From top-end Alvarez-Yairis to their affordable Artist Series range, Alvarez aims to please. This month we’re looking at an example of the ever-popular cutaway dread format. Review by Martin Wheeler
Description: Dreadnought-sized steel string electro-acoustic with cutaway. Made in China
Contact: Go To Guitars Ltd – 01925 444696 – www.gotoguitars.com
We looked at a couple of the new Alvarez Artist Series range instruments last year and were very impressed by the parlour AP70 and the Grand Auditorium AG75CE. As good as they were, we were very intrigued to see what Alvarez offered in a more general cutaway dreadnought electro format – the meat and spuds of any acoustic instrument manufacturer.
There is a clear continuation of quality with this AD70CE, which is easily on a par with the above guitars, and – with the exception of the famous Alvarez Bi–Level bridge and pickguard – the overall look is fairly classic dreadnought – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Visually, the warmly-hued translucent lacquer on the solid sitka spruce top contrasts sharply (as it should) with the streaked reddy-darkness of the laminated rosewood back and sides. Alvarez claims that their spruce is so tightly grained and strong that it allows them to cut the tops a bit thinner. In theory this would allow the top to resonate more freely and produce a louder acoustic voice. If we were being picky then it might be said that the pickguard shape is a little clunky and hand cut in appearance, but the inlaid MOP rosette and multi-layered top binding is spot on.
The bi-level bridge, as seen on our last review models, may look a little at odds with the otherwise classic styling, but it’s a clever idea and works very well indeed. By using a lower rear-routed platform behind the saddle slot, string break angle and downward pressure over the compensated bone saddle is increased and negates the need for ‘notching’ the bridge to allow decent string break angle. It also, according to Alvarez, increases string vibration across the instrument soundboard.
The rosewood back is bordered by simple one-layer cream binding while inside the scalloped bracing is as neat and very cleanly finished as we’ve come to expect. The nut is also solid bone and the closed back Grover a-like tuners look the part and work fine.
The neck is mahogany with a bound rosewood fingerboard and is finished in smooth satin lacquer, while the unbound headstock is completed with a gloss-finished rosewood facing. The frets are neatly installed with the ends extending out of the edge of the binding, which also carries simple black dot side position markers. These are a must as the fingerboard has no markers whatsoever except for an inlaid motif at the 12th fret to aid orientation.
Electronically, we get Alvarez’s now familiar ‘designed by B-Band’ SY650 onboard preamp system. To recap, it uses a flexible undersaddle pickup in conjunction with a transducer placed beneath the soundboard with a sliding Blend switch to mix between the two. The LCD backlit chromatic tuner is accurate and changes from a light blue to user friendly brilliant green when you hit the correct string pitch. The three-band EQ does what you’d expect, and again there’s a DI output on the jack panel for increased versatility.
Some claim that you can tell a good guitar from a dud by playing just a few chords, and if taking a new guitar in hand for the first time is indeed like a box of chocolates, then strumming the first few chords on this AD70CE was an instant, almost healing pleasure. The satin-finished neck feels slick in the palm and the whole guitar balances perfectly on the knee. It arrived in tune, has a great gig-ready playing action and is set up with sparkly clean polished frets, a fresh set of strings and a bouncy, springy tension and feel.
Using a plectrum delivers plenty of warm acoustic volume that responds beautifully to varied pick attack, while fingerpicking coaxes out the even, bloomy resonance of a much older and more mature piece of wood. The voice is instantly warm and appealing with nicely rounded highs that are just so appealing on an acoustic. There’s plenty of volume and it would record beautifully through a good old valve microphone or with the cracking little preamp plugged into a PA system.
Playing through a small acoustic amp, the intuitively designed pickup system either transfers the acoustic voice adequately or can be tweaked to suck away any potential feedback frequencies and get you in the mix. It’s a neat, simple little system clearly designed with the player in mind as much as the sound guy, and onstage tuning via the increasingly popular onboard tuner just makes life, well, just that bit more tuneful and easier on the ear for all concerned.
This is our second look at the Alvarez Artist Series guitars and we are extremely pleased to report that both build quality and sound quality are on a par with – if not a little better – than the other models we’ve seen in their range. We loved the funky little Parlour AP70 and also the bigger-bodied AG75CE, but this reasonably unassuming cutaway dreadnought may be the best we’ve seen yet. It’s a simple, no-fuss guitar that falls into the lower midrange price range but absolutely excels tonally.
The Artist Series range as a whole is something of a success for Alvarez and we take out hats off to them for delivering such a high quality product. Alvarez and in particular their UK distributor deserve plaudits for sending out a guitar that feels this good straight from the box. We’ve opened the bejewelled case of many a £1000-plus instrument over the years only to discover the need to resort to hand tools to get the thing to play and stay in tune before we could play and assess the instrument. But that’s not the case here, and if every Alvarez acoustic that hits the shop floor is delivered in this good a nick then you’ll be buying with great confidence.