Video Review: The Fender Highway Series Dreadnought

Fender has made a number of bold design choices lately, from re-releasing classics like the Bass VI to building new pedals and guitar tools for beginners and pros alike. Most interestingly, however, they’ve begun creating guitars that are completely disconnected from the staid, square cornered axes of old. Their Acoustasonic Jazzmaster, for example, was the first in this line of sleek, streamlined, and even alien-looking guitars, guitars that came out of modern CNC tech that could coax a lovely beveled edge and superior sound out of acoustics and electrics alike.

The new Fender Highway Series Dreadnought is the next step in that evolution. The Dreadnought is a $999 acoustic that plays like an electric. It’s super thin – a mere 2.25″ depth – and, at 5 lbs, super light. The model I tested was built of mahogany although they offer a lighter Sitka Spruce model.

Is the Fender Highway Series Dreadnought a good guitar?

The Dreadnought and its smaller sibling, the Parlor, feature the distinctive Fender headstock, a rosewood fretboard, and Fishman Fluence Acoustic electronics. When played without an amp the guitar sounds great – like a cross between an arch top and smaller, less resonant acoustic. The 2-inch depth is definitely a factor in the resonance here and you’re not going to get a booming acoustic sound out of this thing no matter how hard you try.

That said, this guitar really shines when plugged in. Without any pedals the results are ethereal and rich, with plenty of highs and lows coming out of a body the size of a Fender Jaguar. I was honestly enamored by the sound when strumming standard cowboy chords and a few blues licks – it offers a sound between a nice Taylor and a Rainsong, jangly but not too bright.

Then, when you need to shred, you can simply amp this thing to 11. It sounds like a standard electric when you run it through some effects. In fact, that’s where this guitar shines. You’re basically getting two guitars for the price of one. You can pick or strum your softer material on full acoustic, creating a sound that is definitely singer-songwriter worthy. Then, when you need to open things up, you can route the guitar through an amp and create something truly interesting. This isn’t like amping a standard acoustic with a piezo pickup, either. Fender has tuned this thing to sound good as an acoustic and as an electric.

Should you buy the Fender Highway Series Dreadnought?

If you are a singer-songwriter, busker, or bar player, the Dreadnought will solve two problems. First, you won’t have to swap out between guitars during the set. You can easily run this through a pedalboard and get a grungy or tremelo sound akin to a good Stratocaster. You absolutely won’t get all of the dynamics of a real electric but you’ll get very close.

Second, your back will love you. This guitar is amazingly thin and light and very easy to handle. The cutouts and bevels make it as smooth as a river stone and the entire package, from neck to body to headstock, are great for long-term playing.

These guitars are controversial because guitarists don’t like to try new things. This isn’t a new thing. It is, quite simply, a thinner, lighter acoustic than I’ve ever played and problem one of the absolutely thinnest and lightest electrics I’ve played. When you’re spending close to a thousand on a guitar, you want something amazing. Fender, in this case, delivers.

John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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