Review: Fender California Series Player Acoustics

(Image credit: Fender)

The sub-$500 acoustic market has become one of the most exciting categories of guitar manufacturing in recent years. Long gone are the days when acoustics in this lower price range were predominantly drab, dreadnought knockoffs with thick plywood tops, even thicker polyester finishes and playing actions higher than Seth Rogen after a visit to a Hollywood dispensary. These days hundreds of acoustics are available in this budget price range that play and sound great, and the variety of body shapes, features and wood options are rapidly expanding.

Fender’s new California Series Player acoustics are impressive examples of just how much progress has recently been made in the sub-$500 market. In addition to playing and sounding excellent, Fender’s Player acoustics offer built-in pickup and preamp systems and original designs. With a wide variety of extremely cool finish options, these guitars also boast a ton of distinctive style. We took a closer look at the Newporter Player and Malibu Player models from Fender’s California Player lineup, which also includes the Redondo Player.

FEATURES Fender developed entirely new body shapes for the California series acoustics, with the Newporter featuring a medium-size, rounded cutaway body and the Malibu offering a small, non-cutaway design with more squared-off shoulders and a slimmer lower bout. Both models feature solid spruce tops, back, sides and neck crafted from mahogany, and walnut fingerboards and bridges. While both models feature a slim, C-shape neck profile and 20 frets, the Newporter Player has a 25.6-inch scale length while the Malibu Player has a shorter 24.1-inch scale. Both models’ necks also have satin finishes. Other neck features include a 1.69-inch wide nut made of Graph Tech NuBone, dot fingerboard inlays, and a 15.75-inch fingerboard radius.

Scalloped x-bracing provides lively, dynamic tone and impressive volume output. The built-in Fishman Classic Design pickup/preamp system provides bass, treble and volume controls plus a tuner. A battery compartment adjacent to the output jack makes it easy to change batteries quickly.

Each model is available with four dazzling gloss poly finish options — Candy Apple Red, Champagne, Jetty Black and Rustic Copper for the Newporter Player and Aqua Splash, Arctic Gold, Candy Apple Red and Jetty Black for the Malibu Player. These finishes cover the top, back, sides and headstocks of both models. Aged white top and back binding, a three-ply gold pickguard and sixon- a-side headstock in the iconic Fender shape add a touch of class and rock ’n’ roll style uncommon in this price range.

Fender's California Series Newporter Player in Champagne

Fender's California Series Newporter Player in Champagne (Image credit: Fender)

PERFORMANCE With its small, non-cutaway body shape and solid top with scalloped bracing, the Malibu Player delivers very sweet tone with well-balanced frequency response ideal for fingerstyle playing. Its natural acoustic volume output is very impressive, and its smaller body size and reduced bass frequencies make it a good choice for playing plugged-in on stage with a loud band, as it is less likely to succumb to feedback at higher stage volume levels. The enhanced treble output also cuts through a thick mix of electric and bass guitars quite nicely. The Newport Player’s tone is slightly more robust, with a touch more bass and just a slight dip in the midrange. Its generous cutaway makes it easy to play all the way up the neck, making this model ideal for guitarists who like to play acoustic lead lines.

Both models look extremely cool, with looks that perfectly complement most electric models instead of forcing you to look like a granola-munchin’, Birkenstock-wearin’ hippie amongst the rockin’ ruffians in the rest of the band, like most traditional acoustic designs do. Fender’s California Player acoustics sound and play as good as they look too, and with their Fishman electronics they’re absolutely perfect for getting you and your playing noticed on stage.

LIST PRICE: $399.99
MANUFACTURER: Fender, (opens in new tab)

Dazzling gloss poly finishes in bold colors cover the top, back, sides and front headstock, providing visual aesthetics complementary to electric designs

Unique body designs and scalloped x-bracing provide stellar acoustic tone, while the built-in Fishman Classic design preamp/pickup system delivers accurate electrified sound

• THE BOTTOM LINE With their bold finishes, six-on-a-side headstocks and slim C-shaped neck profiles, the Fender California Player acoustics are perfect for electric players who don’t want to cramp their style when playing acoustic 

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Chris Gill

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.