Fender Highway Series review: Fender delivers an excellent acoustic/electric experience

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I’ve been doing Fender guitar reviews for several years now, everything from the Stratocaster to Meteora and the Telecaster to the Acoustasonic. Fender is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable guitar brands on the planet. They’ve also been one of the most innovative to every make guitars, and the Fender Highway Series is just another feather in the cap. While not perfect, it is one of the most interesting new guitars to come out in a while and is actually better, in some ways, than the company’s last acoustic/electric venture, the Acoustasonic.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

The Highway Series comes in a Dreadnought and Parlor configuration, but those are the only differences. Other than that, they are basically the same guitar. While I originally intended to review this guitar in my normal way, I was thrown a curveball by my son. Before the Fender Highway Series came to me, my son expressed his interest in learning guitar. While he started on my traditional grand auditorium acoustic, he picked the Highway Series up when it came and took to it quickly. Let’s jump right into the full review of the Fender Highway Series.

The Quick Take

The Fender Highway Series is somewhat of an ugly duckling. While you might not immediately appreciate its first impressions, the damn thing grows on you after a while. This is literally a dreadnought acoustic guitar that has been shaved down to the relative width of an electric guitar.

What I appreciated about this guitar is the sound the Fishman pickup produces. The unplugged sound is nice too, and it does well when playing solo, but can get lost when playing with other full-body acoustics unplugged. Not a huge deal, but something to think about. That also depends on the players you play along with.

I love that Fender offers two body types, the Dreadnought and the Parlor. Pricing is competitive, and I think Fender did a better job of pricing this than they did with the Acoustasonic. This is far more accessible. One thing that surprised me is just how great the Fender Highway Series is for just starting guitar players.

My son just picked up the instrument last month, and he was using my PRS grand auditorium acoustic to start with. The Highway Series is nearly a perfect balance between the acoustic and electric feel that, I think, is great for beginners to cut their teeth on.

If you’re in the market for a thin body acoustic electric guitar and don’t want to dish out for the Acoustasonic, the Fender Highway Series is an excellent choice.

Specifications

The Fender Highway Series Dreadnought has the following features and specifications:

  • Ergonomically contoured body, 2.25″ depth
  • Solid Sitka spruce or mahogany top, fully chambered thinline mahogany body
  • Bolt-on mahogany neck with Indian rosewood fingerboard
  • Proprietary Fishman® Fluence® Acoustic analog electronics
  • Innovative body design and bracing architecture
  • Body Back: Chambered Mahogany
  • Body Sides: Chambered Mahogany
  • Body Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Body Finish: Polyester Satin Matte
  • Body Shape: Dreadnought
  • Bracing: Tapered Floating X
  • Rosette: Checkerboard
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Finish: Satin Urethane
  • Neck Shape: “C” Shape
  • Scale Length: 25.5″ (64.77 cm)
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12″ (305 mm)
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Fret Size: Narrow Tall
  • Nut Material: Graph Tech® TUSQ®
  • Nut Width: 1.6875″ (42.86 mm)
  • Position Inlays: White Dot
  • Truss Rod: Head Adjust
  • Truss Rod Nut: 1/8″ Hex Adjustment
  • Controls: Volume, Contour
  • Special Electronics: Fishman® Fluence® Acoustic Pickup
  • Bridge: Modern Viking
  • Bridge Pins: White
  • Hardware Finish: Chrome
  • Tuning Machines: Fender® ClassicGear™
  • Strings: Fender® Dura-Tone® 860CL Coated Phosphor Bronze (.011-.052 Gauges), PN 0730860405
  • Case/Gig Bag: Deluxe 1225 Gig Bag, included with guitar
  • Also available in Parlor configuration

What’s In The Box

  • Fender Highway Series (Dreadnought)
  • Deluxe Fender Gig Bag 1225
  • Boveda Humidity Control Bag
  • 2-Allen Keys
  • Fender Soft Pouch For Keys and Documentation
  • Fender Sticker
  • Fender Documentation and Manuals

Design

Fender Highway Series

I’m going to be honest here, when I first unboxed the Fender Highway Series Dreadnought, I was not attracted to its aesthetic. It is a bit of an ugly duckling. It looks uncomfortable in its skin and sort of dopey. But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s start with the gig bag.

The Fender Deluxe Gig Bag hasn’t changed a lot, and it is still one of the best I’ve ever used. Made of your typical nylon exterior and soft padding throughout, it is an attractive gig bag. For a gig bag, it has some weight to it. All the zipper pulls are branded Fender and are robust and high quality.

The bag has two zippered front panels, one small and one large. The small one is great for things such as picks and capos. The Fender logo is embroidered in red on the outside of the small panel. The larger panel is ample and great for larger things such as tuners, strings, and various other items. There is a detachable pouch you can use as well, though not sure what I’d use it for.

The back of the gig bag has breathable padding for when you want to strap the bag to your back. There is an extra large pouch that has the shoulder straps tucked into it. Pull those out and strap it to your back, and you can use that area for extra storage. The handle of the gig bag is very heavily padded and comfy to hold. There are also HEAVY rubber bumpers on drop points to protect the guitar. Like on the bottom and top that help protect from impacts.

