A gaggle of Cole Clarks

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A look at Australia’s ‘other’ guitar company

Guitarnerd has been concentrating on Maton’s for a while now. There’s more Maton stories in the works, but I’m taking a break from them for the rest of the year so I can look at what else is out there.

Recently I had the opportunity to try out a lovely Cole Clark Culprit owned by my friend Lindsay, who plays guitar in Frenzal Rhomb. He said I could borrow it for a bit to muck around with, and I’ve had a ball.

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Cole Clark was started by Adam Cole and Brad Clarke, both ex-Maton who due to various reasons decided to start up a company and do it their way. They used their knowledge of CNC techniques to make a top quality Australian instrument at a great price. Two years into it, Adam Cole left and recently Brad Clark has left to work for Ashton guitars in China. The company is still going strong and pumping out some really good gear.

The Culprit is obviously Cole Clark’s take on the Fender Tele, but made with Australian woods to a very high standard. This example is rather special in that the neck is made out of some dark Australian wood which I’m not unsure of… and it’s serial number 000001.

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Initially Cole Clark’s headstock shape were a lot more Fender shaped. This, and the fact that they had a guitar called the Defender (De-Fender… get it?) meant Fender sent them a nice letter basically telling them “C’mon, dudes… seriously?” Hence the headstock redesign…

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The carve looks reminiscent of the scroll that John Butler added to his Matons. I’m not sure if this was intentional or a coincidence, but the resemblance is there…

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The body is medium weight on the lighter side. Very comfortable but not featherweight. I think Cole Clark use Bunya Pine for a lot of their bodies, which Maton did back in the day.

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Hardware is all top notch. The Wlkinson bridge and saddles help the notes really ring, as does the string through design. The pickups are made inhouse and have a lot of output and clarity. The bridge has a lot of grunt, while the neck has a lot of Danelectro-type bite, which is good for a Tele as I’ve played a few that are a bit wooly sounding. Also, the neck is adjusted at the bottom like Maton which again shows this guitars’ roots.

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A nice touch is the engraved Cole Clark text in the scratch plate, which is nice and thick.

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Strapped on, it’s a really comfortable, pro-feeling instrument. It’s not vintage feeling… it’s old looking but totally modern. Like a ’57 Chevy with 2012 Corvette running gear fitted. I’m really impressed and a new fan. Why pay $1500+ for a Japanese or Mexican Tele when you can get an Australian made version that plays just as good, if not better for less money? It’s win, win.

So while I was enjoying this guitar, my friend Mark told me he’d recently bought a Cole Clark as well and dropped it round for me to check out. He got this beauty dirt cheap and again… what a quality piece of gear.

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This Cole Clark Strat is made of Bunya Pine and has a bit of weight to it… Reminiscent of the 70′s Antigua Strat I used to have. It’s manageable but I like my guitars a little lighter. The finish is beautifully applied… The edges are actually a dark brown, not black and the Bunya grain is lovely, almost spruce like.

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The neck is a full feeling profile, which is similar to the Cole Clark Tele. It’s really comfortable to play and silky smooth. The frets are a little bigger than the Tele’s as well. Again, we have the headstock scroll and some nice quality tuners topping it off.

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The pickup on Mark’s example have been swapped out for a set of Seymour Duncan mini humbuckers. Personally, I like my Strat’s to sound like a Strat (as does Mark). This guitar is very ‘rock’ and a lot of the snap and sparkle is missing. Nothing a good set of Brierley’s wouldn’t fix.

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One thing I noticed A/B’ing the Tele and Strat is that the Strat has a LOT more bottom end when played acoustically. There’s a lot more depth to the sound. It might be the body weight or maybe it’s the piece of wood this particular guitar is made from. It just sounds BIG.

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I rate this as good as any modern Fender Strat I’ve played. If I didn’t have my Coronado Strat, I’d probably chase down one of these…

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So there you go. Another option in the already crowded Fender a-like market. If your looking for some single coil action, give these a try.