Hello and welcome to my Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat Review.
This is the first in a series of reviews of acoustic guitars costing less than 500 dollars.
How the Hellcat will be Rated
First off I will discuss the sound of the guitar, both from my own experience and what you can expect from the materials used in making the guitar – followed by some videos of the guitar being played so that you can get some idea of the sound for yourself.
Then I will discuss the playability – again both from my own experience and based on the materials used on the guitar.
Finally I will discuss the overall value for money, the type of guitarist the guitar would be best suited to and some links to some user reviews so that you can get some other opinions of the guitar’s sound and playability.
O.k. let’s get into it!
The Hellcat’s Sound Characteristics
The first thing that should be mentioned is that this guitar is based on a beat up old 60’s guitar that Tim Armstrong from Rancid apparently writes all of his songs for Rancid on. I didn’t necessariy get a beat up old 60’s guitar feel from it – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Hellcat’s Body Type
One thing that I did notice when I picked up this guitar was that it was a small hellcat. The guitar felt slightly smaller than what I was used to and this is because it is a concert shape.
If you are used to a dreadnought then this guitar will feel small – it will even feel small compared to a grand auditorium shape (the next most common body type next to the dreadnought) – but this definitely isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I don’t think it hindered the playing ability or the sound of the guitar.
Sure, it doesn’t produce the same kind of volume and boom as a dreadnought, so if you are really looking for that then you are better off going for a dreadnought, but it certainly wasn’t timid either.
The Hellcat’s Materials
O.k. so here’s a brief list of the materials used on the hellcat and what you can expect from the sound.
- Top (Soundboard): Solid Mahogany. This will produce a much warmer tone than the more common spruce tops. For some ears this is a really nice warm tone. To others it’s a muddy sound. Personally I love the tone of Mahogany so, for me, that helped this guitar to sound great.
- Back and Sides: The back and sides are also Mahogany. But this time laminated mahogany. It’s not even expected to get solid wood on the back and sides of guitars under 1000 (though some do) so I definitely wasn’t expecting it on a guitar well under 500.
- Bracing: It does have scalloped x bracing which is definitely nice for the price. This type of bracing is often found on more expensive guitars.
- Fretboard: Though this is more of a playability than sound thing it can affect the sound too. Rosewood is a great fretboard material so all good there.
- Nut and Saddle: The nut and saddle are made from Urea plastic. I’m not too disappointed that this guitar has a plastic nut and saddle. Had they put on a better nut and a better saddle they probably would have sold it for a good bit more so this isn’t a problem for me, but it is the first thing I would change on this guitar after I bought it.
Hear the Sound for Yourself
You’ll never get the full impression of the sound from watching videos but hopefully this video should give you some idea of the sound.
The Hellcat’s Playability
When I first started playing this I was pleasantly surprised with how it played. It felt like it played quite fast and didn’t require too much effort.
But after playing for a few minutes my hand started to feel fatigued which is when I noticed the action was quite high.
A high action isn’t the end of the world because it’s something that can be adjusted – which is, along with replacing the nut and saddle, the first thing I’d have done to this guitar. If you aren’t sure how to lower the action then see if you know someone who does or take it to a guitar shop to be done.
You’ll definitely be thankful if you do unless you like the action high, in which case it’s probably ok where it is. Personally I prefer my action low.
The fretboard felt nice. It’s made from Rosewood so that’s part the reason. This is the most common material for acoustic guitar fretboards but it’s the most common for a reason – because it does a great job.
Bending, sliding etc was easy enough to do on this guitar. It would be even easier with a lower action.
As I mentioned earlier, the Hellcat is a concert shaped guitar. This basically means that the lower bout on the guitar is around 13 ½ to 14 inches compared with a lower bout width of 15 inches on a grand auditorium and 16 inches on a dreadnought.
This is great for smaller players or anyone who likes smaller guitars in general. Playability-wise I quite enjoyed playing it.
The nut width is 1.69” (43mm). This is pretty standard on acoustics these days but it’s a nice slim nut great for anyone with smaller hands and great for strumming and flat-picking. A slightly wider nut width can be better for finger picking but I didn’t have any trouble finger picking on this guitar.
Check out some user reviews at the links below to get an idea what others think of this guitar.
This is a very popular guitar so there is no shortage of user reviews going around, as you can see from the links above.
Who this Guitar is Best Suited to
Given the smaller size then anyone who prefers a smaller instrument will enjoy playing this guitar. But even if you aren’t used to a smaller size you may like this guitar for other reasons.
If you like a nice compact, balanced tone that is warm – so the highs aren’t too jangly and the bass not that resonant – then you’ll probably love the sound of this guitar. You can really strum this guitar quite hard and the sound won’t sound piercing or muddled (if that makes sense!).
If you are a specialist finger picker then it’s possibly not the best choice but that being said I certainly had no trouble finger picking on it. So if you like to do a bit of finger picking as well as strumming and flat-picking then this guitar would be great as an all-rounder.
This guitar would also be great for a beginner or for a kid learning. Its smaller size makes it easy to handle and easy to play in that sense. Get the action lowered and it’s almost the ideal starter guitar – and the price is good for beginners too.
All in all a great little guitar at a great price.
Value for Money?
There was nothing particularly special about this guitar, apart from its looks (I think it looks pretty awesome personally – mainly due to that mahogany top) but overall it is a great compact sounding guitar and quite nice to play. For the price you are getting a quality instrument here.
Like I said earlier I would definitely lower the action and probably replace the nut and saddle. After doing those things I would be extremely happy with this guitar. Without actually doing them it’s hard to say how much impact they would make but my guess is that this would be more like a $1,000 guitar with those simple-ish and cheap changes.
And you know, I’m fussy – so you may not even feel those changes are necessary. So overall definitely a yes in terms of value for money!
More Info and Where to Buy
>>Tim Armstrong Hellcat at Amazon.ca (Canada)
If you want to check out some other under 500 options or want to see how the Hellcat compares to other guitars in this price range, check out my top 5 guitars under 500 at the link below.