ORIGINALLY INTRODUCED IN 1965, the Villager 12-String stood apart from traditional flat-top 12s by Guild, Martin, and others by virtue of its maple neck with “hockey stick” headstock (the same style neck used on Fender’s electric XII solidbody). The original Villager did not have a cutaway body or electronics, of course, which brings us to this updated reissue of Fender’s offering to the folk community.
The new Villager is a sweet looking guitar with its gloss finish and neatly applied binding. A tasteful rosette, gold pickguard, and black dotted bridge pins round out the cosmetics package.
The frets are lightly polished and trimmed to near perfection—you can barely feel their tips as your hand slides along the fretboard. The synthetic bone nut is properly set, and that, along with a compensated saddle at the other end, makes for very solid intonation. Tuning a 12 is never a fun job, but the built-in tuner certainly helps, as does the long headstock, which allows for easy-to-turn, full-sized machines.
The Villager sounded remarkably tuneful in all positions, which is noteworthy on an instrument at this price. The dreadnought body, with its scalloped and X-braced solid top, pumps out a big clear sound with lots of upper-end chime and a deep bottom. This guitar plays quite easily, too, thanks to its soft C-shaped neck, low action, and generous string spacing.
The Villager’s Fishman Isys III system features only a Volume control and 3-band EQ, but it did a great job of translating the guitar’s broad tonal spectrum through a ZT Amps Lunchbox Acoustic and a Dr.Z EZG-50 combo. By setting the Fishman’s Mid and Treble controls at their notched positions, and boosting the bass just a touch, the sounds were warm and balanced, with ringing highs and good complexity in the upper midrange. I wish the Isys III had a phase switch to help mitigate feedback— which can be problematic at higher volumes—but it’s still a good system for this guitar, and certainly increases its utility in a variety of situations.
The Villager provides a high level of enjoyment and has enough original-style elements to make you feel like you’re experiencing a bit of Fender’s colorful past. It has also been refined and improved in very smart ways to suit the needs of modern players. Anyone seeking a gig-worthy 12-string for a very reasonable sum should give it a shot.
CONTACT Fender Musical Instruments, (480) 596-9690; fender.com
PRICE $599 retail/$399 MAP
NUT WIDTH 1.77"
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.3" scale
TOP Solid spruce
BODY Laminated mahogany back and sides
ELECTRONICS Fishman Isys III
CONTROLS Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, Tuner on/off
WEIGHT 5.4 lbs
FACTORY STRINGS Fender Duratone
KUDOS Great look. Big, rich sound. Well-matched electronics.
CONCERNS No phase switch.