Fender introduced its California Series acoustics and California Coast Series ukuleles at the outset of the year (see the April 2018 issue for our Montecito ukulele review), and then expanded the line over the summer. Cali acoustics come in three original Fender body shapes, with the midsized Newporter situated between the smaller Malibu and larger Redondo. There are also three price points, and the California Classic model, reviewed here, represents the top of the line.
The Newporter California Classic sports several quality components and accessories uncommon on such an affordable guitar. They include a solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, koa rosette and binding, bone nut and saddle, custom-voiced Fishman electronics and a deluxe gig bag. What’s more, these acoustics come in a bevy of vibrant colors that are normally reserved for electric guitars, including Candy Apple Red and Aqua Splash. I spent an inordinate amount of time staring at my computer screen and drooling over the options, before finally requesting a Newporter Classic finished in Cosmic Turquoise.
I was curious to see if the guitar would look as cool as the photos, and it did. I confess to being turned on by an acoustic that looks as sexy as a Stratocaster, and the Newporter Classic indeed appears like an acoustic Strat. I also happen to live in California, near the coast, and seeing that sparkling Cosmic Turquoise top, with its matching six-in-line headstock, glistening in Golden State sunshine is a slice of Fender guitar heaven. The flowing grains and rich caramel and amber hues of its gorgeous mahogany back and sides provides a striking contrast to the groovy turquoise top, which, by the way, also looks stellar onstage.
The Newporter Classic’s hot-rod looks are a tip-off to its sound. It’s not exactly a traditional model, more of an acoustic rocker that begs to be tossed into a convertible and taken to the beach or stage. The Newporter has a straight-ahead, fundamental forward tone that sounds better the harder you play. It’s articulate enough to accommodate sensitive fingerstyle passages, but it excels when played energetically with a pick. Surely that far-out Cosmic Turquoise paint job finished with a glossy polyurethane coating compromises top vibrations to some degree, as does the robust top bracing. While the instrument appears radiant and feels like it could withstand a whack against a wall, its acoustic tone sounds somewhat constrained until you give it some gusto to achieve maximum resonance. When I plugged it into a Fishman Mini Charge amplifier, the Newporter sprang to life via its own custom-voiced Fishman electronics. Oddly, though, the first string sounded significantly softer than the rest.
The Newporter Classic’s slim-taper, C-shaped mahogany neck feels comfortable in hand, and while the factory setup action is relatively easy, it isn’t overly so, which is unlike many new instruments that are shipped to me these days. Linear licks played up and down the pau ferro fretboard revealed acceptable fret buzz. And as for the frets themselves, all 20 felt nice and smooth, and the Newporter’s cutaway provides easy access to the high notes.
Fender’s Newporter Classic looks so cool hanging on my wall that I’d have a hard time sending it back no matter what its performance. In fact, it plays great and sounds quite good for an acoustic guitar that’s priced well under a grand. Performing onstage with the Newporter feels kind of like wearing flashy pants — some players can pull it off better than others. Traditionalists might scoff at an “acoustic Strat,” but I dig it, and I’m sure plenty of other acoustic rockers and Fender fanatics will as well.
Newporter California Classic
PRICE $799 street
NUT WIDTH 1.69", bone
FRETBOARD Pau ferro, 25.6" scale, 15.75" radius
TUNERS Sealed nickel
BODY Mahogany back and sides with a solid Sitka spruce top
BRIDGE Pau ferro
ELECTRONICS Fishman custom-voiced pickup/preamp system
FACTORY STRINGS Fender Dura-Tone Coated 80/20 Bronze .012–.052
WEIGHT 4.5 lbs
KUDOS Awesome rock and roll design, straightforward tone and playability, and good value
CONCERNS Acoustic tone is a bit constrained when played delicately. First string was exceptionally quiet compared to the others when amplified