfortable necks across the board
• Careful tonewood consideration
• All that choice and no baritone?
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