It’s a legal requirement that you begin any review of a Fender acoustic guitar by talking about the fact that Fender is not traditionally known for its acoustic guitars, but the truth is that affordable acoustics have been part of the stable fairly consistently since the early 60s. And while they might not have earned the iconic place in pop culture that their electric siblings enjoy, an artist roster that includes Elvis, Johnny Cash and Ray Davies is nothing to be sniffed at.
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Fender, then, is most certainly an acoustic guitar company – and while it may have earned more headlines for the boundary-pushing Acoustasonic series of late, there’s little doubt that its more traditional strummers have now begun to punch more commensurately with the famous name on the headstock.
As the top end of Fender’s conventional acoustic range, the Paramount series has won many friends since it was launched back in 2016. With all-solid woods, Fishman electrics and more conventional looks than the quirky California series, they’ve always felt like serious instruments for the mid-price market; and with 2022 giving the whole range a refresh, that’s never been more true.
The PO-220E is the only completely new instrument in the range, joining the dreadnought, parlour and 000 body shapes as the first Orchestra-sized Paramount. Like the rest of the range, it sports updated aesthetics, courtesy of a very handsome caramel-tinged natural finish, tiger-stripe pickguard, new ‘feathered’ purfling and soundhole rosette ornamentation, and snowflake pearloid inlays running up to a pearly headstock inlay. Under the hood there’s also a brand new X-bracing pattern, while all the woods are solid: spruce for the top, mahogany for the back and sides, and ovangkol for the bridge and fingerboard.
Before we dive into the important stuff, let’s take a moment to appreciate the actual important stuff – this is a remarkably pretty acoustic guitar for 650 quid. Time was you’d have to accept certain aesthetic compromises to get a decent instrument at this price point, but upon opening the supplied hard case, the PO-220E’s lovely vintage-hued finish earns appreciative oohs and ahhs to an awkwardly empty room.
It’s the little touches, as they say, and picking the guitar up instantly builds on that good first impression. The matt-finished neck is a relatively slim C that will be comfortable for strummers, pickers and especially those transitioning over from electric – the lack of gloss lends it a played-in feel that suits the overall vintage vibe.
We start by strumming a few cowboy chords and, as you’d expect with a good OM, it has a rich, balanced tonality, and that balance makes this a real fingerpicker’s guitar, though the string spacing is a little on the narrow side.
Of course, it doesn’t have the booming projection or robust bottom end of a dread, but there’s more than enough volume here to make it a viable gigging and busking instrument, and we noticed an audible improvement in the bass tonality over the few weeks we had this guitar on test – something that bodes well for the future as the tonewoods age. Open tunings are handled comfortably by the unbranded open-gear tuners, and a workout in DADGAD passes by without any tuning hitches.
All of the Paramount guitars come supplied with a Fender/Fishman Sonitone Plus pickup system, and it does its best to stay out of the way with soundhole-mounted controls for volume and blend, a strap button jack and a battery pack hidden underneath the neck joint. In use, it’s the definition of ‘fine’: not too quacky even with the blend control on full piezo, and giving a pleasant if unremarkable tone. It’ll do the job for quick recording and playing live, and at this point that’s all we really need.
The temptation is to look at the Paramount range as something of a box-ticking exercise in Fender’s quest to dominate every possible sector of guitar retail, but that does this instrument a disservice. The £500-700 market is a cage-fight and it takes a lot to stand out in such a crowded room, but with its handsome retro looks and thoroughly enjoyable playing experience, the PO-220E is a worthy contender.
- PRICE: £649 (inc hard case)
- DESCRIPTION Six-string acoustic guitar, made in China
- BUILD All-solid mahogany back sides with solid Sitka spruce top, mahogany neck, ovangkol fretboard and bridge, bone nut, 20 frets
- HARDWARE Nickel open-back tuners, compensated bone saddle, ebony bridge pins with MoP dots
- ELECTRICS Fender/Fishman Sonitone Plus soundhole pickup system
- SCALE LENGTH 25.3″/643 mm
- NECK WIDTH 42mm at nut, 57mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 19mm at first fret, 23mm at 9th fret
- STRING SPACING 34mm at nut, 54mm at bridge
- FINISH OPTIONS Natural gloss polyester (as reviewed), 3-Colour Vintage Sunburst, Aged Cognac Burst
- LEFT-HANDERS No
- CONTACT fender.com