Price paid: £ 599
Purchased from: Fretz Music
Features: Single cutaway jumbo 6-string electro-acoustic guitar. 22-fret neck. Solid (Sitka Spruce) top ("AA" grade). Maple neck, back and sides, finished in natural satin, with maple binding. Rosewood fingerboard. Tortoiseshell-effect "teardrop" scratchplate. Grover machine heads (chrome finish). Fishman Presys 301 EQ system (note, the features of the Fishman are explained in some detail below). My Freshman was supplied with a branded Freshman gig bag. Purchased brand new in November 2013, manufactured in 2013. // 9
Sound: Loud, bright, yet full-bodied. The tones are sweet and even, right across the strings, and up and down the neck. The power is particularly noticeable playing when fingerstyle, where all the detail is crystal clear, immediate, and beautifully audible, with sumptuous overtones and wonderful sustain too. I compared the Freshman with other guitars in a similar price bracket, and tentatively with several more expensive models, some of which were out of my price range, yet I was astounded at the sounds from the Freshman, which was the equal of all of them and vastly superior to most. // 10
Action, Fit & Finish: When I went to the shop to test the model they ordered in for me, the action was too high. I should add that I like a very, very low action, so the default action may have suited many people without it being altered. The guy in the shop managed to lower it quite drastically within minutes, and I was more than happy with the result. The action ended up almost as low as a quality electric instrument, with no buzz anywhere on the neck.
The guitar fits and balances superbly. It's heavier than I've been used to from an acoustic guitar, but this implies a lot of wood in the construction! The finish is wonderful - the cuts, splices, joins are immaculate. The blonde natural satin finish really stood out for me when I first saw the Freshman from a distance - I liked the fact the headstock colour matched the body. Close up, the grains in the wood are a joy to behold.
On the first glance and touch, the high quality of materials is evident, as is the workmanship. Everything is absolutely beautifully finished - the lines, joints and components all wonderfully matched. The satin finish is immaculate all over. The neck is narrow, even though I am mainly used to particularly narrow small electric necks, and feels very comfortable. The decoration is attractive and minimal - the soundhole has a simple concentric ring pattern surrounding it and the scratchplate is a very thin teardrop-shaped tortoise-shell effect. // 10
Reliability & Durability: I've only owned the guitar for a few months. I have no issues to report. Thus far I can confirm it's behaved perfectly. I've had no snags, the guitar holds tune beautifully, the intonation is spot on regardless of the open tuning used, and / or capo position, and I have had not one moment of buyer's remorse! I've also changed the strings which was straightforward - the pegs all came in and out nicely etc! NB the guitar was supplied with D'Addario strings which sounded superb, but I still changed them for my favoured Elixirs (52-11). The Elixirs sound even nicer to my ears, if possibly a little quieter than the D'Addarios. // 10
Overall Impression: I coveted a Freshman guitar for a long time for four main reasons.
1. Roddy Frame. The first time I saw a Freshman, the great Roddy Frame was playing it in his solo shows. He alternated 6 and 12-string models with 6 and 12 string Takamines. He tends to use the Freshman for finger-picked songs, which I presumed intimated the guitar has a loud and even tone. As well as playing it, he took time during shows to explain why and how he came to buy it, and for me there could be no greater endorsement.
2. The look. I know it's a subjective thing, but in my eyes the proportions (even the radius of the cutaway), the minimal ornamentation, and the sheer blonde-ness of it really took my eye.
3. Considering the quality of the instrument and the materials, the price is extremely keen. I'm an amateur with relatively limited funds, so the "behemoth" brands are beyond my budget. But you know what - I don't care, I have an instrument that is capable of reproducing whatever I am able to play on it!
4. Reviews. On seeing and hearing Roddy's use of the Freshman, I read a number of reviews, all of which were extremely complimentary, as well as many user comments.
One of the first things I noticed was the weight. It's far heavier than my legacy/trusty Yamaha APX-5c. There is a LOT of wood in the guitar. When amplified, the sound remains tremendous - clean, and faithful to the acoustic quality. It can boom a bit when close to PA speakers etc., but I think this is quite natural for jumbo electro-acoustics. Access to the strap button at the neck is a little tricky, especially if you have a bulky straplock - a minor point but worth remembering. I like it that the other strap button also incorporates the jack input. The buttons are really solid and feel very secure in the body.
The Fishman is a lovely system - it's got lots of features, including a built-in tuner with LED, volume, bass/middle/treble, phase switch, low battery indicator, anti-feedback control (notch), brilliance and, crucially, a built-in microphone with mic blend level control, whereby you mix the pickup and mic sound - this gives a great range of colour in the sound.
A few minor gripes here:
- I had to find and download the little manual from the Internet.
- the tuner switches on and off with a switch which simultaneously cuts the signal, so you can tune in silence. On the other hand, if you are playing acoustically, it's easy to forget to switch the tuner off again. But this could be me being a bit stupid!
- If only the controls had clear marks to see where they are set to in low light!
The guitar came with a gigbag... I am anti-gigbag and I would definitely budget in money for a good hard case if I were you. I bought one within a week, as I could not bear the idea of this incredible purchase taking any unnecessary knocks! Despite the minor points I've raised I have no hesitation in marking this section with a 10 out of 10, as I could not be more pleased with my Freshman! // 10