Review: Mid-2000s Fender Bouzouki

This is another instrument that was in for repair (it suffered some bracing damage during shipping to its present owners) and at the same time I replaced its stock piezo undersaddle pickup with a simple K&K unit and removed the passive tone/volume control bits, too.

Right off the bat this thing played poorly (high nut) and the piezo unit was pretty quacky and synthetic-sounding. The new K&K has a much more natural voice (as well as a lot more output) and after repairing the braces and setting this instrument up it does exactly what it's supposed to: it serves as a decent starter zouk. I'm not sure if Fender makes these anymore (they're similar to the Morgan Monroe and Trinity College models) but I know they also made an octave mandolin version of this same body (octave = 23" scale, this = 26 3/16" scale).

The sound is decidedly mid-rangey but it does have that rich ringing sustain that one wants from a zouk. It's neither loud nor dull and quiet but I would definitely have a hard time being heard playing anything but backing chords and little two-note runs in a jam group or band larger than a few people. I think it's perfectly suited to duo or trio work, however.

The top is solid spruce with x-bracing that seems quite bulky for the size of the instrument. The back and sides are solid maple and the board and bridge are both rosewood. The bridge is a bit wonky as its compensated saddle section was sliced in half to conceal an undersaddle-style piezo unit. I simply added a couple dots of superglue to join the two sections when reinstalling the bridge after repairs.

The headstock is surprisingly practical: this has 8 individual sealed tuners with what feels like 18:1 tuning. This is a pretty nice thing to have on a mandolin-family instrument as it's easier to keep those pairs in tune.

Because of the long scale and previous damage to the top bracing, I'm using a fairly light set of strings (34w, 24w, 13, 9) to get to GDAE tuning. You have to remember that this is at "banjo" scale length (26"+) with a skinny little neck, so you don't want to push it too hard. This instrument could easily mount octave strings on the two lower courses, as well, but the bridge isn't compensated for them from the factory so I've put on a unison set.

Bone nut, bound board.


Andrew Vogt said...

Hi Jake,

I'm considering buying one at a "local" pawn shop. Before I make the 50 mi trip I was hoping for your impressions beyond what I've just read.
Hard to find info on these, but as I remember, reviews were mixed. Asking is $325 Canadian ($235 to you which seems like a very good deal, but I don't get paid in USD). What would you put the value at? - Obviously this would depend on condition. Safe to assume they have a truss rod?


El Flautista de HamelĂ­n said...

Hi! where you find this bouzouki?!?!?! i'm looking one too!