Fender Palomino Vintage review – a timely reminder of Fender’s acoustic heritage
The Fender Palomino Vintage is the long overdue blast from the past we didn’t know we needed
Guitarist playing the Fender Palomino Vintage (All images: Fender)
Before 1962, Leo Fender’s attention was solely on electric guitars, seeing them as the sole future of six-stringed wonderment. That was until Roger Rossmeisl came along – the German luthier had already revolutionised Rickenbacker and now he was going to help Leo get into the acoustic guitar game, but in the brand’s own unique way.
And so for a moment there, Fender had a brief but under-appreciated era where it made some killer and very different acoustics that paired the vibe of the brand’s colourful space-age electrics with the ‘chuck it in the back of the van and head to the beach’ simplicity of an acoustic. These were ‘fun in the sun’ guitars for sure, but despite the styles having a certain appeal, they never really supplanted classic acoustic design in the way that Fender’s electrics had done to fusty old jazzboxes a decade or so before.
Fast forward to 2023 and almost a full 60 years on and Fender is still trying to reinvent the acoustic guitar. But given the mixed reaction to its recent Highway Series, perhaps the company would be better served spending more time with its history, as the designers of the new California Vintage series clearly have.
Part of Fender’s budget-focused Chinese-made acoustic range, the CV series is inspired by those classic Fender/Rossmeisl designs to offer instruments – just like this Palomino – that bear much of the DNA, including easy-playing necks, fun colours, pearl block inlays and of course, that unmistakable Fender headstock. Along with a solid Sitka spruce top, there’s solid ovangkol back and sides with an okoume neck with smooth satin back finish.
This Palomino’s Sienna Sunburst finish is vibrant and inviting, and the aged white pickguard contrasts beautifully. Even the included black hard-case is hiding a colourful secret, sporting a bright orange velvet finish on the inside. In a world of plain maple-topped guitars, it’s hard not to be charmed by this wonderful throwback to a more experimental time. It just exudes a sense of timeless cool.
Fender promised that the Palomino would have an easy–playing neck, but in the hand it’s something of a revelation in comfort – the modern V-style neck is a dream to play, offering a familiar feel that encourages hours of uninterrupted strumming. The Palomino’s auditorium body shape is like a smaller dreadnought variant and just sits perfectly under the arm. The playability is top-notch right out of the box, and allows for smooth transitions across the fretboard whether you’re sliding up to hit those high notes or crafting intricate fingerstyle patterns.
But how does it sound? Well given that they’ve gone to the trouble of including a Fishman Presys VT Plus pickup system I’ll plug it in first, and through an amp or speakers it turns out to be an absolute powerhouse. This notable upgrade to the ubiquitous Fishman Sonitone piezo seen on many sub-$1,000 guitars systems elsewhere has been voiced specifically for Fender and also features an internal body transducer as a secondary pickup source to capture more of the guitar wood’s vibrations. A blend control (found just inside the soundhole along with a volume control) can then emphasise or balance between the two pickups. The result can capture more of the nuances you want to come through in your playing, whether you’re strumming chords with gusto or fingerpicking delicate arpeggios. It’s an electrifying electrified experience.
I used the guitar in a 200-cap venue, and it sounded like a jet engine at times, with all the low end in the world, thanks to the body transducer, without a hint of losing its sparkle.
What’s surprising is when you compare the plugged-in sound to the unplugged one, the Palomino almost sounds like a completely different guitar. Its natural sound, while shimmering and pleasant, leans towards the thinner side of the tonal spectrum at times, with none of the low-end thump we got plugged in. It’s like the guitar is whispering sweet nothings rather than bellowing proclamations of love – a guitar that responds well to a delicate touch rather than a sledgehammer right hand.
It’s an odd experience, because generally you want an acoustic pickup system to accurately reflect the character of the guitar itself, and in truth it’s hard to imagine that someone would want a big booming plugged-in tone and not also want that reflected in the unplugged character.
Regardless, it’s still a fine, if slightly muddled instrument – a well-built modern mid-price acoustic that offers you plenty of uniquely Fender vintage vibes in a mid-price market that often leans towards the generic.