Fender Music Australia | RRP: $1,899
At this point in recorded history, the guitar (like all good subcultures), definitely has its fair share of cult heroes.
While this might immediately bring to mind images of Kevin Shields or Robert Johnson (guitarists whose reputation and significance to the culture continues to percolate outside the mainstream, but whose contributions can never be underestimated), this same ‘cult’ status can also be applied to important and influential icons within the gear space itself.
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This goes for all the coveted parts and components, the Bigsby Vibratos, Grover Tuners, Mastery bridges and quite possibly the biggest cult hero of them all, the beloved P-90 pickup.
What makes the P-90 such an interesting case study has as much to do with it’s gestation as it does with the politics and inherently DIY nature of its rise to prominence.
Originally developed in the 1940s by Gibson for their jazz guitars and hollowbodys, the P-90 was a slightly more mellow take on the single-coil pickups of the day, the obvious evolutionary mid-point between Gibson’s traditional, chirpy single coil ‘blade’ pickups and the thick humbucking tones that came to define the brand throughout the ’60s and ’70s.
With the rise of the humbucker, Gibson relegated the P-90s to their budget models like the ES-330 and Les Paul Jr, both garnering there own cult following, but the shortage of P-90 equipped options and the uniqueness and desirability of the tone itself, inadvertently set the wheels in spin for a whole manner of aftermarket P-90 installations and custom jobs with guitarists chucking the beloved pickup in any body (or brand) that took their fancy.
This brings us to Fender’s new Noventa range and its significance in the space. Cleverly using the Spanish word for the number ninety, the Noventa range is undoubtedly inspired by these kind of Frankenstein creations with the Jazzmaster sporting three P-90 inspired Noventa pickups, the Stratocaster with two, and the Telecaster classily donning one.
It’s the Fender Noventa Telecaster that most instantly brings to mind these awesome home-builds of yesteryear with its instantly vintage vibe, block-cut body, minimalist unique pickguard, ‘60s “C”-shaped neck, vintage hardware ( including a “Cut” Telecaster bridge with brass saddles), and of course, the Fender Noventa single coil bridge pickup specifically designed for this release.
This beauty in Vintage Blonde has a gorgeous slightly transparent finish, showing off the beautifully, mildly figured alder body beneath, topped with a polyester gloss. It boasts a uniqueness in appearance with its not-quite-Cabronita style pick guard and almost tear-drop shaped knob plating.
Immediately upon holding this guitar, I noticed and appreciated the ’60s “C”-shaped maple neck with a satin finish as it has an incredibly sturdy feel, really filling the palm for a tight grip of the neck but a breeze to glide along thanks to the satin finish.
I felt far more comfortable in playing heavier styles than I normally would on a Telecaster generally, and to further this, the block cut body caters to the sturdy feel. Its 9.5” radius maple fingerboard is described as “an ideal balance between vintage and modern playability” and it does show, feeling comfortable for chording and equally for more intricate work.
The 21 medium jumbo frets allow for easy bending and neck mobility to really creep up the fingerboard and the bulked neck allows it to take a bit of a beating, which is a fantastic thing, as the Noventa is very responsive to how hard you play.
For just one pickup, one tone and one volume knob this guitar is mind-blowingly versatile, offering a huge range in tones with a noticeable saturation that only becomes greater the harder your attack.
This translates to an extremely characterful voicing, but thanks to its intuitive tone pot and aforementioned touch sensitivity, allows for plenty of control as to how much of this character is imparted on your clean sound.
This relationship between attack, gain and saturation endemic of the Noventa pickups, in many ways, reminded me a lot of the kinds of gain dependent saturation that you are more likely to find in hi end studio preamps and compression workflows.
Whereas standard single-coils may lean towards harshness when played like this, the Noventa’s only became more warm, saturated and compressed the harder they are struck, in turn making for a driven sound that is both full bodied, warm and distinct, with enough clarity and chime to still appease the single coil fraternity.
This ability to tame harsh transients also means that the Noventa Tele takes to effects, (especially mid heavy ones like overdrive and chorus), like an absolute champ, it’s bridge position providing ample clarity and definition, while it’s mellow, dulcet voicing being ideal for thick driven tones.
Another really nice touch is the fact that its classy, classic “cut” Telecaster bridge with brass barrel saddles allows you to string through the bridge, or you can string through the body of the guitar.
Either way, you get a nice, snappy tone and an exceptional sustain, especially with its Fender standard bolt-on neck.
It’s not crazy to say that every recording guitarist should have at least one P-90 equipped guitar in their quiver. You never know when it will get you out of a creative corner, or prove the perfect compromise for when traditional single coil and humbucker tones just aren’t cutting it.
It’s this application that is the Noventa Telecaster’s natural habitat, its unique tone, excellent ergonomics and high quality components making it both a highly valued point of difference and the perfect middle ground for anytime the garden variety tones just aren’t cutting it.
With this much sonic upside, don’t be surprised to see the Noventa Series garner their own cult following in the not too distant future.
Find out more about the Noventa Series via Fender Music Australia.