The workhorse guitar of the Alvarez Artist series meets the eyes of Acoustic’s reviewers – but what is it, exactly, that attracts big-name players to the world of Alvarez? Is it the R&D, the playability, the price? Or is it all of the aforementioned…
Words: Guy Little Images: Richard Ecclestone
Alvarez guitars have been prominent fixtures in the acoustic world since St. Louis Music established the brand in 1965. Working with Japanese luthier Kazuo Yairi (who latterly lent his name to the higher-end Alvarez-Yairi instruments), Alvarez has long balanced value-for-money and great playability – both on stage and at home. Alvarez counts players such as Ani Di Franco, Monte Montgomery, Bob Weir, Joe Bonamassa, Zakk Wylde, Steve Hackett, and Devin Townsend among some of their players. They all have reason to acknowledge the forethought that goes into the Alvarez brand. So, what musical assignments will this set you up for?
This is where we meet the Alvarez AG75CE from their Artist Series range – and what a workhouse all-rounder it is. The Alvarez Artist Series is a comprehensive line of guitars that includes dreadnoughts, jumbos, 000s, classical, 12-string, acoustic bass, and parlour models. Many are available with built-in electronics, some with cutaways, and all priced for the budget-conscious player.
It’s with great pleasure we welcome these instruments here in the UK. Why so? Perhaps it’s because the company carries such an elite list of affiliated players or maybe 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.
It’s safe to say that Alvarez is having a well-deserved renaissance after the American-owned brand was reimagined in 2012. The guitars are designed in the USA and built in China – yup, another! There’s a wide-ranging selection of Chinese-made guitars available that start at just under £200 and move up to the grander heights of the Masterworks series and the aforementioned Yairi line. Even the Masterworks series retail for under a grand, though, so they’re a brand clearly fascinated by great value for money.
Aesthetically, the Alvarez AG75CE is a real treat. It might be tipping the hat to Taylor’s most famous body shape (even the flat venetian cutaway is a little nod to Bob & Co. ), but the grand auditorium has some idiosyncratic flourishes that clearly mark this out as an Alvarez – take the pickguard and bridge design for starters. The bridge itself has a split-level construction to facilitate the optimal angle of the string rake over the saddle thus imparting a large amount of energy transfer into the guitar’s top. Likewise, 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.
We have a wonderfully tight-grained piece of solid Western red cedar for the top matched with rosewood back and sides. Interestingly, the piece of rosewood used for the back of the guitar is much darker than that used for the sides. It’s so cleanly bookmatched that it could almost be a single-piece back! Anyway, the darker shade of rosewood used for the back is a lovely contrast to not just the cedar for the soundboard but, too, for the sides. Cream ABS neatly binds it together.
Elsewhere, we’ve got a satin-finished, mahogany neck (its profile has a gentle D cross section which is substantial and at the same time wholly comfortable); a rosewood-faced headstock and fingerboard; sparkling high-gloss finish; tastefully understated abalone and mother-of-pearl inlays; bone nut and saddle and Alvarez’s “forward shifted” scalloped X braces. Alvarez call the forward shifted X brace design the “FSTM”. Both the X braces and asymmetric tone bars are scalloped, and moving the system forward allows for a larger soundboard, which they have optimised with a solid maple bridge plate for both strength and energy transference.
Other than the slightly futuristic shape of the split-level bridge, and the inlaid twelfth fret, the Alvarez is far from blingy – it’s not made to be a showy guitar, remember, this is a workhorse instrument designed for recording and playing live, but more on that later. Examined from inside and out, you’d struggle to find a flaw as the workmanship is as clean as you’d find on a guitar in a much higher price bracket. Alavarez has decades of experience making guitars in Japan. This knowledge has been effectively transferred into this Chinese-made guitar. The neck stability and subsequent set-up is beautifully well executed making the playing experience a joy. But how does it sound?
Firstly, this guitar is made with performance and recording in mind. We’ve got the SYS550 system onboard, designed by B-Band, which is a pro level EQ and pickup that really does reproduce the sound of the guitar closely with great clarity – it’s effortless to use, too, meaning that if you’re in a tricky situation on stage, you’ll be able to easily remedy any outcome with this unit. The battery pack is locataed at the lower bout with a standard jack input and XLR input. The B-Band uses an undersaddle pickup and the sound it reproduces is far from synthetic. The SYS550 also has a backlit chromatic digital tuner along with volume, notch, treble, bass, middle and presence controls.
The sound on offer is powerful and both the treble and bass registers are clearly present and balanced in relation to each other with no tonal dynamics lost when you detune or start to move up to the higher echelons of the fretboard granted by the cutaway. It’s not as powerful as it’s dreadnought cousins would be, of course, but where its strength lies is in the clarity and precision of the top-end frequencies. It’s an exciting and responsive guitar to play. Dig in and it shouts right back at you, treat it gently and it’ll whisper with the gentlest touch.
Alvarez’s tops are hand selected from quarter-sawn wood, thus ensuring consistent quality – and here the quality of the solid cedar top comes to life with a piano-like ring and sustain. To be honest, the tuners are a bit of an eyesore (but they’re perfectly functional).
The Alvarez AG75CE has a strong voice and is evenly responsive and resonant. It rings out brightly and what strikes you is the clarity and evenness of the guitar’s attack both when fingerpicking and using a plectrum. The evenness of tone is a great asset for recording duties.
For the price, this guitar is a clear no-brainer. The performance mindset is matched by its evenness of tone and ease of control in live situations – and the XLR input is a huge plus for people hooking up to DI boxes. It’s a thoroughly well-made guitar with a good bit of history behind the brand, and it’s about as close to definition workhorse as you could get. There’s a reason Joe Bonamassa takes an Alvarez on tour with him – and do you really need more motive that that to check one out? Thought not.
Retail Price: £499
Body Size: Grand auditorium
Made In: China
Top: Solid western red cedar
Back and Sides: Rosewood
Tuners: Premium die cast
Nut Width: 44.45mm
Scale Length: 648mm
Onboard Electronics: B-Band SYS550
Strings Fitted: D’Addario EXP
Gig Bag/Case Included: No
Pros: Well-made, solid top, great tonewoods, and a slice of higher end beauty and tone without the asking price.
Cons: Give us a case or bag with it! Tuners a little chunky and look a bit out of place here.
Overall: A great sounding, well-made guitar with performance in mind. The true definition of workhorse.
Sound Quality: 5/5
Build Quality: 5/5
Value for Money: 5/5