Cole Clark Angel 3 Series AN3EC-BLBL

December 21st, 2016

This is a feature from the January/February 2017 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on the unique artistry and dedication of Tokyo’s ESP Custom Shop, Kentucky Headhunters lead guitarist Greg Martin and his fine vintage guitars; MLB pitcher/guitar collector/musician Jake Peavy and his efforts to help local musicians, disadvantaged youths, and military veterans; producer/guitarist Daniel Lanois and his passion for pedal-steel guitars, motorcycles, and recording technology… plus much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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Voice of an Angel: Cole Clark Angel 3 Series AN3EC-BLBL

By Richard Bienstock | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta

Cole Clark Guitars CEO Miles Jackson says one of his company’s main objectives is “to have a guitar that is different from other people’s guitars.” With its wide-ranging line of acoustics, the Melbourne, Australia–based manufacturer has certainly achieved this fundamental credo, right down to the unusual tonewoods it employs in its builds. The company, founded in 2001, prides itself on its devotion to sourcing local timbers, and, given Cole Clark’s Aussie home base, this means guitars constructed from species like bunya, Tasmanian blackwood, and Queensland maple. But exotic woods (by Western standards, at least) are only the beginning of what makes a Cole Clark guitar unique. The company’s approach to everything from neck construction to acoustic pickup design offers a fresh take on the acoustic six-string.

An exquisite example of this nonstandard approach is the guitar shown here, the grand auditorium-sized Angel 3 Series BLBL. In Cole Clark parlance, 3 Series guitars represent the company’s top-of-the-line offerings, with high-end appointments, a proprietary three-way pickup, and AAA-grade tonewoods. On this example, those tonewoods are a Tasmanian blackwood top paired with Tasmanian blackwood back and sides (hence, the BLBL designation). Though relatively unfamiliar on these shores, blackwood “appears in Australia from southern Tasmania to halfway up Queensland,” Jackson explains. “There’s an awful lot of it, and that’s a good thing, because it’s sustainable.”

Tone-wise, he continues, “blackwood is one genetic sequence away from koa. They’re very, very close cousins.” Much like koa, blackwood is a particularly stiff timber with a crisp sound, and lends itself to plugged-in playing—which, Jackson says, is where the Angel really sings. This is in large part due to Cole Clark’s proprietary three-way pickup system, which combines a trio of transducer elements to project a multifaceted, true acoustic sound that’s free of piezo “quack” and feedback. The company thinks of its pickup design as functioning similar to a home audio system, where subwoofers, midrange speakers, and treble horns handle distinct frequencies. In the case of the Angel’s electronics, individual under-the-bridge piezo sensors for each string capture the guitar’s low end; a “Face Sensor” built into the integral braces on the lower bout attends to the midrange frequencies; and a unidirectional condenser microphone mounted into the underside of the preamp is dedicated to the high-end output.

The pickup system is blended via two preamp dials (one that mixes the output from the piezos and the Face Sensor, and another for microphone level) and offers exceptional nuance and richness of tone. The result, Jackson says, “is a really natural acoustic sound, very much like if you had a microphone sitting in front of a guitar in the studio. So much so, in fact, that when people record with our guitars they’ll often just plug straight into the desk.”

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Another unique facet of the Angel—and, for that matter, all Cole Clark guitars—is the Spanish-heel neck design, a classical-guitar construction method that sees the front, back, and sides of the body glued directly to the neck, which itself runs as a continuous piece from the headstock all the way to the sound hole. “It’s a method that has been used for 300-odd years in Spanish-style instruments,” Jackson says. “It gives the guitar a totally different character. There’s less compression, and it takes on a different bottom end—very clean and almost piano-like.”

The neck on the Angel shown here is constructed from Queensland maple, which provides another point of interest. “Queensland maple is not what you think of in the U.S. as maple,” Jackson points out. “It’s a tree here in Australia that’s white, so early settlers called it maple. But it’s not related to U.S. maple at all. It’s not even a good friend—it’s its own species.” That Queensland maple neck is topped with an ebony fingerboard (there is also an ebony bridge—the only nonsustainable wood used in the Angel) that boasts generous Australian abalone fret inlays, and additional abalone ornamentation can be found in the soundhole rosette and the trademark “hip” inlays on the body. Other adornments include subtle timber binding on the fretboard and body as well as rosewood piping on the rosette. A neat visual accent is the strip of bright Queensland maple that runs down the center of the darker Tasmanian blackwood headstock. The contrasting colors and shapes (as well as the sizeable, contoured Grover Imperial tuners) lend a pleasing, archtop-esque art deco flair to the Angel.

The result is an instrument that, from construction materials to electronics to aesthetics, is both a stunning and, yes, “different” type of acoustic guitar. “When we get the chance to explain to people about the woods, pickups, and Spanish heel, they get it,” Jackson says.

But more importantly, he adds, “The main thing to us is that when guitarists pick up a Cole Clark they ask themselves, ‘Is this going to inspire me to do something different in my playing?’ Because it’s useful to have different guitars to encourage you in different ways. And this guitar will certainly take you in another direction.”

STREET PRICE: $3,199
Cole Clark Guitars, coleclarkguitars.com

This is a feature from the January/February 2017 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on the unique artistry and dedication of Tokyo’s ESP Custom Shop, Kentucky Headhunters lead guitarist Greg Martin and his fine vintage guitars; MLB pitcher/guitar collector/musician Jake Peavy and his efforts to help local musicians, disadvantaged youths, and military veterans; producer/guitarist Daniel Lanois and his passion for pedal-steel guitars, motorcycles, and recording technology… plus much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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