Price paid: £ 250
Features: The Freshman FA1-CEM is a western style cutaway dreadnought electro-acoustic guitar. It features a solid sitka spruce top combined with a maple back and sides. The guitar houses a built-in preamp and electronics system which can be adjusted by use of the simple EQ and presence controls mounted at the side. My particular model was made in 2008 and sports a natural satin finish.
Interestingly, all Freshman guitars are designed and built in the UK where they are becoming increasingly popular. Whilst they are by no means a household name, the build quality of these guitars as well as the value for money that they represent has given them an excellent reputation on this side of the Atlantic. This was one of the reasons why I settled upon this guitar to be my first Acoustic.
I was slightly disappointed by the lack of any sort of case and/or case candy but at this competitive price point I suppose this is to be expected.
All in all however, I was very happy with the quantity and quality of the features for such a conservative outlay. It was the only Acoustic in the shop at the 250 mark to feature solid wood construction as well as an electronics system which was something I was not expecting prior to walking into the guitar store. // 9
Sound: My main use of this Acoustic so far has been for Western Acoustic guitar instrumentals a la John Butler, Andy Mckee, Tommy Emmanuel etc... and it seems to be an excellent guitar for this purpose. The use of maple for the back and sides combined with a Canadian Sitka spruce top allows for a tonal clarity at the top end which is ideal for fast flurries of finger-picked notes ( Think "Ocean" by Butler) and it has a resonance to it which allows tapped notes to really come through, especially when plugged in. I would describe the sound overall to be a very bright one compared to my friends Yamaha.
One side-effect of this unusual combination of tonewoods however is a slight lacking at the bass end of the spectrum. This is noticeable particularly when strumming simple open chords. The good news is that this can be rectified by plugging the guitar in and adjusting the EQ to compensate for this- and I was rewarded after plugging this in to a Fender Acoustic amp with a satisfyingly "boomy" bass that is often synonymous with dreadnought guitars.
I have not experienced a massive amount of unwanted feedback from this guitar except when I plugged it in to my electric guitar amp (a Fender Vibro Champ) and experienced an irritating humming noise every time I stopped playing. Therefore I would recommend that you plug it in to a dedicated Acoustic amp or at least a Roland Cube or something if you have any desire to play it live. // 8
Action, Fit & Finish: The guitar shop set it up for me when I got it and so there were no real problems there. All the hardware seemed to be in order and there were no flaws that I could discern. All the wood seemed fine and well bookmatched. Later, after I had played it for a while, I decided to lower the action a little more for better playability but this was more down to personal preference than anything else. // 10
Reliability & Durability: A year on however, a few problems have emerged. Firstly the internally mounted battery housing fell off along with the 9v battery and proceeded to roll around the inside of the guitar until I managed to figure out what was wrong. At first I just assumed it was a really large guitar pick which had been dropped down there and therefore I was very annoyed when I had to take some of the stings off and re-attach it myself.
Secondly was the demise of one of the bridge pins which snapped in half. I am still unsure of whether this was a consequence of shoddy workmanship or just my own inherent clumsiness when it comes to changing strings.
Finally, the guitar managed to develop a dead fret at the 14th fret on the e-string. I found this quite annoying whenever I found myself at that end of the fretboard but this was easily solved by raising the action slightly.
On the whole however, the guitar has held up fairly well despite being treated pretty badly (by me mostly) and I am confident that it will stand the test of time. I have used it live on a number of occasions and it has been fine. Annoyingly this guitar does not come with any strap buttons and so consequently playing whilst standing up is out the question. // 7
Overall Impression: As stated I mostly use this guitar for finger-picking and it suits my needs well. I have been playing electric for about 5 years now and played my friends entry-level Yamaha Acoustic for about a year prior to buying my own and this was definitely a step up. However, I would not recommend this guitar for electric players who want an easy transition into playing the Acoustic as the large body and chunky neck can take a while to get used to. I would also say that it is probably not the best guitar for those who simply want to have a good time strumming a few chords.
That being said, if you are a somewhat experienced Acoustic player looking for a great, giggable electro-acoustic that is good for finger-picking then this is your guitar! // 8