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This article was originally published in issue #41
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Cole Clark has been producing guitars since 2001, the company set up with the aim of using classical style through-neck construction for their acoustic guitars. Combined with what they believe to be the world’s best pickup system for the most natural amplified acoustic tone possible. Since it began, Cole Clark has gone though some changes but in essence still produces very high quality acoustic guitars in Melbourne, Australia with an environmental emphasis on using sustainable Australian woods wherever possible. This leads to some unusual timber choices that have very interesting tonal consequences when matched with the proprietary pickup system that the company has developed over the years.
As many of the tone woods used in traditional guitar manufacturing become more and more endangered from over use and deforestation, Cole Clark has responded with its ‘Australian Eco’ models that utilise 100 per cent sustainable wood species grown in Australia. To aid buyers in understanding these lesser known timbers, the company has a superb section on its website that lists all of the tonal details provided by each wood with an extraordinary amount of detail and technical information. This is a great touch and should remove any worries that traditionalists might have, guitarists being notoriously troublesome at adapting to change. In fact even if a Cole Clark is out of your price range, if you are at all interested in tonewoods, this is definitely worth reading.
Cole Clark sent us an AN2EC-RDBL-AE model from the Angel range. The Angel guitars are the company’s Grand Auditorium designs, in this case from the mid-level Angel 2 part of the range, (there are Angel 1 and 3 options too) with the AE suffix referring to ‘Australian Eco’ and the RDBL giving clues as to the Australian grown, solid redwood top and blackwood back and sides. Even the neck is constructed using Australian grown sustainable Queensland maple with a black bean fretboard and a blackwood bridge. The combination of timbers here is truly stunning with incredible grain running through the back and sides and gorgeous colouration on the redwood top. The combination gives this guitar a unique and attractive look without the gaudy touches and over top finishing that you sometimes see. Furthering the individuality of these guitars, Cole Clark uses a Spanish heel, or integral neck construction where the neck is glued to the face of the guitar as well as the back and sides so that the neck exists as one piece all the way to sound hole. These are the only mainstream guitars to use this construction method, giving the guitars a unique sound and a stronger build quality. The guitar is finished in natural satin nitrocellulose for a smooth feel that nicely accentuates the qualities of the wood grain.
The AN2EC-RDBL-AE utilises high quality Grover tuners and a Graph Tech Tusq bridge for modern tuning stability and all of the guitars are run through a ‘Plek’ machine for the ultimate in computerised fret levelling, resulting in superb set-up straight out of the case. Our review model played beautifully, with a lovely low and level action across the range and a body/neck size and shape that are very comfortable for even smaller players. Construction is as good as it gets, the guitar being flawless both externally and internally with lovely detailing such as the subtle binding, purfling and rosette and the snowflake shaped neck inlays.
Cole Clark describes the redwood top, an Australian grown variant of Californian redwood sequoia, as slightly stiffer than western red cedar and aimed at soft to medium attack players or finger pickers. The blackwood is described as having a very similar acoustic characteristic to koa and these descriptions match very well with the tone and feel that the AN2EC-RDBL-AE produces. The guitar is beautifully resonant with a lovely sustain and rich bottom end, punchy mids and detailed high end.
Acoustically, the guitar is very even across its range and produces a decent volume level that responds extremely well to both light picking to heavy strumming work, though it isn't suitable for percussive playing.
The three-way pickup system is fantastic, combining six piezos under the saddle for low end response, a face sensor that can be blended in using the on board controls for mids and high end and a condenser mic to pick up the upper highs. Each of these elements can be adjusted to produce the perfect balance of frequencies for each venue or in the studio and are combined with a three band EQ for further tone shaping. In practice this system gives an amazingly realistic amplified tone that makes the Angel 2 guitar an absolute delight to play with superb dynamic response and a very accurate reproduction of the acoustic sound.
The AN2EC-RDBL-AE sits at a very similar price point to other high end acoustic guitars on the market but the use of 100% sustainable woods, unique construction methods and visual touches plus that excellent three-way pickup system make the Cole Clark guitar sit somewhat in its own bracket compared to the other manufacturers offerings. Environmental considerations are becoming more and more relevant we are told and Cole Clark are at the forefront of producing guitars with environmentally friendly timbers and techniques that can truly rival and perhaps surpass guitars produced from traditional woods. If you are looking for a high end acoustic, then you should definitely check these fantastic guitars out.