Fender Duo-Sonic Review: The Most Underrated Fender Guitar
The Fender Duo-Sonic is an excellent choice for that player who prefers something a little different. The smaller offset body provides a unique feel and sound that you won’t find in a Strat or Tele.
In 1956, Leo Fender added a line of “student model” guitars which came in at a lower price point than the highly successful Telecaster and Stratocasters from previous years. Not only were they more affordable, they had a slightly shortened scale to accommodate younger players with smaller hands. These student models came in two iterations, the Musicmaster and the Duo-Sonic.
The Duo-Sonic was discontinued shortly after the Mustang was released, and has been reissued a few times since the original was released. Today we’ll be taking a look at the new Player Series Duo-Sonic.
If you’re wondering if the Duo-Sonic is a good fit for your collection, continue reading and we’ll let you know what we’ve found.
About Fender Guitars
Fender is a guitar brand that needs no introduction. They've dominated the electric guitar space since the 1950s and pioneered the Rock & Roll music genre.
Leo Fender founded Fender in 1946. Under his name, he began by creating amplifiers from a small workshop in Fullerton, California.
From humble beginnings, Fender would later create guitars that would shape music. The Telecaster in 1951 and the Stratocaster in 1954 are examples of Fender designs.
Fender continues to grow with offices worldwide. As they release new instruments and evolve classic guitar designs they don’t look like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
Fender Duo-Sonic Review Highlights:
This Duo-Sonic features an Alder body, and maple neck and should feel very familiar to those who have played Fender guitars of years past. The 24” inch scale, and 9.5” radius make this a very comfortable guitar to play. 2 single-coil pickups deliver the glassy Fender tone you’d come to expect. This offset body shape style has been very popular in indie rock and punk genres for many years for their unique look and vibe.
What We Liked
- Comfortable to play, the satin finish on the back of the neck provides a fast and smooth feel. Also very lightweight, coming in under 7lbs.
- Simplicity. With two single-coil pickups, 1 volume / 1 tone, and a three way selector it’s nearly impossible to find a bad sound on this guitar.
- Excellent value. Coming in at just under $650 USD, this guitar provides a ton of bang for your buck.
What We Didn’t Like
- Tuning stability. The lack of locking tuners may lead to frequent re-tuning.
- Neck dive: with the body being so lightweight, the headstock tends to dive.
- No case included, which isn’t a big deal at this price point.
Fender Duo Sonic Review: Features & Specifications
- Body Material: Alder
- Finish: Gloss Polyester
- Color options: Desert Sand, Seafoam Green, Tidepool
- Neck: maple, C shape, 9.5” radius, synthetic bone nut
- Frets: 22 medium jumbo
- Bridge/Tailpiece: 6-Saddle string-through hardtail w/ steel saddles
- Pickups: 2x Duo-Sonic Single-coil, 1 vol. / 1 tone / 3-way selector
- Also comines
Fender Duo Sonic Review: Our Insights
If you’ve played any of the other Player Series guitars of the past couple years, you probably know that they are a big step up from the Mexican standard series from prior years. This Duo-Sonic was no exception, and feels like a professional grade instrument. Straight out of the box the setup feels pretty great for a new guitar, and will require very little maintenance.
Alder has been the most popular choice for Fender bodies since the late 50’s, and is an overall great choice for guitars. It’s balanced, resonant, and has a bit of an upper-midrange focus. All of the Player Series models this year appear to be going with the choice of Alder.
Hardware and Electronics
We’ve found the volume and tone controls to be very responsive and smooth. The hardtail bridge and bent steel saddles provide excellent stability and sustain. While they do work well the included tuners would likely be the easiest and most beneficial upgrade as far as hardware goes.
The bent steel saddles give a bit of a vintage feel, and sound great. Having 6 separate saddles also makes sure that you can give each string the proper intonation and string height unlike the 3 saddles that Telecasters and some other Fender models have.
The fretwork from the factory is excellent. It’s not uncommon to have dirty frets that need polishes, or even some sharp edges on frets when buying guitars in the “budget” category. The frets here are completely shiny and clean, and there are no sharp edges to be found.
The Duo-Sonic pickups are clear and punchy, and take drive pedals very well. This guitar sounds quite unique when compared to your traditional Tele or Strat, and that’s why these have remained popular with fans of the offset Fenders for so long.
They really do offer a different sound and experience for those who like to stand out.
It’s hard to find a complaint when playing this guitar. The neck shape is very comfortable, and the shorter scale makes chording really easy.
The medium jumbo frets make bends and vibrato extremely easy to pull off, compared to the smaller frets you’ll find on vintage fenders. Out of the box, this was setup with .10-.46 Fender strings. The action was low and easy to play, and the intonation was nearly perfect. These short scale guitars tend to be very slinky with lighter gauge strings on them, I would recommend buying a back of .11 or even .12 gauge strings if you find them too slinky.
The neck feels a bit thick for a guitar so light and with a body so small. Because of this, it’s comfortable to grab even if you have a bit larger hands. The downside of this is that the neck tends to dive towards the floor, making it a bit annoying to play standing up using a strap.
Possibly my favorite playability feature is the satin finish on the back of the neck. I can’t understate how nice it feels to move up and down the neck with no resistance like you’d normally find with the poly finish on Fender guitar necks.
Don’t be fooled by the “made in Mexico” stamp on the back of the headstock, this is an instrument that feels and sounds great. This is one of the lowest priced options that Fender offers outside of the Squier line, and has high quality woods and components.
Improvements that Fender have been using since the introduction of the Player Series line have really added a level of quality that they had lacked in the past. Any of the instruments in the line are suitable for any player from bedroom guitarists, to professional gigging musicians.
