Paramount – it’s a wonderfully proud-sounding name, and one that was used half a century ago by various manufacturers, including Harmony, Kay and Oscar Schmidt. Now Fender has resurrected it for its new, six-strong line-up of electro-acoustics. The Paramount series is refreshingly simple: it’s essentially three models – the PM-1 dreadnought, the PM-2 parlour and the PM-3 000 – in Standard and Deluxe forms. Each comes with the same unique Fender/Fishman preamp.
These new guitars were designed in the USA, but are made in China, and the company has added a number of touches that hark back to assorted Fender guitars of the past: a stylised old-school headstock logo, pickguards that echo those of Fender flattops from the 60s and checkerboard binding of the kind you’d find on a Rossmeisl-designed Coronado semi-acoustic.
The Standard models have a natural-finish solid spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides and a rosewood fingerboard; the Deluxe models offer a choice of natural or sunburst tops, again with solid spruce, but solid East Indian rosewood back and sides, an ebony board and `Concert Tone’ abalone and MOP fingerboard inlays.
Our PM-2 is the Deluxe version, and we like the parlour body shape – it seems as though Fender has taken a careful look at guitars of the 1930s, such as Slingerlands and Regals. It’s a 12-fret model with a medium 24.75-inch scale and a wide 45mm/1.75-inch nut, and the neck is slightly chunky and deepens noticeably once you get past the eighth fret.
Our example is well set up to a medium-low action, with narrow vintage frets and lots of space at the bridge for fingerpicking. It’s got just the right amount of neck relief and, it’s worth mentioning, a healthy neck-set giving about 4mm height at the saddle. Overall, it’s a decent player.
It looks fine, too. The 14-inch-wide body is gloss all over with a subtle and well-judged sunburst in a figure-eight pattern. As well as the checkerboard binding and soundhole rosette and the double-checkerboard back strip, we’ve got a traditional ebony belly-down bridge with a drop-in bone saddle, a single-ply tortie guard, a fully bound and purfled ebony fingerboard, a black-faced headstock and a set of smooth open-backed tuners with black plastic Waverly-shaped buttons: a cool touch.
The gloss-finished neck is one piece of mahogany with a stacked heel, and it’s got some unusual wide, shallow figuring – not the super-straight grain some might like to see, perhaps, but it is still pretty.
There are two strap buttons – the one on the upper shoulder may seem alarmingly placed, but Fender has made sure it has a reinforcing block behind it. The preamp is unobtrusive, with three finger-wheels – bass and treble, with volume in the middle – protruding through the side, and an oval tuner window; you press one side to switch it on or off and the other side to engage phase reverse.
The electro sound is as we’ve come to expect from Fishman’s undersaddle systems, and it has adaptable frequency bands that come into play when fine-tuning the bass or easing off a little on the treble. The tuner is adequate rather than impressive: if you want pin-point accuracy, you might be better off with a clip-on unit with a strobe function, but we like the way the whole window changes colour from blue to green when the needle hits the spot.
Acoustically, the PM-2 is quite loud – a degree louder than most of the L-00/parlour-type imports we’ve tried of late. The quartersawn scalloped X bracing must be doing its job, and the top seems fairly thin. The bottom E is tonally a little shallow, but there’s an agreeably quick response from the midrange.
Snappy and bright, with a dollop of pre-war budget-guitar honkness, it’s very much a blues picker’s guitar, with a boxy honk and an almost resonator-like nasality that’ll reward a heavy thumb-picked alternating bass rather than strummed song accompaniment – but it’ll cope with that, at a pinch.
The PM-3 is the 000 in the Paramount series, and the only model with a cutaway. This one is a Standard model, which means back and sides of nice-quality solid mahogany. The finish is a quality gloss, but the natural livery gives us a better chance to check out the quality of the solid spruce top, and it’s good – fairly straight with a consistent medium grain.
It’s backed by the same scalloped X bracing as the PM-3 and the inside is super-tidy, with mahogany strips reinforcing the sides. The Standard models keep all the Deluxe body, neck and fingerboard binding and the checkerboard purfling, plus the pearl Fender logo and the ornate headstock inlay; but the lavish fingerboard markers are replaced by simple small pearl dots.
At less than 4lbs, it weighs even less than the smaller parlour, which is a very promising sign, and although it’s a standard 15 inches wide at the lower bout it’s a quarter of an inch slimmer than a Martin 000 at the tailblock. The C-shaped neck is supposed to have the same 44.5mm nut as the PM-2, but it measures a touch less.
It’s slightly shallower, too, making for an easier grip, and it shares its long 643mm scale length with the PM-1 dreadnought and its 15-inch fingerboard radius with the whole of the series. Though the action at the nut could come down a shade, it plays well all over the neck with no buzzes.
The Fender/Fishman preamp is the same as before, as is the side-mounted output jack/battery drawer unit, which leaves the strap button free to perform dangle duties; but in terms of acoustic tone, the PM-3 has larger dimensions on its side.
Although there’s still a fresh-out-of-the-box edge to the sound, the PM-3 has good depth, width and oomph. It’s a likeable sound that will cope with almost any playing style. It’s clear and open with a firm, well-balanced bass, good volume, projection and sustain, and a rounded thump to the midrange in the lower positions that rewards single-note plectrum lines as well as gentle fingerpicking. The sound reflects the price, and the use of all-solid woods means it’ll get better as time passes.
Fender has thrown a lot of thought into the Paramount series, and it shows. These guitars are lightweight, and built and finished nicely, with details that are attractive and distinctive; the pickup might not offer anything groundbreaking, but the preamp’s ergonomics are excellent. The PM-2 is a fine-looking specimen, but the bigger-sounding PM-3 is the one we’d choose to take home.
Paramount PM-2 Deluxe
• Price £629
• Description 12-fret parlour-size electro-acoustic, made in China
• Build Solid sitka spruce top with solid East Indian rosewood back and sides, cream binding with checkerboard inlay, mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard, open tuners, ornate MOP fingerboard inlays, bone nut and saddle, Fender/Fishman PM pickup system, twin strap buttons
• Left-handers No
• Finish Sunburst top, gloss all over
• Options Standard model: natural finish, solid mahogany back and sides, £519
• Scale length 628mm/24.75”
• Neck width 45mm at nut, 55mm at 12th fret
• Neck Depth 22mm at first fret, 25mm at ninth fret
• String spacing 38mm at nut, 54.5mm at bridge
• Weight 1.9kg/4.18lbs
• Contact Fender UK & ROI
Paramount PM-3 Standard
• Price £519
• Description 000-sized cutaway electro-acoustic, made in China
• Build Solid sitka spruce top with solid mahogany back and sides, cream binding with checkerboard inlay, mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard, open tuners, bone nut and saddle, Fender/Fishman PM pickup system, twin strap buttons
• Left-handers No
• Finish Gloss all over
• Options Deluxe model: sunburst finish, solid rosewood back and sides, £629
• Scale length 628mm/24.75”
• Neck width 44mm at nut, 54.5mm at 12th fret
• neck Depth 21mm at first fret, 24mm at seventh fret
• String spacing 37.5mm at nut, 54mm at bridge
• Weight 1.77kg/3.9lbs