We’ve welcomed a whole host of Freshman guitars into these pages in the past. I have personally reviewed instruments from both their AB range and a couple of FA and AP 12-strings as well and can remember being enthusiastic about all of them. This time, it’s the turn of the FA400GA from the company’s upper midrange series that features premium all solid woods and, I’m told, the sort of craftsmanship that can seriously compete with acoustics from a far higher price bracket.
Freshman recently celebrated their 10th anniversary, having established a niche in the market that has seen their instruments achieve resident status in the UK’s best-selling acoustic guitars list. Designed in Scotland and hand-built in a dedicated production facility in China, players like Hudson Taylor and many others number among their endorsees. The FA400GA is a grand auditorium acoustic with the sort of dashing good looks that have made this particular style of instrument so popular among the world’s best players.
On to specifics, then, and I’m sure that everyone is familiar with the grand auditorium’s vital statistics by now. One thing that draws me to this particular body shape is that it has a lot of the bulk of a dreadnought but not the depth. The FA400GA measures in at only 85mm deep at the top and 100mm down by the strap peg, making it nicely accessible for a player either sitting or standing.
The top wood is the redoubtable Engelmann spruce which Freshman tell me is triple A grade and I can quite believe it because the milky-white timber has been excellently bookmatched with plenty of “feathering” in the grain pattern. Personally, I don’t like the redness of the scratchplate too much, but I think its starkness will diminish considerably once the spruce begins to mellow down to amber. The rosette features a mahogany inlay and the trim around the body is Canadian maple, each adding a lot of quality and style to the guitar’s appearance.
Back and sides are Indian rosewood with no centre backstrip, its dark brown finish almost obscuring the characteristic grain pattern from all but the most curious eyes. Once again, the trim to the back is honey-coloured maple which provides a fine and classy contrast to the rosewood.
The FA400GA’s neck is a three piece mahogany affair with a separate heel section and a scarf joint at the base of the headstock. The gold-coloured Grover machine heads feature black buttons and I’m pleased to report that tuning was as smooth as silk and remained reliably stable throughout the time I spent with the guitar.
I think I’ve mentioned before that Freshman’s elongated headstock design tends to make their guitars look very “long scale” at a glance – they must be around 60mm longer than the standard Martin, for instance. Personally I like it and think that it adds a dash of uniqueness and individuality to the range.
The unbound fretboard is rosewood with 20 medium-to-chunky frets which are all nicely rounded off with no rough fret ends. To these hands the neck profile feels like a slim but generous D profile with no noticeable drag factor despite its high gloss finish.
The bridge is rosewood with white-coloured bridge pins and what looks to be a bone saddle and nut. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell, but I think I detect a little roughness to the touch which usually indicates bone rather than plastic.
All in all, then, the FA400GA is a very nicely turned out grand auditorium acoustic and I’m eager to find out how much tone Freshman have managed to pack away inside…
As I’ve said, the FA400GA is a comfortable guitar to sit and play. I realise that everyone seems to have slightly different requirements from body shapes, but GAs and OMs tend to fit perfectly with my own playing position and posture.
Initial strums produced the following results: with a plectrum the sound has a great deal of sparkle to the trebles with a good amount of bass and midrange presence at the same time. The remarkable thing is the amount of volume available – it really is sprightly in that department and shatters the illusion that you can only get substantial volume from a deep-bodied guitar. Remember, the depth here is a very trim 100mm at most and yet the dynamics on hand would imply something a lot deeper. Switching over to fingerstyle you lose some of the high-end shimmer, but this is replaced with a great deal of sweetness and clarity between the notes. I would imagine that anyone who admires James Taylor’s fingerstyle technique could expect good results here.
On a whim, I even tried a thumb pick and here you really gain access to the best of both worlds – tons of volume, clarity and definition in the bass with a very good amount of projection on top.
I’d like to hear how this guitar would perform in front of a decent pair of studio mikes or even with a pickup installed. Judging from what’s here already in terms of tone, I think it could make a very good all-round recording and performance vehicle.
At present, the Engelmann top is at the juvenile stage where it’s producing a lot of high-end, but I know from experience that this is going to begin to open up after a few months to produce an even more nuanced tone – something that could possibly turn the FA400GA into something of a giant killer!
Speaking from a purely subjective point of view, there’s very little about the FA400GA that I don’t like. It’s one of my favourite body sizes and it sounds really great with practically everything I can find to throw at it. Freshman’s claim that their instruments can compete with those costing considerably more is no idle boast as I think that if this guitar had appeared in a blindfold test I would have put it in a far higher price bracket. During the review I had to keep picking it up to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself, but came out with the same general impression every time. It’s a very good instrument at a competitive price and, as such, is bound to do well.
Pros: Powerful sound with bags of tone
Cons: If I was being honest, I don’t like the rosette design overmuch
Overall: A big hitter in its field with a combination of good sounds and smooth playability
Sound quality: 4.5 stars
Build quality: 4.5 stars
Value for money: 5 stars
Retail Price: £800
Body Size: Grand Auditorium
Made In: China
Top: AAA Grade Engelmann spruce
Back and Sides: Indian rosewood
Nut Width: 43mm
Scale Length: 650mm
Strings Fitted: Elixir .012 – .053
Left Handers: No
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hard shell premium case