Review: Fender Acoustasonic Pro
Part 1: The Serious Guitarist's Acoustic Amp
Fender currently has a whole line of acoustic amps on the market and most recently they've brought out their big boy: the Acoustasonic Pro, an amp made for professionals and other serious guitarists. What makes this amp "Pro?" In a word, lots. Aside from its cool Fender "tweed" looks, this acoustic amplifier has among its many attributes built-in stereo digital-effects processors, an XLR Out jack for sending a signal to a PA mixer or recording console, and - my favorite feature - a full 80 watts per channel, so you can really crank the bejeezus out of your acoustic. You want to compete with an electric-guitar player onstage? This amp has enough wattage to vaporize that turkey. Now, on to the features of this multi-faceted amplifier.
The Acoustasonic Pro is a two-channel amp that's set up to have one channel dedicated to your instrument (guitar or other stringed instrument, like mandolin, banjo, or violin) and the other either as a vocal channel (it has an XLR In jack) or a second channel for your stereo guitar. Channel 1 features a Gain (volume) knob, along with a 3-band EQ, Channel Send/Return knobs for dialing in just the right amount of effects, Fender's String Dynamics control (more on that later), and a pair of Feedback Notch controls to zap feedback frequencies between 63Hz and 825Hz right off the planet. Channel 2 has all the same controls, minus the String Dynamics and Feedback Notch.
The String Dynamics control is a groovy little circuit that really helps alleviate the nasty tones generated by popular piezo-acoustic pickups. When you adjust the Attack and String Dynamics knobs in tandem, you can rein in a lot of the harsh, trebly tones of piezos. I have a solidbody acoustic-electric that's highly prone to annoying tones, but this system really warmed it up, taking off the trebly high-end and giving the guitar's tone more warmth and body than ever. Leave it to Fender to not only join the acoustic-amp fray but come up with a feature that dynamically improves the sound of their amps. Now, everybody else in the market has to play catch-up to this highly useful feature.
Other front-panel features on the amp include a Master volume and a Phase button to reverse the phase of the amp by 180º, thereby elimating certain feedback frequencies. But wait-there's more! You also get an Aux Level knob and a pair of phono jacks (stereo), so you can plug in an external device like a cassette, CD, or DAT player to accompany your live music. This is great if you do solo gigs and want to make your own backing tracks. On the back panel, there's also that XLR Out and two effects loops: one just for Channel 1 (instrument) and another universal loop that affects both channels.
That's certainly a lot of features, but that ain't all. The Acoustasonic's effects processor is a fairly powerful processor containing 99 presets, including a bevy of reverbs, echoes, choruses, flanges, tremoloes, and more. They're good quality, too, especially the reverbs, which are good for coffeehouse work. Another cool aspect of this processor is a set of programmable pushbuttons on the front panel to bring up four presets at the touch of a finger. Better yet, these four presets can be activated by the accompanying footswitch as well. Great idea.
You should, however, be aware that the presets are non-editable. Some may see this as a negative, but I take the reverse position. By and large, guitarists don't edit effects as much as keyboardists do, hence the simplicity of this approach. If that bothers you or you have a very discerning ear, by all means, plug your favorite processor into one of the effects loops. But my guess is that most performing acoustic guitarists will be more than happy with the internal presets and their straightforward operation. And here's the topper: You can have one effect on your guitar channel and another on your vocal channel. The Acoustasonic Pro's processor has 20 presets to broaden your options for either output. Presets 79-81 give you Small Room reverbs on the guitar and Vocal Reverbs on the mic. Clever stuff.
So how does it all sound? Incredible. These powerful tone-shaping controls, in combination with the 80-watt-per side power amp (160 watts stereo) and pair of 8-inch speakers (with a single piezo horn), make for an almost religious experience. Acoustic players who have long been shackled to mics on stands or crappy internal pickup systems will find playing through this amp a liberating experience, especially when combined with a modern acoustic-electric guitar. I tested it with a Godin Duet nylon-string and a Carvin steel-string, and was humbled by the tones I heard. No, I won't compare it to the tone created by a great solid-top acoustic and an expensive condenser mic. Still, for live work, I can't think of a better system that not only increases an acoustic's volume but gives the guitarist a tremendous range of control of over tone, feedback, and digital effects. And it's all in one box. Just plug your guitar in and you're ready to gig just about anywhere, be it a club or your living room. No question, this Acoustasonic earns it's "Pro" moniker everytime you plug in.