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This article was originally published in issue #4
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Freshman specialises in offering bang-for-buck acoustic guitars. Unencumbered with ‘big brand’ overheads, the small Scottish guitar company designs its own instruments then uses Asian makers to deliver the finished product. The results have been highly praised by reviewers and players alike. We handed an Apollo series Dreadnought cutaway to Girogio Serci and asked how it performed.
Freshman is a small Scottish company that has done a lot of design work for guitars that they have made in China. They don't just buy guitars from factories and have their name put on them, they actually do the design work themselves.
The dreadnought is a classic acoustic guitar design introduced by C. F. Martin & Co in 1916, taking its name from the legendary warships of the era, on account of their larger size, designed to make a big noise to compete with orchestras and bigger bands. Dreadnoughts are usually thought of strumming guitars - which isn't to say they can't be used for other styles, but they do, typically, give a 'big' sound.
Our Freshman Apollo came in a natural finish, with inlaid logo and dots, a tortoise style pickguard and with abalone purfling and rosette. It had a cutaway for easier access to higher frets and was equipped with a state of the art Fishman Presys duel blend pickup system.
The Apollo features a solid AA grade Sitka spruce top, which is normally the sort of wood you would find used in more expensive guitars. Mahogany has been used for the back, sides, neck and for binding the body, headstock and fingerboard. The binding pattern has been embellished by a thin maple strip, which is a very nice touch and shows nice attention to detail.
Add a rosewood fretboard, bridge and gold Grover (die cast machine heads, which look great, particularly viewed from the back), and you have a really quite handsome guitar.
That impression was borne out when I started to play the Freshman. The action was nice and low, there was no basing noise throughout the fretboard and the cutaway, the C shaped neck profile, as well as the slim heel contribute to what is really excellent playability, making it easy to access all 20 frets.
Being a dreadnought style you can expect a very loud instrument and with a very resonant top made of AA grade Sitka spruce, which is a very light and resonant wood, that is exactly what you get. Sustain is quite good too and the overall tonal palette is wide and well balanced.
For when you need to amplify your guitar, this Freshman comes with a Fishman duel blend pickup system, which is a great preamp offering a three-band equaliser and a built-in tuner, which mutes the guitar when activated. This feature is very useful, particularly on a gig, as the audience won’t have to hear the very popular guitar theme “EEE, AAA, DDD”, etc, being played out of tune on every other song!
The preamp also features a notch filter, which is equally useful, particularly when playing louder gigs, for example with a full band, as it will act as an anti-feedback device. To combat feedback even further, you will even find a phase button included.
Feedback is one of the most problematical issues for the performing guitarist and it is a phenomenon which is more likely when a guitar preamp features a built-in microphone. This however, should not discourage us from having a built-in mic in the guitar! On the contrary, I believe that it is really worth having a one built-in, as only with a mic can you hope to reproduce all those lovely harmonics and that percussiveness, which makes an acoustic guitar so different in timbre from an electric .
The Fishman system used on this guitar is excellent, because it lets you blend the piezo pickup placed under the saddle with the built-in mic, using the mic-blend knob. In effect it lets easily control your amplified guitar sound directly from the preamp, adjusting the quantity of piezo and mic according to the venue, style, general volume of the performance etc. For example, you will be able to have more mic in the blend when doing a quieter acoustic gig or you could set it to 25% mic and 75% piezo when playing with drums, bass etc.
This guitar sits in the low-mid price range and it seems to me to represent excellent value for money, particularly in terms of the quality of the materials used and the excellent pickup. Whether you are a beginner or even if you are a professional guitarist, you should definitely try this Freshman out. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you decided to add one of these to your arsenal. It's really very good value for money.