Alvarez guitars have been fixtures in the acoustic guitar world since 1965, when Japanese luthier Kazuo Yairi introduced the line. Originally built in Japan as a lower-cost version of the renowned Yairi brand (which continue to be offered as Alvarez-Yairi branded instruments), Alvarez has enjoyed a long relationship with its US distributor, St. Louis Music. And although Alvarez guitars are less expensive than the high-end Alvarez-Yairi models, the luthiers in the small factory avoid computer-assisted manufacturing techniques in favor of applying custom attention to each instrument. Alvarez and Alvarez-Yairi players include Ani Di Franco, Monte Montgomery, and Bob Weir.
The AP70 is part of Alvarez’s Artist Series of instruments, a comprehensive line of guitars that includes dreadnoughts, jumbos, folk guitars (slightly smaller than dreadnought, designated by other makers as 000), classical, 12-string, acoustic bass, and parlor models, many available with built-in electronics, some with cutaways, and all priced for the experienced, budget-minded player or beginning enthusiast. The AP70 is the first parlor model to join the line, and was introduced in June 2011. Another parlor model, the MP70, will join it in late January 2012 as part of the Masterworks Series and will include a satin-finished top and open pore back and sides. While the AP70 we reviewed has no electronics, both the AP70 and MP70 will be available with B-Band SYS650 electronics.
Understated Vintage Style
Aesthetically, the AP70 is a real treat, with a warm, tight-grained spruce top; rosewood sides with lovely flow to the figuring; bookmatched rosewood back; satin-finished, 12-fret mahogany neck; rosewood-faced slotted headstock; sparkling high-gloss finish; cream ABS binding; and tastefully understated abalone and mother-of-pearl inlays. Other than the slightly futuristic shape of the bi-level bridge, the combined effect of instrument size and shape, wood finish, and appointments is of a guitar magically transported to the present from about 1920.
Examined from inside and out, the wood is solid and without flaw and the workmanship is clean as a whistle, even in areas visible only with a mirror and a flashlight. The A-grade Sitka spruce top is braced with hand-sanded, quarter-sawn braces. Interestingly, the scalloped bracing is placed slightly forward, toward the sound hole, compared with other small-bodied guitars, which contributes to the free vibration of the sound board.
The nut is 1 3/4 inches wide, about 1/16 inch wider than the guitars I usually play, but the slight added width didn’t get in the way of playing thumb-over barre chords or other complex fingerings. The low E string nut notch, also, is placed a little farther from the edge of the fretboard than is the high E, which I found both comfortable and sensible in keeping notes clear on both sides of the neck. The short scale presented no problem as I worked my way up the fingerboard, especially with the easy, fast feel of the satin finish on the neck. The fretting was comfortable and stayed in tune as far up as I went, helped, I’m sure, by the compensated bone saddle. I did find that the factory nut height was a bit too high, causing C chords to ring a little sharp while playing in the key of D. A little minor set-up adjustment will certainly improve this minor intonation issue, however.
Clear, Strong Tones
The Alvarez has a strong voice and is evenly responsive and resonant. It rang out brightly and kept coaxing me to fingerpick some older American songs and even a little ragtime and jug band music.
I was struck by the clarity and evenness of the guitar’s attack both when finger-picking and using a flatpick. The evenness of tone across the top five strings and up the fingerboard was remarkable and made me reluctant to put the instrument down. In standard tuning, the low E string behaved a little differently, however, sounding by comparison with the other strings a little thin and lacking in presence, particularly when I tried to play at louder volume.Still, one probably wouldn’t expect a parlor guitar to possess a booming bass, and at quieter volumes the tone presented a lovely evenness across the board.
I experimented with different styles and intensities of play, looking for more low-end resonance than I initially found playing linear melodic runs. When playing fat, full chords in standard tuning, the AP70 really sings in the key of A with an open A string on the bottom. I then tuned down to drop-D to see how my Irish repertoire, many in the key of D, might fare on the AP70. Within a chorus or two of “Heather on the Moor” I could hear the low end become noticeably fuller and rounder. Open G with a low C resonated reasonably well, though the intonation problems on the barred low strings was more problematic. As noted above, this sharping issue is probably fixable with minor adjustment of the factory nut height.
Perhaps drawn to music I first remembered hearing played on parlor guitars, I made a run at Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” but there was something ineffably happy about the tone of the AP70 that fought against my attempts at playing blues. I then explored some songs from the heyday of parlor guitar popularity, the ‘20s and ‘30s, and this is where I got stuck with a large grin on my face.
Jim Kweskin favorites like “Eight More to Louisville” and “Moving Day” were perfectly suited to the clarity and articulation of the instrument. I turned “Moving Day” into some sort of upbeat meditation, realizing at one point that I’d been playing it uninterrupted for an hour and wasn’t tired of it yet. I tried a few more Celtic songs, but the guitar kept pulling me back to the jug band era, so after one last chorus of “Heebie Jeebies” I sat down to write this review.
Sweet Sounding Parlor Partner
Overall, I was highly impressed by the Alvarez AP70. It’s a well-designed guitar, made with top-quality materials, and just plain fun to play. It delivers considerable power with its sweet, clear voice and will be very comfortable to cozy up with on a porch swing or in a parlor.
AT A GLANCE
THE SPECS: 12-fret parlor-size body. Solid Sitka spruce top. Rosewood back and sides. Scalloped X-bracing. Mahogany neck. Rosewood fingerboard and bridge. Bone nut and saddle. 24.2-inch scale. 1 3/4-inch nut width. 2 1/8-inch spacing at saddle. High-gloss polyurethane-finished body, satin-finished neck. Die-cast open-gear tuners. D’Addario EXP medium-gauge strings. Made in China.
PRICE: $499 list/$339.99 street.
MAKER: Alvarez Guitars: (314) 727-1191; alvarezgtrs.com.