Fender Duo Sonic Review: Buying Experience
All guitars from Sweetwater ship for free following a thorough 55-point inspection.
Fans of Sweetwater not only rave about the company’s customer service, but also their attention to detail when it comes to shipping higher-end products, like guitars. That’s important, because the guitar will only arrive in a Fender cardboard box.
If you’re concerned about protecting your new Fender from the risks of shipping, you can order a case from Sweetwater and they’ll put the guitar in it before shipping it out.
We should also note that Sweetwater runs a very efficient warehouse operation, and in most cases your guitar will ship the same day or the following and arrive within 2 days via FedEx.
As long as you register your guitar and return your warranty card within 30 days of purchasing, you can take advantage of Fender’s 2-year limited warranty program.
Fender’s limited warranty doesn’t cover normal “wear and tear”, or negligence, like leaving your guitar in an extremely humid environment. Fret wear, nut wear, saddle wear are a few examples of the “wear and tear” damages that are not covered.
If you decide that the Duo-Sonic isn’t a great fit for you, Sweetwater offers a great, “no hassle” return policy.
As long as the guitar is still in “like-new” condition they will send you a label to ship the item back, no questions asked.
If you want a refund, Sweetwater will deduct the actual amount to ship it back to them from that total refund amount.
Should You Buy the Fender Duo-Sonic?
If you’re a fan of smaller guitars, and enjoy the sound of Fender single coils, I don’t think you could go wrong with this choice. If you’re looking for a simple guitar that feels great to play, this could be the one for you!
The price point on these at $650 is a great value for a guitar of this quality, without breaking the bank. For the player who wants to add something unique to their collection, this is an instrument we could definitely recommend.
Fender Duo Sonic Alternatives
Fender Duo-Sonic Vs Fender Mustang 90
Coming in at the same price point, the Mustang 90 is a worthy competitor for your hard earned money. You’ll notice a lot of similarities right off the bat; 2 single coil pickups, same pickup selector and controls, the same hardtail bridge, same body shape and weight.
The largest differences are the pickups and the fretboard.
Pickups: 2 Fender P90 single-coils.
If you’ve not played a P90 loaded guitar before, you’ll notice that they tend to be quite a bit louder than your standard single coil, and brighter than humbuckers. The Duo-Sonic in comparison would be a bit quieter, and likely brighter than these P90’s that are in the Mustang.
Fretboard: Pau Ferro – this is an alternative to the old standard of Rosewood, which has been increasingly more difficult to source in recent years. It offers the same smooth and warm tonal properties as Rosewood.
If you side-by-side the maple neck of the Duo-Sonic vs the Pau Ferro you’d probably notice that the maple’s sound is brighter and snappier, but both are awesome options.
Both guitars would make an excellent addition to your arsenal.
Fender Duo-Sonic Vs Fender Player Stratocaster
The Fender Player Stratocaster is a Mexican made strat that rivals that of an American Strat at much more affordable price.
Read our Fender Player Stratocaster Review
Next let’s take a look at the Player Series Stratocaster, coming in at $100 more than the Duo-Sonic it offers more tonal options and choices.
First lets go over the big physical differences:
- Longer scale length at 25.5”
- 3 single-coil pickups with a 5 way selector, 1 volume 2 tone knobs
- Comes in many colors, and the option of Maple or Pau Ferro fretboard
Tonally the Duo-Sonic single-coils will sound different than the Strat’s single coils. You have more switching options with the Strat, making it very versatile but depending on your preference, the simplicity and ease of use of the Duo-Sonic might outweigh the benefit of more choices that the Stratocaster provides.
If you were to pick these two guitars up you’ll notice the weight and size of the Stratocaster immediately: it’s significantly longer and has about a full pound or more in weight over the Duo. The scale length difference makes certain chords with large stretches a bit more difficult on the Strat. This also affects how many steps you can take a bend as well, with the Duo-Sonic allowing you to bend several steps in some cases.
Fender Duo-Sonic Vs Fender Player Telecaster
The Fender Player Telecaster is a Mexican made guitar that is almost identical to it's American counterpart at half the price. It's an excellent value and most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
Similar to the Stratocaster we talked about above, the Telecaster is also going to cost you $100 more than the Duo-Sonic.
Also, same as before there are a number of physical differences but also some big similarities.
First lets go over the big physical differences:
- Longer scale length at 25.5”
- 2 single-coil pickups with a 3 way selector, 1 volume 1 tone
- Comes in several colors, and the option of Maple or Pau Ferro fretboard
The Telecaster and Duo-Sonic have a similar electronics layout, but the pickups will sound very different. The Telecaster is known for its twangy and bright tone, and this Player Series model is no different. The Duo-Sonic will be more balanced and warm.
Once again, the larger size of the Telecaster will be very noticeable if you’re used to smaller body guitars like the Duo-Sonic.
Hard to go wrong with either of these choices!
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re a beginner looking for a great first guitar, an intermediate guitar player looking to upgrade, or a gigging professional looking to add a new sound to your arsenal, the Duo-Sonic would be a good choice.
Some of us can get overwhelmed by the amount of options we have available to us. Between our amp settings, pedals, and the controls of the guitar there seems to be an ever growing amount of choices. With no fancy switches, no tremolo, and no coil taps/splits, this simple but effective guitar makes it easy to just pick up and get to making music.
The Duo-Sonic offers the following:
- Stylish sleek looks and extreme comfortability
- Unique tones and feel
- Simple controls so you can focus on playing
I hope this review helped you in making your decision about the Fender Player Duo-Sonic, if you have any questions we can answer please let us know!