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Composite Acoustics Performer & Player Series

March 26, 2008
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But my sense of horror was obviously misplaced, as the carbon-fiber acoustics manufactured by the Lafayette, Louisiana, company are made to shake off such torment like a bunny punch from a cotton-candy fist. Carbon fiber is a manmade composite that allows structural designs to be simultaneously strong and light, and the material can be molded to almost any shape. All Composite Acoustics models are born from a combo of CAD design, CNC machining, and hand crafting, and the entire guitar—body and neck—are molded in one piece.

How We Freaked Out Matt Blackett…

It all started when Bass Player Editor in Chief Bill Leigh picked up the Player GX and asked, “Are these supposed to be indestructible or something?” I was standing with a bunch of GP editors, and I said, “Let’s see.” Associate Editor Matt Blackett blanched, and said, “Noooo!” It was too late. I had already released the GX from my grasp, and it landed face down on our cheap-office-carpet-over-concrete floor with a resounding bang. Then, Senior Editor Art Thompson dropped the GX on its butt—twice. The guitar was horribly out of tune, but no damage occurred. When Art held up the guitar with its headstock pointed down, Matt left the room. But when Art kerranged the GX on its noggin, it just bounced once, tumbled over, and remained unruffled. The neck didn’t crack, the frets didn’t pop out, and the headstock stayed put. Matt shouldn’t have worried—these acoustics are Rambo-hardened, Terminator-tough mofos. (To watch us treat these guitars like paddles in a Whack-a-Mole game, click to guitarplayertv.com.) In yet another bizarre example of CA fortitude, all four guitars reached our Northern California offices from Louisiana almost perfectly in tune.

Performer Bluegrass 8lb-E

I don’t know if the Bluegrass dreadnought is too high tech to entrance Doc Watson (although Tim Stafford, of the bluegrass supergroup Blue Highway, does tour with a CA), but if he ever wanted to fingerpick “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” in a typhoon, this guitar would be a good choice. But, in addition to the guitar’s toughness, it’s also a lively player that easily spins sparkling tones when played acoustically. Dynamics are excellent. Lightly caressed strings speak softly, and plucked or picked strings ring out nicely. The Bluegrass doesn’t compress when you bash on the strings like a tormented troubadour, and it settles into a balanced and jangle-licious tonal spectrum when you back off on the strumming. The flat, wide neck is a joy to play, whether you’re fingerpicking, forming complex chords, or running down scales with a pick.

The only bizarre tonal aspect of the Bluegrass—and it’s repeated on all of the Composite models—is that bass frequencies do not project well. Obviously, everything sounds full and thumpy when you hold the Bluegrass against your body, and wood models will deliver the same effect as the guitar body resonates against your own body. But, whereas many wood guitars typically project much of that low end out at least 15 or so feet to a listener (or to a microphone), the Composites do not. A GP editor seated less than five feet in front of me acknowledged the “lite” low end.

The lack of boom is not necessarily a bad thing—it’s just an attribute. The Bluegrass’ acoustic demeanor is taut and articulate—which makes it perfect for spewing fast runs that can cut through a mix of other guitars, banjos, and mandolins. It also works great for layering acoustic textures under raging electric guitars. And there is low end in the Bluegrass’ personality—it’s just punchy, rather than warm and blossoming.

Of course, low end isn’t a factor when you plug the Fishman Aura-equipped model into an amp. Not only does your amplifier of choice provide EQ options, the glorious Aura images of acoustic dreadnoughts add delicious thud, boom, and resonance to the Bluegrass’ tonal personality. (For the full details on the Aura system, check out GP’s review in the January 2005 issue.) The Aura system also provides EQ control, feedback elimination, and phase correction, as well as an onboard tuner. This marriage of Composite’s carbon fibers and Fishman’s acoustic imaging is a genius move, and it makes the Bluegrass a fabulous little stage performer.

Performer GX 8M-CE

Because the Bluegrass is a classic dreadnought, it doesn’t benefit from the ergonomic body shaping that carbon fiber allows. The Performer GX isn’t so strictly based on a wooden grand auditorium, so its back and bout are molded for comfort. Whether sitting or standing, the Performer GX conforms to your curves just as you might dream the hottie of your choice would drape themselves across your body. Although it’s not a slim line, you can still wring this puppy around a guitar strap in all sorts of rock-star poses and playing positions without feeling off
balance or uncomfortable. Like the Bluegrass, the GX’s flat, wide neck encourages confident fretting, fingering, and riffing. This is a feel-good guitar.

Acoustically, the Performer GX is loud and bold enough to handle small café gigs and unplugged band rehearsals. It shares the balanced sparkle and diminished low-end of its siblings, as well as the dynamic appeal (soft and loud notes are translated appropriately, and the sound does not compress under aggressive strumming). For electric work, the GX includes the L.R. Baggs I-Mix system, which marries the company’s Element under-saddle pickup with its iBeam under- bridge transducer. While not as stunning as the Aura, this system is still a good match for the Performer GX. You can blend the output of each pickup to craft sharper or rounder tones, and there is no audible “piezo quack” unless you go full Element and get crazy with the treble boost on the onboard preamp. I found the electric tone to be quite natural in solo settings, and organic sounding, yet steely enough to cut through a stage mix during a full-band performance.

Player GX 7M-CE

CA’s affordable Player Series is still going to run you around $1,500, but you get the same rugged shell, ergonomic body, excellent playability, and balanced tones. Acoustically, I couldn’t discern a significant timbral difference from the more expensive Performer GX, but the Performer’s I-Mix system definitely produces a fuller and broader sonic spectrum than the Player’s single Element pickup. The Element is a good under-saddle transducer, but it does produce some piezo quack under heavy picking and strumming.

Player X 7S-CE

The thin-line Player X handles like a solidbody electric—except it’s lighter than most of those planks. It’s kind of spooky that the slimmer body still serves up a balanced jangle that seems just slightly thinner in overall tone than the deeper GX. The X also includes the Element system, so its electric sound is pretty similar to the GX, as well. The choice is whether you want to rock out with a skinny Hollywood starlet, or strum it down with a beefy American Gladiator. It’s all down to your stage moves, because either Player model can shimmer, jangle, sparkle, or slice from a bandstand or solo spotlight.

Carbon Dating

Carbon isn’t wood, but, for me, that’s a big “So what?” If an acoustic guitar sounds good and plays easily, I’m going to dig it. Other players may feel the pull of convention and tradition more acutely, and that’s fine. The jump ball, here, may be whether a player feels a $2,000 carbon guitar is going to hold its value as well as a $2,000 wooden guitar. I guess if you buy guitars as “playable investments” that’s going to be an issue. I view the Composite Acoustics models as fun-to-play guitars that will likely sound the same 20 years from now as they sound today, and I appreciate the promise of tonal consistency. I also believe they’ll never be damaged by a clumsy drummer, a cartage mishap, or even one of those “Hey-did-you-take-my-guitar-off-the-roof-before-you-started-the-car?” brain melts. For most applications, they sound marvelous electrified on stage or recorded acoustically in the studio. I wish the wiring was more elegantly rendered inside the body cavity, but I’m an overzealous neat freak. In all other ways, these modern machines are fine guitars.

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