Fender Player Acoustasonic Telecaster
Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

Fender's newest Acoustasonic guitar is cheaper, but not cheap enough

The Acoustasonic Player Telecaster trades some versatility in the name of savings.

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When I tested out the Fender Acoustasonic Jazzmaster earlier this year, I was admittedly skeptical. One of the biggest reasons was the price. I just couldn’t justify $2,000 for something so niche. But I said if the price ever fell below $1,000 I’d consider it. Well, the new Acoustasonic Player Telecaster doesn’t quite hit that benchmark, but at $1,200 it is a lot more affordable.

Obviously, something had to give for the company to shave $800 off the price, but from a pure build quality perspective it doesn’t seem like you’re losing much. The made-in-Mexico Player Acoustasonic is nearly indistinguishable from the made-in-America models. The body and neck have a similar satin finish on a combination of mahogany and spruce. And the components, from the tuners to the knobs, are exactly the same. This certainly doesn’t feel like an entry-level guitar.

Fender Player Acoustasonic Telecaster
Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

There are some physical differences, though. The most notable being the fretboard, which was ebony on the original, but is made of rosewood here. Even so, I wouldn’t say ebony is better; it’s just a slightly different experience. The rosewood fretboard, combined with the lower action out of the box, makes the new Acoustasonic Telecaster play more like an electric than an acoustic – a stark contrast to the Jazzmaster version, in my experience.

The biggest differences here are in the electronics. Where the pricier Acoustasonics have three pickups and a five-way switch for a total of 10 different guitar sounds, the Player model has just two pickups and a three-way switch with six sound options.

The Player Acoustasonic also loses the rechargeable battery and replaces it with a standard 9V. I’ll say this: The guitar chews through 9V batteries surprisingly fast, but being able to just swap in a new one (rather than wait for it to charge) is a nice convenience.

Fender Player Acoustasonic Telecaster
Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

Just like the other entries in the Acoustasonic series, the main controls are basic, but a little different than your typical guitar. There’s a volume knob, but the selector doesn’t just switch pickups (though, it does that too); it switches between pairs of “voices”, while the second knob blends between the two.

Moving from back to front, the voice pairs found on the three-way switch here are Noiseless Tele and Fat Noiseless Tele, Lo-Fi Clean and Lo-Fi Crunch, Mahogany Small Body Short Scale and Rosewood Dreadnought. What’s immediately noticeable is that there are a lot fewer acoustic simulations than on the other Acoustasonics. The two models here, the Rosewood Dreadnought and Mahogany Small Body, cover a decent amount of ground. It’s very satisfying to play a simple chord loop on the Rosewood and turn the blend knob forward to the Mahogany to play leads over it.

The two acoustic voices here are good but not as convincing as they are on the Jazzmaster Acoustasonic. I attribute that to the missing third pickup: Fishman’s Acoustasonic Enhancer. The two pickups here – Fender’s Acoustasonic Noiseless and Fishman’s Under-Saddle Transducer – do an admirable job delivering electric and piezo acoustic sounds, but they’re not quite as good at delivering the variety and nuance of the Enhancer system it seems.

Fender Player Acoustasonic Telecaster
Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

That being said, I actually prefer the electric sounds on the Telecaster to the Jazzmaster. It sounds a bit more like the guitar that inspired it to my ears, and plays better with pedals. The “Fat” Tele sound has just the right amount of bite for my taste. The “lo-fi” voices are basically just the same piezo sounds you’d find in your average acoustic / electric. That’s not a bad thing, to be clear. I love the crunch of a slightly overdriven piezo pickup. If you’re banging out Neutral Milk Hotel covers or playing along with Nirvana’s Unplugged, this is the setting for you.

The dreadnought and small body voices are still more convincingly acoustic than what you’d get on your average acoustic / electric. They have depth and character that your average piezo alone can’t quite match. But those two voices alone aren’t necessarily worth the premium you’re paying here.

In fact, price remains the biggest obstacle for the Acoustasonic line. $1,200 isn’t exactly cheap for a guitar. Sure, it’s better than $2,000, but even many avid players will live their entire lives never spending more than $1,000 on a guitar. A standard made-in-Mexico Player Telecaster will set you back $800, and you can pick up a decent acoustic / electric from Fender for about $400 – and arguably those two as separate instruments are more versatile than the hybrid Acoustasonic. And the value gets even muddier when you consider that the American-made Acoustasonic Telecaster is currently on sale for $1,600.

The Acoustasonic Player Telecaster remains an almost perfect couch guitar and it’s exciting to see Fender bringing its hybrid guitar tech down to a more affordable instrument. But it’s still too expensive for most.

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