Review: Fender PO-220E Paramount Orchestra

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Review: Fender PO-220E Paramount Orchestra

Words by James Callanan

Fender Australia | Price: $1,449

From the company that brought the guitar world a multitude of innovative products – changing the course of musical instruments and popular music as we know it today – comes a modern guitar with a classic design. The Fender Paramount PO-220E Orchestra acoustic, with its generous set of well-disguised features, combines contemporary versatility with the stylishness of guitars from a bygone era.

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When taken out of the perfectly fitted, matching hardshell case, the Paramount Orchestra immediately flaunts the precision and build quality that musicians have come to love from Fender. The solid nickel-plated tuners, and bone nut and saddle, are nicely complemented by the delicate ornamentation of the guitar’s binding and snowflake-shaped pearloid inlays, showcasing the ‘30s and ‘40s class that inspired the aesthetics of this guitar. When paired with the near-frictionless satin finish of the Aged Cognac Burst, the design and feature set of the Paramount Orchestra results in a workhorse of an acoustic guitar that does not compromise on style.

The body of the Fender Paramount Orchestra features an all-solid design, with a solid Mahogany top (also available with a solid Spruce top) that caps the solid mahogany back and sides. This construction method results in a sound that is both warm and well-rounded, and is particularly responsive to the attack of the player’s picking hand – articulating well when played with the fingers, or when strummed with a pick. The tonality that the solid construction offers is further added to by the offset X-bracing pattern on the underside of the mahogany top – resulting in a truly sweet and resonant output. The C-shaped neck is also made from Mahogany, and is fitted with an Ovangkol fingerboard – the same wood that the bridge of the guitar is carefully carved out from.

While extremely pleasing from an aesthetic standpoint, the Paramount Orchestra is also a gem to play. The dimensions, curvature, and natural finish make this guitar feel like an extension of the player’s body when sitting down, and the guitar is just as easily played standing up, thanks to its light weight. The slim-taper profile of the neck makes changing between open chords at the nut-end of the fretboard a breeze, with the strings gradually moving apart from each other down the fretboard, meaning that playing lead fills is a comfortable and rather forgiving experience. With a fingerboard radius of 15.75”, and a scale length of 25.3”, players can be confident that their bends won’t fret out, while enjoying the rich tone that comes from strings at the ideal tension of a long scale.

Sonically, the Paramount Orchestra acoustic is a joy to play, and to listen to. Being an orchestra-sized acoustic, this guitar has a natural focus to the midrange frequencies. What was particularly noticeable though, was the extension into the lower-midrange frequencies, which was a pleasant surprise, given that this frequency response is normally only exhibited in guitars with much bigger bodies, such as jumbo and dreadnought acoustics. This sonic behaviour made playing barred chords and Travis-picking alike a satisfying experience, with the lower notes of the fifth and sixth strings being tastefully complemented by the articulation of the middle and treble strings.

When played alongside an acoustic bass guitar and drums, the focused midrange sound of the Fender Paramount was ideal. By filling in the absent middle-range frequencies of the band, this guitar fit seamlessly into the mix, without overlapping with the lower frequencies of the bass guitar, or the singer’s vocals. While refraining from muddying up the low-end, the PO-220E possesses a sufficient level of brightness, which enabled lead guitar fills and chords higher up the neck to cut right through the band mix.

The PO-220E does a great job at projecting acoustically, particularly when played with a pick. When the acoustic volume is not sufficient though, the Paramount Orchestra houses some great electronics, for output into an amplifier or PA system. The Fender & Fishman Sonitone Plus pickup in the guitar consists of a body-sensing transducer, which is sensitive to the vibrations of the soundboard, as well as a Sonicore piezo, located underneath the bridge saddle. The addition of the body-sensing transducer is a big help to the sound when plugged in, with this guitar sounding much warmer than those with only a piezo pickup. A mixture of both the body transducer and the piezo is achievable through the use of the blend dial, so the guitarist can have their desired amount of each in the output sound.

In accordance with the vintage look and neat design, the acoustic guitar’s structure is not interrupted by the electronics, with the volume and blend controls being placed just inside the rim of the sound hole, and the output jack built into the strap button. Overall, the Paramount’s built in pickup system enables studio musicians to have a great sounding direct signal to blend with their microphones, and it enables performing guitarists to have a versatile and reliable acoustic to use in any situation; from the song writing shed all the way through to club gigs.

The Fender Paramount Orchestra is a reliable and stylish acoustic guitar, which combines vintage aesthetics with a modernised design to enable its use in a variety of musical situations. With its high-quality materials and construction, its warm, well-projected sound, and the inclusion of a versatile pickup system, the PO-220E is a brilliant option for guitarists taking it to the studio or stage alike.

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