Fender Highway Series review: Fender delivers an excellent acoustic/electric experience
Deluxe Gig Bag

The inside of the gig bag is HEAVILY padded with firm outer walls that help keep the entire bag rigid. There are two sturdy cloth covered foam blocks that help support the neck of the Fender Highway Series Dreadnought. The gig bag is outstanding and offers up a huge amount of protection and is included in the price of the guitar.

The Fender Highway Series Dreadnought design can be an acquired taste. At first glance, I was not impressed and somewhat off put by its looks. The shape is definitely a dreadnought shape, but when you pick it up and look at the profile, the thin profile makes it look improper. Sort of like someone wearing pants and shirt that are four sizes too big. Hopefully, you get the idea of what my thoughts were.

The bolt on neck looked out of place and foreign to me, and I think these are perfectly normal reactions. But, after some time with the Fender Highway Series, the look has grown on me and I appreciate it for what it is. You have to go in knowing this is a hybrid and not to expect one thing or the other in terms of looks. If you can keep an open mind, you will come to appreciate the look.

The body is made up of Sitka Spruce and Mahogany, and the neck and fretboard are Mahogany and Rosewood. We have the Natural color for review, but you can also get a Spruce color version, which I think looks nicer. The woods feel nice and are free from defects and clean.

Around the back of the Fender Highway Series Dreadnought, there is a backplate that houses the electronics under it. There is also a battery compartment that powers the Fishman pickup, and the battery is included. There is also a bolt on neck plate, which looks odd and is branded with the Fender logo, serial number, and origin country.

Fender Highway Series

Along the edges of the Fender Highway Series are your strap buttons and typical Fender jack input. The neck is satin and has the Fender skunk stripe, with the headstock sporting that typical Strat shape. The tuning machines are vintage style and feel nice, no binding, nothing loose, and so far, seem to hold tune well.

The front of the headstock has the Fender logo and one string tree. The nut is Graph Tech TUSQ, the frets are narrow tall and there are 20 of them. The sound hole is larger than the Acoustasonic and I feel produces a much thicker and broader unplugged sound. There is a simple rosette and binding that looks excellent but isn’t flashy.

The bridge and bridge pins are typical acoustic and there is a volume and tone knob, both made from wood and compliment the look. The fretboard is Rosewood and has a typical rosewood fretboard feel.

Overall, my first impressions of the Fender Highway Series were doubtful, but as I used it over the course of a few weeks, the looks have grown on me. It is a very comfy guitar to hold and perfect for beginners too. Some players may not like the looks at all, that is very subjective, but I say give it a chance.

Out-Of-Box Setup

Dreadnought

It is rare to get a guitar out of the box that is set up perfectly. I mean, everyone has a certain set-up they prefer. The Fender Highway Series Dreadnought was mostly OK for my needs. The action is decent, it could be slightly lower but worked well. I was actually happy about the height as it is a great spot for my son to learn and strengthen his fingers.

The guitar was mostly tuned out of the box, the B string was a little flat but overall, it was mostly tuned. The fret edges are nice and clean, no fret sprout and no sharp edges. I’m no luthier, but my untrained eye tells me there are no uneven frets and the intonation and relief all looked good.

Overall, out of the box, you can get to playing straight away. The strings are Fender strings and feel good, good enough to play on for a bit and then switch to whatever brand you want to.

Sound/Playability

As expected, due to the thinner body of the Fender Highway Series, the acoustic sound coming from it is not very thick. It is, however, thicker than the Acoustasonic. Unplugged and playing with other players who are using traditional acoustics, the Highway Series can sometimes get lost in the mix. That is when you’re playing chords, playing some lead lines and fills sounds really nice.

Plugging in the Fender Highway Series, however, does produce some warm and inviting tones courtesy of the Fishman pickup. There is a volume and tone knob to tweak, and I was pleased with the tones this guitar produces when plugged in. I also used the new Fender Tone Master Pro MEP with this guitar, and there are some glorious tones to be used with that combo.

As for playability, it is nice to play out of the box and perfect for my son who is just starting. For me, I am a lead player and fills player, so a lower action is my preference, but this is a very comfy guitar to play.

Price/Value

The Fender Highway Series is priced at $999.99, and I think the value is here. The Acoustasonic is similar, but when I reviewed that guitar, I felt it cost more than it was worth. Fender has answered that and brought a price that is reasonable and brings value to the package.

Wrap Up

The Fender Highway Series is a great follow-up to the more expensive Acoustasonic. I think it’s the better choice in terms of price to value. It has an ugly duckling look to it, but the look grew on me and the sounds and playability are great. This is a fun instrument and recommended if you’re in the market for a thinline acoustic/electric.

Fender Highway Series

$999.99

Design

9.0/10

Out-Of-Box Setup

9.0/10

Sound/Playability

9.5/10

Price/Value

9.0/10

Nailed it

  • Nice build quality, great materials used
  • Available in two body shapes
  • Sounds nice, especially plugged in
  • This is a great guitar for beginners, a nice balance between acoustic and electric body feel.
  • Price point is reasonable
  • Deluxe gig bag include

Needs work

  • Funky, ugly duckling look might not be everyone's cup of tea
  • Can sound a bit thin unplugged, especially playing along with others with full body acoustics
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