Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat Review: Acoustic Guitars Under $500

Published Categorized as Beginner Guitars Under 500, Concert Size Guitar Reviews, Fender Acoustic Guitars, Guitar Reviews, Guitar Reviews under 500, Laminate Back and Sides Wood, Mahogany Patterned Laminate Back and Sides, Mahogany Top Wood, Solid Wood Top Wood

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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.


Table of Contents

How the Tim Armstrong 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. I included a video 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 60s guitar that Tim Armstrong from Rancid apparently writes all of his songs for Rancid on. I didn’t necessariy get a beat up old 60s guitar feel from it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

acoustic guitar's tonality

The Hellcat’s Body Type

One thing that I did notice when I picked up the Tim Armstrong version 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 Tim Armstrong 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 material 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. After all, this guitar is listed as one of the best acoustic guitars for beginners. 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.

The Action

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

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.

The Shape

As I mentioned earlier, the Hellcat is a concert shaped guitar. This basically means that the lower bout on the guitar is around 13 to 14 inches compared with a lower bout width of 15 inches on a grand auditorium and 16 inches on a dreadnought.

The concert body style is great for smaller players or anyone who likes smaller guitars in general. Playability-wise I quite enjoyed playing it.

Nut width

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.


Who this Guitar is Best Suited to

Now, a quick word on who the Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat guitar would be 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, you’ll like the Tim Armstrong Hellcat. The highs aren’t too jangly and the bass not that resonant. You’ll probably love the sound of this guitar if those sound good to you. 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.

The Tim Armstrong Hellcat 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

value for money tick

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

Disclosure: Links in the post may be affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you.

Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat Concert Acoustic Guitar, Natural, Walnut Fingerboard
Buy on Amazon Primeeligible

If you are keen to learn more about the Hellcat, or if you’re ready to buy, or if you want to research current prices and availability, check out the Amazon page.

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.

Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat FAQs

What is a Hellcat guitar?

The Hellcat guitar is a signature acoustic guitar model created by Fender in collaboration with Tim Armstrong, the lead vocalist and guitarist of the punk rock band Rancid. The Hellcat guitar is part of Fender’s Artist Series and is designed to reflect Armstrong’s playing style and preferences. Some notable features of the Hellcat guitar include a distinctive “Hellcat” logo on the pickguard, a Fishman Isys III pickup system for amplification, and a 12th-fret double-skull inlay as a nod to Armstrong’s punk rock aesthetic.

What was the Fender Hellcat based on?

While the Hellcat guitar incorporates some specific features and aesthetic touches that reflect Tim Armstrong’s preferences and style, such as the distinctive pickguard logo and the 12th-fret double-skull inlay, the underlying design and construction of the Hellcat are based on the traditional dreadnought acoustic guitar.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)


  1. What a awesome site makes me want to go get a guitar and learn playing. I was wondering is there one with maybe a smaller neck for smaller hands. When i have picked up friends guitars it is extremely hard to reach for the chords? Also we see you must own the hellcat, what grade is that baby we liked the sound! Ok take care and hope to hear back soon…

    1. Hey Robert

      Thanks for stopping by. The necks don’t get much smaller than 1.69″ (43mm) – there are some with 1.61″ (41mm) necks but they are very uncommon. The standard is 1.72″ (43.7mm).

      The problem if you go too much smaller is that strings become very close together which makes it more difficult to accurately place your fingers in the correct spot.

      However, 43mm is quite narrow and some necks have quite a shallow curve on the back of the neck which also makes it easier to play for smaller hands.

      Guitar necks can be as wide as 2″ (51mm) on classical guitars and up to 1.85″ (47mm) on steel string acoustics. So the guitar you tried may have had quite a wide neck. Also if you are just starting out it can feel hard to stretch for the chords but as your hands and fingers strengthen this gets much easier.

      Hope this helps and answers your question.

  2. Hey I really like the concept of your website and how everything looks. It’s really easy on the eyes and it’s easy to navigate; you can go from one article to the next with no problem.

    I really like how you included standards on how you’re going to review the guitar. A’lot of people just give a review with no guidelines. That was really helpful when it came to reading the post.

    Thanks for the information, it was really helpful

    1. Hey Dylan

      Glad you like the site. Yeah I definitely think there needs to be a standard way to review so there is consistency between reviews.

      For that reason I also have a set list of songs that I play on each guitar that I review so that I can more accurately compare between guitars too.

      Thanks for visiting

  3. Hello Nate ! Congrats for your site .I really liked your article ,cause I have a Tim Armstrong Hellcat .So , question:
    I don’t like light strings , I prefer Medium. Do what model and brand for strings do you recomend ?

  4. I wanted to love mine but didn’t. I noticed plastic pins. I picked a string and felt the pin vs guitar. The pin vibrates harder than guitar. there goes tone clarity and Volume. I replaced pins with rosewood and abalone. I had to take pocket knife and scrape new pins to fit. It was a perfect fit. Unlike stock pins. I used Dardario nickel bronze light strings. I mean yes. Do this. It’s so much better.

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