With the introduction of the Ensenada Series last year, Fender officially inducted itself into the high-end acoustic ranks for the first time.
Built in the company's 'powerhouse' facility in Ensenada, Mexico, the Ensenada models are a development on the Grand Acoustic Series theme, with superior specifications and build quality, although great value is still the core policy here.
The ESA10CE is one of four new Ensenada models introduced this year, and is the first grand auditorium body option in the series.
Peering inside the diligently constructed soundbox, you'll find a traditionally X-braced soundboard, with the lower 'X' legs deeply scalloped, and the two lower-bout tone bars just tapered.
The handsome Sitka spruce top has a deep orange-tan shade and fetching bands of silky grain figure. Its abalone/black/white rosette and tasteful multi-ply binding (Indian rosewood outer, with thin maple/rosewood purfing) are both very clean.
Back and sides are Palo Escrito – a native Mexican rosewood that's lighter brown than both Indian or Brazilian species, but with the latter's swirlier grain. One-ply maple purifing demarcates the perimeters of the back and sides, with thin Indian rosewood strips masking the back's centre seam and the sides' end joint.
This one-piece genuine mahogany neck is bolted-on. Bar the odd tool mark, its fingerboard and frets are meticulously well prepared, with a very neat nut at the top. The headstock face boasts dense-grained Palo Escrito that's bevelled at the edges to reveal a maple stratum beneath it.
Tuners are fine vintage-style fare, albeit a bit sticky and stiff. While Fender's round-cornered bridge isn't to everyone's taste, it is immaculately finished, and its saddle is snug. It features some nice abalone-dotted ebony pins, too.
The neck and body are finished separately, delivering clean heel/body corners, and whatever your opinion on polyester finishes, Fender's gloss coat is flawless and judiciously thin.
This model carries Fishman's Ellipse VT system as standard. With its 'essentials' preamp almost invisibly magnetically mounted just inside the soundhole lip for fingertip control, it's a nifty upgrade on Fishman's Natural System concept.
The guitar's familiar-feeling, slim C-pro? le neck shaft gently tapers in depth from just over 21mm (first fret) to 23mm (ninth fret). Considering the relatively narrow neck width, string spacing could be more generous.
The fingerboard and frets are both buffed to a slippery-feeling lustre, while the fret ends are trimmed and filed. There isn't a lot of saddle height to play with here, but as it stands, this guitar's consistent, encouraging action confirms a true, even playing surface and precise neck geometry.
Despite the compensated saddle, upper fret intonation (generally flat at the 12th fret) isn't as harmonious as it should be.
With a powerful, robust and slightly biting sound, this Ensenada grand auditorium model actually sounds not unlike a dreadnought or a round-shouldered jumbo.
Particularly resonant in the bass, you can really feel this one hum on certain low notes, while there's a good, hearty roar in the mid range, which helps to really chuck the notes out.
Again, we hear the crisp, spicy and attacking treble you'd expect from a dreadnought, with thick and sweet-sounding high notes. It sounds emphatic when fingerpicked and meaty when strummed or flat-picked.
This is an earthy, rich-toned acoustic that you can really get your teeth into for some exceptional rewards. However, it could be too dreadnought-like for some fans of this body style.
Plugged in, we'd opt for the Ellipse VT's Natural II voicing due to the lively bottom end. The result is a perfectly workable translation of the above, with much of the core character retained. The tone control's 'scoop' is subtle yet effective on the thick tone.
With both Guild and Tacoma in the Fender family now, the accompanying resource of acoustic expertise has clearly benefited Fender acoustics.
The ESA10CE is an instrument of considerable quality, style and tone. In fact, acoustically, it's one of the nicest-sounding guitars we've heard this year, which is why its price tag is all the more staggering.