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This article was originally published in issue #29
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Part of Freshman's Maple Ridge collection, these guitars are designed to accommodate a smaller budget without sacrificing quality. The FA1DNS is a Dreadnought sized acoustic. It's a great looking instrument with flawless finish throughout. At this price range you might expect to find the odd sharp fret edge, or bit of seeping glue here and there, but there were no such issues on our sample. The natural satin finish is classy and understated, with the scratchplate included separately should you wish to add it, depending on your preference. The combination of a solid A grade Canadian Sitka spruce top, mahogany back and sides, with a rosewood fingerboard does a great job of tone matching overall, with the mahogany giving depth/warmth and the spruce top adding some mids and bright top end. Impressively, despite the low price, this Freshman even includes quarter sawn, scalloped X-bracing inside - and that's something else you don't expect to see in this price range.
The playability on our sample was spot on, as was the intonation and dynamic continuity. If you are used to low action and thin electric necks, then this set-up may take some adjustment, as the action was a little on the high side, but that's not necessarily a bad thing: a slightly higher action tends to yield better tone and reduces the problems of fret buzz. Being a Dreadnought size there was plenty of volume achievable, good resonance throughout and an array of tones available depending on where and how you played it. Tuning stability was great and that has a lot to do with the gold machine heads that look and feel like they belong on a far more expensive guitar.
Dreadnoughts are probably the most basic of acoustic guitars but there is still plenty of room for failure with poor construction, choice of woods and attention to detail. I am happy to report that no such problems exist with this one from Freshman, this is a fantastic pull out and play guitar, with a head-scratchingly low asking price!
Freshman Renegade RENOCSB electro-acoustic
Freshman's RENOCSB is the same price as the FA1DNS but comes as an electro acoustic. This is made possible I should think, due to this model being a Folk size rather than Dreadnought, and also because the top, although still Sitka spruce, is not solid. Also in common with its sibling, this one has a mahogany back, sides and neck with a rosewood fingerboard. Acoustically, compared to the FA1DS, it has to be said there is not as much volume or depth to the tone, although the sound is still very pleasing, with nice warm mids courtesy of the mahogany. The finish was immaculate, and the playability spot on. Both guitars were set up in a similar way, so once again may take a little getting used to if you're used to a lower action.
The cutaway on this model made the dusty end of the fretboard far more accessible, although that has to be weighed against having taken some wood away from the instrument, and therefore losing some of the natural resonance.
The important test with this model, though, was how it sounded plugged in. The electronics are Freshman's own EQ System and META 20GT pickup, which has a built-in tuner. The addition of a tuner at this price range is very pleasing, especially as this may be bought for the beginner guitarist. The EQ system was self explanatory and easy to use, as was the tuner. Plugged straight into the studio PA system the pickup worked well, offering warm tones and bright tops without losing much of the natural acoustic tonal qualities, there were also no issues with feedback, despite being very close to the fold-backs.
As with the FA1DNS, the RENOCSB is equipped and finished to a much higher spec then you would expect in this price range. No corners have been cut, just good honest workmanship and attention to detail making this a serious contender for those looking for their first, or another electro-acoustic.
This was my first experience of Freshman guitars and I have been hugely impressed by the high quality throughout, great playability and fantastic tones for this sort of price. Competition is fierce out there at the moment for lower priced acoustics, but these two should be placed right at the forefront. Don't be taken in by the 'if it's made by Brand X it must be better' sales pitch. If you judge these two guitars on their merits, they are both excellent. If you are looking for a top quality, great sounding acoustic or electro acoustic then I highly recommend that you go check these out.