Freshman is a Scottish company that has been making guitars for the last eight or nine years with the aim of making great sounding and looking instruments at affordable prices. You could think this is what many companies try to do, but the difference is that Freshman have actually managed to meet their objectives, gaining an excellent reputation worldwide, mainly as a result of their passion for what they do and for their attention to detail. As the owner of the company Sean Kelly puts it, they really care about how all of their guitars, from the lower to the higher price range, look and most importantly the way they sound.
Over the last few years I've heard great things about this company so I wasn’t surprised about how high the quality was on the first Freshman acoustic guitar I tried. However, I was very surprised to hear how low the price for that guitar was!
The same happened with the two models we were sent for this review. The Songwriter series is Freshman's latest addition to the fleet and it includes 12 different models, which are all built with the typical ‘Freshman style’, namely with excellent tonewoods, bespoke electronics and lots of attention to detail.
Both the DCE and OC models feature double ‘A’ grade Sitka spruce tops, solid mahogany backs and sides, rosewood bridges and are bound with herringbone purfling. The 43mm nuts and the saddles are both made of bone to maximise the guitar resonance and both models feature gold finished machine heads as well as the Freshman logo on the headstock.
Straight from a stylish semi-rigid guitar case (happily, included in the price) both models were ready to go in terms of action and playability. Both guitars’ intonation was great throughout the neck and they both required minimum fine tuning during the test, which is impressive considering the price range these guitars belong to and also the fact that both fitted with brand new strings.
The DCE is a Dreadnought model and as a result has a slightly more generous overall response compared to the OC, which is Orchestra sized. This is particularly noticeable in the bass register. Both models are resonant and well balanced in all registers, bass, mid and treble and as a result would record really well. As well as being great instruments for recording session work, these would be ideal for live work, as they are both equipped with bespoke electronics specifically designed for these models by the acclaimed German manufacturer AER.
This under-saddle pickup system doesn’t feature any external EQ as it has been designed to reproduce the sound of these exact models in the most faithful manner with an optimal pre-set EQ. I wouldn’t be put off by the lack of EQ, as even though most guitars these days fit built-in tuners, phase and other common gadgets, very few fit a bespoke pickup, designed for that specific guitar model and tone wood. Furthermore, the guitars’ acoustic timbre was not compromised by the addiction of an intrusive built-in preamp, which as well as having aesthetic repercussions, could alter for the worse the natural tonal palette of the instrument.
Since aesthetic qualities were taken into account, I should mention that all models belonging to the Songwriter series come in natural finish or sunburst, and for those of you who prefer the look and the slightly darker tonal connotation of rosewood, you can choose this tone wood as an alternative for your Freshman's back and sides.
A left-handed option is also available, which demonstrate how the guys at Freshman care about producing the widest variety of models to make sure there is one for all tastes and needs. It is worth mentioning that this option is often offered by makers only on much more expensive models.
According to Sean Kelly, Freshman's founder, these are the best sounding guitars his company has produced so far. I haven’t tried all of their models to date but I can tell you that I haven’t tried a better guitar within their price range. Freshman guitars are now available in the USA and Canada and may be new to GI readers there. Judging from our experience with this maker, you are in for a treat!
In conclusion, I strongly recommend finding a Freshman dealer near you and trying for yourselves both the DCE and the OC Songwriter and see which you prefer. Either way I'm sure you will be impressed!