An Angel from the Antipodes descends upon unsuspecting reviewer David Mead
I reviewed the Cole Clark Angel 2 in these pages around 18 months ago and remember being impressed by the freshness of the Melbourne-based company’s approach towards building. Featuring woods indigenous to Australia and a set of innovative electronics that suits a wide variety of styles, I was also bowled over by the sheer array of tones on offer. This model is so new it’s not even featured on the Cole Clark website as yet. So are we in for another angelic treat?
This guitar produced a sort of Marmite moment in the magazine’s offices with opinion split down the middle with regards to its looks. Personally, I think it’s striking and distinctive with a top that would certainly be a talking point at any gathering of acoustic players.
The wood in question is Californian redwood, and if you’re thinking that this doesn’t quite qualify as a wood indigenous to Oz, then listen up, because it has a story to tell. Back in the late 1850s a botanist by the name of Baron von Mueller was commissioned to provide plants for the Ballarat Botanical Gardens and among them were some Californian Redwood trees. Cole Clark has obtained some of the wood which has fallen in storms over the years and used it in instruments like this one. You have to admit that the top wood here really is distinctive with a crazed, wide grain patterning as well as a spear-shaped paler centre section. The edge binding has abalone inserts at the waist and this is reflected in the rosette as well as the position markers down the neck.
Sneaking a look inside, the bracing to the rear of the soundhole is latticed, which is unusual and further evidence of Cole Clark’s highly individual build style. It will be interesting to see if this contributes to the sound a bit later on.
Back and sides are Indian rosewood, straight grained and dark in hue, with no centre strip.
Cole Clark uses a Spanish Heel neck joint, considered by many to be the most highly developed of all methods of neck construction. Basically, the neck and headblock are carved from a single piece of wood and the body is built around it so that it forms the heart of the guitar. It is thought that this method improves sound transmission and is generally lighter than the other favoured methods such as mortise and tenon or dovetails joints.
The neck itself is made from Queensland Maple Silkwood which has a very pale orange colour to it and is certainly a lot more tanned than the standard maple you might find in a Fender guitar neck, for instance. It feels quite chunky in the hand, but not unpleasantly so, with a broad D profile.
The neck is arrow jointed to a headstock made from Tasmanian Blackwood which, despite its name, isn’t really black (as African Blackwood is) but dark brown.
The front of the headstock is a scroll of Queensland Maple with the company name emblazoned in black thereon. Tuners are Grover Imperials, with their very distinctive art deco style buttons which I must admit to not liking too much personally. I’d prefer the more standard kidney bean style and that’s nothing to do with an artistic preference, it’s down to feel. Imperials have always felt a little awkward to manoeuvre, to me.
The Angels’s fingerboard is ebony with the broad abalone markers I referred to earlier and body furnishings are completed with black Tusq nut and saddle, the latter sitting on an ebony bridge.
I have to say that the sound of this guitar took me somewhat by surprise. It’s dark and woody, with the sort of rich overtones that would suit Celtic styles well. In fact, I immediately dropped the tuning to DADGAD when I first heard it and it really suits this tuning admirably. The redwood gives a slightly brighter response than cedar, but it’s also somehow more complex, at the same time.
Bass presence is good without being too boomy and the trebles ring with a lot of clarity and separation. The rosewood brings an airiness to the overall sound, too, adding an extra layer of reverb-like resonance to the general timbre and possibly some extra sustain, too. If I heard this guitar from across a room, I think I would possibly be convinced that it was a bigger body size than grand auditorium. It has a jumbo’s depth to it, somehow, but in a good way, if you see what I mean.
We met the Cole Clark pickup system on the Angel 2 I looked at last year. Basically it comprises three elements: a piezo under saddle, a sensor under the soundboard and an internal microphone. The controls allow you to blend all three, the clever bit is that they have voiced the internal mic so that it picks up high frequencies and ignores the feedback-laden midrange entirely. This means that, in theory at least, you have the best of all worlds available to you and whatever style you find yourself playing should be ably complemented.
One thing I found a little strange is that the two screws set in the bridge either side of the saddle look like they might provide adjustment for string height, but this isn’t the case. Cole Clark go to great lengths to point out that these are to keep the tension on the piezo and are not to be fiddled with under any circumstances. It strikes me that perhaps they would be better blanked off somehow using plastic plugs so that idle and uninformed hands are not tempted to meddle.
Through an amp all the dark woodiness is preserved, the preamp controls allowing you access to all three sound sources, plus EQ sliders for treble, midrange and bass. As such, the sonic world is pretty much your oyster; the centre master volume control is self-explanatory, whereas the left hand rotary affects the blend between the bridge and the soundboard sensor and the third dials the mic in and out. If it sounds complicated, it really isn’t and once I’d orientated myself I was able to find a sound I liked almost instantaneously. It’s a clever, all encompassing system and I like it a lot.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, I guess that you’re either going to love this guitar or loathe it. As I’ve said, I quite like it; it’s distinctive and different and while I’m not exactly a fan of abalone-laden instruments in general, I think this one errs to the side of good taste. I’d be quite happy to take it along to a gig, no problem.
Sound-wise, it has a lot to say for itself. Acoustically, it will quite possibly find favour among the Celtic music enthusiasts and when you power up the clever on board electronics, virtually anything becomes possible. The modern tappers and slappers will find the sensor and mic combo fun to work with, but the melodists will be happy with the amount of control they have available at the turn of a dial. I was impressed by the Angel 2, and this is a worthy addition to the range.
Pros: Distinctive looks and a good array of useful sounds
Cons: The tuner buttons and those naked bridge screws
Overall: A guitar that’s a real looker with some truly unique features, good woods and great sounds
Manufacturer: Cole Clark
Model: Angel 3EC RDRW
Retail Price: £3,739
Body Size: Grand Auditorium
Made In: Australia
Top: Californian Redwood
Back and Sides: Indian rosewood
Neck: Queensland maple silkwood
Nut Width: 43mm
Scale Length: 650mm
Onboard Electronics: Cole Clark 3-Way
Strings Fitted: Elixir .012 – .053
Gig Bag/Case Included: Cole Clark hard case
Zed Music Café