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Review: Fender Duo-Sonic Guitar

(Image credit: Fender)

GOLD AWARDAccording to a famous saying, you will be known by the company you keep. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the wonderful Fender Duo-Sonic, which most guitarists have considered a “beginner’s,” “student” or “entry-level” instrument ever since its debut way back in 1956.

Over the years the humble Duo-Sonic has been a favorite “secret weapon” of numerous legendary guitarists, including Rory Gallagher, John McLaughlin, Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix.

The Duo-Sonic also played a significant role in defining the sound of New York’s post punk and new wave movement in the hand of David Byrne, Patti Smith and Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine with Television.

These players all fell in love with the Duo-Sonic’s unique character, and guitarists looking for something a little different than the usual Strats and Teles would be wise to check it out for themselves.

The Duo-Sonic had been out of the Fender lineup for several years, but newly reintroduced model is closest in overall spirit to the early Sixties version of the Duo-Sonic, featuring a plastic pickguard (but in three-ply mint green), smaller “pre-CBS”-style headstock, chrome-plated knurled flat-top master volume and master tone knobs, three-position pickup selector toggle switch and Duo-Sonic single-coil pickups in a straight (bridge) and angled (neck) configuration.

Like the mid-Sixties version, it has a slightly larger offset body shape, reverse wind/reverse polarity circuit for true humbucking performance when both pickups are selected and a bolt-on neck with 24-inch scale (compared to the 22.5-inch scale of earlier versions, which was also an option during the mid Sixties). Modern upgrades include a string-thru-body Strat hardtail bridge with bent steel saddles, 22 medium jumbo frets (instead of 21), a C-shaped profile, Fender standard tuners with metal tuner buttons and a cool selection of finishes—Arctic White, Capri Orange and Torino Red.

Forget the Duo-Sonic’s “starter” guitar reputation—this is a compact pit bull that can deliver super-aggressive bridge and neck tones that are the ideal hybrid of Tele twang and Strat squall. When strumming clean rhythms, the tone has a wonderful metallic clang with jangly bite and funky midrange punch—no wonder Byrne favored this model.

What I like best about the Duo-Sonic is how the shorter scale allows players to use much heavier gauge strings than they’d normally use. The slinkier tension facilitates string bends even when using .013s or .014s, so it can produce fatter, meatier tone without sacrificing playability.

LIST PRICE: $499.99
MANUFACTURER: Fender Guitars,

• The Duo-Sonic single coil pickups are wired in a reverse wind/reverse polarity configuration to provide true humbucking performance when both pickups are selected.

The Duo-Sonic may have a shorter scale and smaller size (and smaller price tag), but its distinctive tones that fall in between the best of a Strat and Tele are absolutely massive.

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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.