FA350DCE review by Freshman

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  • Features: 10
  • Sound: 9
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 10
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.5 (2 votes)
Freshman: FA350DCE

Price paid: € 400

Purchased from: The Guitar Store (McCurtain Street, Cork).

Features — 10
I have no idea what year it was made, though as I bought it new in November, I doubt it's more than a year or two old. 21 frets, Grover tuners (which have had black heads on them, which is a lovely touch against the chrome). Mine has a Fishman Aero Blend system, but I've seen these with Presys 301 systems, I'm a very big fan of the Aero Blend. The top is solid AA grade Canadian Sitka Spruce, the back is solid mahogany, as are the sides and neck. The mahogany theme goes even as far as a very nice binding on the body. The fretboard is rosewood, but you can tell by the attractive grain that this isn't an average piece of run of the mill cheapo rosewood. In a world of HPL and laminates, this guitar really stands out for quality. The finish is satin, so it will wear nicely over time. Personally I have never liked gloss finish acoustics, as they tend to have less life in their sound (at least to my ears).

Overall, this guitar has great features, even if I was to pay the full price (which is circa €1000 euro). I got mine in a clearance sale. My only gripe is the plastic binding, which will crack if I ever re-fret. I like this instrument a whole lot, so I plan on keeping this for a while. The thin neck might not be to everybody's tastes, but for somebody like me with small hands, its a godsend. I hate extremely thin necks like what you might find on Ibanez electric guitars for example, but this one is divine. It reminds me of something like a '60s profile Gibson electric guitar neck.

Sound — 9
This guitar is used by me for a wide variety of styles; blues, slide, reggae, pop, acoustic rock, and folk. This is my main guitar now for a reason; it just sounds great. When buying this guitar I played anything under a budget of €2,000. This involved playing a lot of Guild, Martin and Taylor guitars in particular. The Taylors lacked warmth in the low end, but the Martins sounded dull in comparison, there was a lack of brightness that I wanted. This is very much an individual thing, but I thought that this Freshman struck a great balance between the two, while still very much having its own identity.

I tend to run this via a DI box to a Dynachord Powermate 600, through to EV SX300 tops and EV eliminators have been used too, though I have used it through various rigs (even through my Blackstar Stage HT60 when I was feeling experimental). The common thread? It ALWAYS sounded great. The Aero Blend system will take some tinkering to get used to, but it gives you a great amount of control. This is the best live sound I've ever had out of a guitar. I used to play Takamine guitars for years, as they were known for the quality of the amplified sound. This Freshman makes my old Takamines sound like toys.

I always have a second pair of ears with me when I'm testing out stuff to buy, just to make sure I don't get over-hyped. I must have played over 70/80 guitars in the space of two months when I played this for the first time. It was going to be the last guitar of the day that I played. It took just one chord for me to know that this was what I was looking for. My best friend who was with me has already offered to buy it if I ever sell it. Keep in mind, we both service guitars.

Action, Fit & Finish — 10
The action, fit and finish was superb, though I think that that is mostly down to the person I bought it off of, whom is a fellow luthier, who has a great attention to detail. Generally, everything in terms of the woodworking on freshman's side of things, has been perfect. Very tidy work, better than some of the Marin guitars in particular that I picked up, which was disappointing for a brand I've held in such great regard (though above €1,500, their guitars are still invariably brilliant in their own way). Everything was tidy and perfect, the bone saddle and nut are certainly two pluses, along with the very low action that I got.

Reliability & Durability — 10
This is a very reliable guitar, full stop. You can tell that this was meant to be a workhorse, because be it live or in the studio, this thing never feels out of place. The strap buttons are unusually large, to the point at which I haven't thought of getting strap locks, and probably won't either. The Fishman pre-amp is quite efficient on battery, which is surprising giving the brightness of the LED system for tuning. Generally, this thing is as near to perfect as I could ask for, which is surprising for me, as I am one of those people who buys something new in his rig almost every two weeks.

Overall Impression — 10
Just to clarify for people who are going to argue that "no guitars deserve all 9's and 10's," I'm reviewing this by offsetting it against the price I have payed, and the experience of playing it for the last 7 months in various situations (I didn't review this for so long on purpose). I'm planning on custom making myself a guitar over the next while in my free time (I usually just make them for others), but this guitar was supposed to be a workhorse, that takes the beatings that I wouldn't subject a custom instrument to. If I'm honest, I'm just going to be making what amounts to a clone of this guitar for myself, which is probably the highest praise I could give this instrument.

I've been playing almost 7 years now, but I've been involved in music for 17 years. I've seen and heard a lot of great equipment in my time and this guitar is up there with the best I have heard. If it was stolen, I would only play this exact model until I found the one that spoke to me, because it is just too well suited to me. The sound projection is warm, but snappy. The note separation is very impressive, especially for a dreadnought. It stays in tune remarkably well.

When I went out to buy this, money was largely not an object. I wanted to buy a guitar that I could record an album with, and still love the sound 10 years down the road. I've succeeded. If I ever buy another acoustic guitar, it will be very different from this one, because this guitar suits my playing so well, that I don't need something to occupy the same sonic space. I heavily recommend people to try out Freshman guitars, they have their very own unique place in the acoustic guitar world. Guitar playing is so dependent on the individual, but I know I have found a real keeper here.

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