Andrew White Freja 1022 Review
For the past 14 years, West Virginia luthier Andrew White has been building steel-string acoustic guitars that are at once traditional and experimental, with modified body shapes, radial I-beam bracing patterns, and fanned frets. As White’s reputation has grown, so too has the asking price of his guitars. Five years ago his base price was $3,700. It is now $6,900, and his average instrument goes for around $10,000.
White recently joined forces with Artec Sound, a Korean guitar and accessories manufacturer, to open a new factory designed to make 10,000 guitars a month—a far cry from the 20 a year or so the luthier makes himself. White’s Korean-made line features three body sizes of steel-string guitars with a variety of tonewood and cosmetic options, as well as a crossover nylon-string model—all with solid soundboards and optional solid or laminated back and sides. From the company’s top-of-the-line All Solid series, I checked out the Freja 1022.
Smartly Modern, Nicely Built
With a body depth of just over 4.5 inches and width of 16 inches, the Freja’s body shape is closest to a standard jumbo. An exaggeratedly sloped upper left bout and idiosyncratic Florentine cutaway distinguish the instrument from an ordinary steel-string guitar, as do the blackwood back and sides, pau ferro fingerboard and bridge, and neck of Spanish cedar (a wood more often found on classical guitars). An attractive collection of tonewoods was used on our review guitar. The book-matched blackwood back has a warm brown coloration with an eye-catching, two-inch-wide blond center stripe, while the Sitka spruce soundboard is tightly grained and nearly free of imperfections.
A smartly modern-looking guitar, the Freja boasts some of the same appointments as the guitars made by White in his shop. There’s an effusion of wood in the details. The body binding is made not of plastic but flamed maple, the purfling is maple and mahogany, and the rosette has a zebrawood central ring encircled by outer layers of maple and mahogany. There are no position markers or binding on the clean fingerboard, and the electronics are similarly tidy, tucked discreetly inside the soundhole instead of being mounted externally. A subtly asymmetrical bridge and angled headstock logo add a bit of playfulness to the design.
The craftsmanship on the Freja was good. The 21 frets were seated cleanly and free of jagged edges, though the crowns could have been a tad smoother. All the binding was tight and flush with the body, and the finish had a sumptuous, even gloss. Our review model had none of the internal sloppiness common to imported guitars. All the components were smoothly shaped and sanded and there were no traces of excess glue.
The neck on the Freja had a medium-shaped C profile and the strings sat above the fingerboard at a medium height. The action was comfortable, generally accommodating a range of fretting-hand approaches, from thumb-fretted chords to zippy single-note lines, though I did experience a bit of fatigue when playing fully barred grips for extended periods of time. Overall, the guitar felt a little stiff, but it probably just needed to be broken in.
According to White, the Freja was named for the Norse goddess of love and war, because it is intended to excel at the contrasting roles of rhythm and melody. Arguably, these functions are not mutually exclusive, but the Freja does perform as promised. Chords strummed with a pick formed an ample wall of sound, while single-note melodies were crisp and articulate. Whether I played the chord progression to Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” or some pseudo-bluegrass lines, the guitar sounded consistently good—full-bodied and resonant.
Though many fingerstylists prefer smaller bodies, the jumbo-size Freja works just as well for fingerpicking as it does for flatpicking. The guitar is very responsive when played with the fingers. On basic Travis picking, the notes rang together beautifully, well-balanced across the sonic spectrum, from a taut bass to a robust treble. And the sound did not get muddy when a capo was added or when I used tunings with less string tension, such as open G, D A D G A D, or even open C.
The Freja 1022 comes equipped with a proprietary dual-source electronics system that combines a traditional piezo undersaddle pickup with a mini microphone attached to a preamp inside the guitar. This system, which is powered by a nine-volt battery, includes controls for volume, the blend of piezo and mic, a bass boost, an acoustic-amp simulator, and a phase switch. There’s also a battery-check switch plus a mic-gain control, not on the front panel, but on the bottom of the unit. The electronics are intuitive, and the location of the controls, easily reachable right inside the soundhole, is handy for making quick adjustments to the sound. Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp and set with an equal blend between mic and piezo, the sytem had a relatively noise-free, transparent sound that nicely captured the guitar’s acoustic voice. With the bass boost, it was easy to add sturdiness to the low end without overwhelming the other registers, and the phase switch helped attenuate a bit of feedback when the amp was turned up.
At a little more than $1,000, the Freja costs a fraction of a handmade Andrew White instrument, while sharing its thoughtful design elements. It’s a fine acoustic guitar in its own right, and, for certain players it may be a gateway to the thrilling world of custom lutherie.
AT A GLANCE
SPECS: Cutaway Freja (jumbo) body shape. Solid Sitka spruce top with modified scalloped X-bracing. Solid blackwood back and sides. Spanish cedar neck. Pau ferro fingerboard and bridge. Graphtech NuBone nut and saddle. 25.5-inch scale. 1 11/16-inch nut width. 2 3/16-inch string spacing at saddle. Natural gloss finish on body, satin finish on neck. Laser-engraved tuners with 18:1 ratio. Artec SHP5 preamplifier, PP607 undersaddle piezo pickup, and mic. D’Addario EXP16 strings (.012–.053). Made in Korea.
PRICE: $1,455 list/$1,200 street.
MAKER: Andrew White Guitars: AndrewWhiteGuitars.com.
Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar, December 2013