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04/30/09 - Acoustic Guitar Magazine Reviews the Cargo


Composite Acoustics Cargo Review

Acoustic Guitar

Reviews a compact carbon-fiber guitar that can stand up to the rigors of the road. With video.

By Charles Saufley

See the video review of the Composite Acoustics Cargo

There's an understandable emphasis on size when it comes to travel guitars. But no matter how easily a guitar fits into an airliner's overhead compartment or over your shoulder, it's probably going to have to stand up to some rough handling at some point. In many ways, the Composite Acoustics (CA) Cargo, which won a bronze Players' Choice Award in 2008's Guitar of the Year category (see the Players' Choice Awards article here), is the ideal travel guitar solution. Built almost entirely from carbon fiber (also known by the more general term composite) using the same construction methods CA uses to create its impressive-sounding full-size, carbon-fiber instruments, the Cargo is light, supersturdy, and resonant. It is a practical travel instrument that sounds great, plays well, and will survive car trunks, cargo holds, crowded planes, and other hot, cold, and crushing environments that have claimed thousands of less sturdy guitars.


Founded a little more than ten years ago, Composite Acoustics has built a reputation for design and tone and has helped reshape notions of how carbon-fiber guitars can sound. Unlike some composite builders, CA uses carbon fiber for nearly every part of its instruments, except for the tuning machines and frets. The company has developed several signature styling and ergonomic elements, like a superdeep cutaway that extends along the back, as well as structural design innovations like integrated bracing (some carbon-fiber guitars have no bracing at all), each of which are included in the Cargo's design. In fact, the guitar looks and feels like a small-scale version of CA's GX model (the Cargo's body is 13.3 inches across; the GX is 16 inches.) With its sharp, deep-contoured cutaway, which enables access to every spot on the neck; offset soundhole on the upper treble bout; and heel-less joint, the Cargo is a testament to the construction versatility of carbon-fiber. In a nod to midcentury lutherie traditions, our review Cargo had a glossy tobacco-sunburst finish (the Cargo is also available with a less expensive, carbon-colored matte finish), which made the guitar look a bit like a futuristic, fattened Les Paul Jr. As good as it looks, however, the glossy finish is prone to scratches and thus is probably not as durable as one of CA's colored matte finishes. And while the guitar's craftsmanship is mostly impeccable, some of the rough interior surfaces, which are inherent in the carbon-fiber manufacturing process, are plainly visible through the soundhole.


One of the most appealing aspects of CA's carbon-fiber instruments is their playability. The setup on CA guitars changes very little after they've left the factory, and it was a joy to immediately experience action this nice on a travel guitar. The Cargo's intonation is excellent, which is particularly impressive on a short-scale instrument, and the medium-low action made it easy to play barre chords and buzz-free single-note lines all the way up the neck. The composite fingerboard has a flattish radius that, when combined with the 1 / -inch nut width and allfret access, creates a spacious feel on the fretboard that's good for flatpicked, bendy blues and ideal for fingerstyle work. The Cargo's tone and response are also exceptionally well suited to fingerstyle. A soft attack on fingerpicked chords delivered the most colorful sounds, and the guitar's wide sonic spectrum and palette of overtones was particularly impressive when tuned down to D and C, where it produced plenty of bass volume and sustain. The guitar's range and crystalline tones are perfect for fast fingerstyle improvisations, and I had a blast inventing melodies around Bert Jansch's "Blackwaterside" theme—playing chiming single notes and buzz-free bends all the way up to the 20th fret on the first and fourth strings while the detuned sixth string droned with warmth, depth, and dimension. Vigorous strumming stripped the Cargo of some its overtone-rich character, however. While the guitar is loud enough for a rowdy campfire jam, an aggressive attack—especially on first-position chords—made the guitar sound compressed and less detailed. Our review Cargo came equipped with an L.R. Baggs Element undersaddle pickup and preamp controlled by a single volume control. I tried the guitar through a 400-watt Yamaha PA and a Fender Acoustisonic 30 combo amplifier and found that the Cargo's admirable bass-rich qualities became a handful when amplified. I could control this by rolling off the bass frequency on the PA and amp, but without an EQ or notch filter on the guitar itself, it was hard to quell bass-frequency feedback at high volume. Of course, electronics aren't the main focus of a travel instrument, but their addition does make the Cargo more versatile than the average travel guitar.


Regardless of size, the Cargo is an able performer that is exceptionally responsive and easy to play. While it may not be the most inexpensive travel guitar on the market, its durability and musicality make it an investment that will give back a lot over the long term.

At a Glance Composite Acoustics Cargo


Carbon-fiber top, back, sides, and neck. Composite fretboard, bridge, nut, and saddle. Integrated carbon-fiber bracing. 22.75-inch scale. 1 / -inch nut width. 2 / -inch string spacing at the saddle. High-gloss finish. Gotoh tuners. Active L.R. Baggs Element undersaddle transducer with volume control. Elixir Nanoweb strings. Made in USA.


Superb, travel-ready guitar with excellent color, tone, and dynamics.


Bass frequencies tend toward feedback when amplified.


$1,798 list/$1,478 street.


Composite Acoustics: (337) 233-4119; 04/30/2009

This article also appears in Acoustic Guitar, Issue #198


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