The Alvarez M equates to the initial of the Masterworks series of guitars. It’s with great pleasure we can welcome this expanded part of their range of instruments here in the UK. Why so? Perhaps it’s because the company carries such an elite list of famously affiliated players or may be it’s because of their research and development. Alternatively you could be equally switched on to their surprising affordability but not least of all, their catapulting array of sonic qualities. Steve Hackett, Devin Townsend and Zakk Wylde each has reason to acknowledge the forethought that goes into the Alvarez brand. So, what musical assignments will these guitars equip you for?
This MD really does know how to conduct business. Don’t be mistaken by the intentional understated exterior. From behind the scenes this guitar leaps out and grabs you by the ears and is full of instructive tone. This particular range has been two years in the making but as a company they have been making and repairing guitars for close to 60 years, their roots being planted in importing, setting up and producing violins and acoustic guitars. Apart from their iconic bridge design, much else has contributed to these instruments maturation.
The bridge itself has a split-level construction to facilitate the optimal angle of the strings rake over the saddle thus imparting a large amount of energy transfer into the guitars tops. Similarly the tapered wings of the bridge perform a similar function but have a thicker mass than where the saddles are seated to impart energy to the respective bass and treble sides.
The back and sides are of solid Indian Rosewood and the top is AA graded Sitka spruce. The woods employed have been selected after a seasoning period and look simply stunning. The body top and back are bound in maple and in this modern incarnation the MD70 loses its maple neck binding in favour of a sleek dark rosewood fingerboard, (which is bound) and suitably matches the bridge. Here you find a family of ebony bridge pins. Hooray! They are hard wearing and dense, beautiful and contributory to great tone. The saddle is cleanly intonated. There are no fingerboard dot markers but instead side dots and an elegantly stylised twelfth fret elliptical ‘eye’ inlay complimenting the green abalone soundhole inlay.
The neck has a satin feel and is made of a one-piece heel and one-piece for the neck and headstock. Its profile has a gentle ‘D’ cross section which is substantial and at the same time wholly comfortable.
Internally, the guitar has spruce bracing, spruce ribbons and excellent Indian rosewood side bracing connects them. The end and neck blocks appear to be made of mahogany all of which is cleanly finished and shaped. The guitar is well set-up and is effortless to play with only one small gripe as the B string pinches excessively in the nut when tuning – easily remedied.
This dreadnought is loud, rich and full with detail in individual notes as well as in the greater breadth of chord voices. The rosewood delivers its bass in a broad spectrum and wall of volume with the spruce tightening up its focus and adding clarity to the top end detail.
Harmonics are very well-defined and in combination the guitar offers a purity of tone which is easily apparent from each string, even when playing hard. Similarly the definition is there when playing with more dynamics at lower volumes. Where the guitar also scores very well is within its general balance of volume from string to string. Perhaps most importantly this guitar has personality, is lively and has a healthy vibrant quality which lends itself to performance for an audience.
Alavarez has decades of experience of making guitars in Japan. This knowledge has been effectively well transferred into these Chinese-made guitars. How so? The neck stability and subsequent set-up is beautifully well-executed. Picking open chords is a pleasure on this guitar as the action is so low. The fret height and thickness of the frets is a subtle but valuable part of this guitar’s superb playability. It seems to have an energy all of its own as it reciprocates with your efforts.
Action at the first fret on the respective low and high E strings is 1.5mm and 1mm. At the twelfth fret the results are 1.8mm and 1.2mm. Playability is outstanding and a real pleasure play for longer periods of time with than a more taxing set-up.
The body depth is quarter of an inch shallower than the dreadnought at 4 ½ inches and likewise the narrower waist comes in at a more intimate 9 ½ inches rather than 11. At the point the strings sit on the saddle, their spacing is slightly wider at 2 and 1/8th of an inch. There is about 1/16th of an inch difference between the instruments which you can appreciate if you’re sat playing both for long stretches.
The combination of tonewoods and proportional thicknessing pays dividends with this more delicate and distilled bespoke fingerpicker-friendly partner. The internal structure uses the same materials fashioned for the G body style proportions and even the preamp mounting plate is generously made from Indian rosewood.
The preamp itself is an Alvarez B-Band SYS 650 unit. Unlike many standard preamp units, this offers you a blend slider control between the pure under saddle transducer tone and acoustic sensor tone. As a slider, rather than a small rotary knob, you can make very quick adjustments say, for example, between your bright fingerpicked tones and perhaps darker rhythmical playing – particularly if you are prone to perspire this can be achieved with minimal fuss and still produce practical live performance tones.
It doesn’t have the same robustness and fullness as the dreadnought, as you may expect. Its strength lies in the clarity and precision of the top-end frequencies. These qualities are more prominent in their detail and once amplified is more apparent still. Once you have established the blend mix to your taste, (somewhere in the middle produces a great balance between definition and underlying presence), you can then hone your tone with the three-band EQ. I found that increasing these just past the 12 o’clock position maintains the balanced detail and depth but also fattens out the projection of the overall amplified tone. The digital notch filter works well particularly if you’re forced to perform right ‘on top’ of your amp(s) and the tracking of the digital tuner is responsive without being so forgiving as to leave you out of concert pitch. There’s also a balanced output for better signal integrity and studio compatibility
The dreadnought is an excellent performer’s guitar with barrels of character and projected punch and is a joy to play. The G is more bespoke and equally as well set-up with more delicate tones and perhaps even sensitivity. Both instruments are superb value for money from a mark in guitar manufacturing which offers a buyer consummate buying confidence. They’re as well-matured as the tonewoods used within them, representing wise purchase considerations. Buy an Alvarez.