Our Expert Guide to Alvarez Guitars
Published on 08 December 2023
Alvarez guitars: you’ve seen them on our site, you’ve marvelled at the great prices…are you also needing some info on the different ranges? What separates a Masterwork guitar from an Artist Elite, for example?
Worry not: I have all of the answers you seek right here in this handy blog. Join me today for a light skip through the world of Alvarez, collecting useful info on each series as we check out the gorgeous examples of the brand’s craft.
Are you ready?
Alvarez are an American company, coming from St Louis, Missouri in 1965. Initially importing guitars, the brand owner struck up a friendship with noted Japanese luthier Kazuo Yairi. This led to Yairi guitars being imported under the Alvarez name in the US (‘Alvarez was already the name St Louis Music used for their spanish-style guitars) and K Yairi elsewhere in the world.
The company was later sold before being bought by Mark Ragin and brought back to St Louis, where the Alvarez HQ remains to this day. The guitars themselves are mainly built in China, which keeps the cost much more manageable to the end-user. Some of the Yairi-connected instruments are built in Japan, and all Alvarez guitars are inspected and set-up back in Missouri. These days, that is the most economical way to offer payers great guitars at excellent prices.
Alvarez as a brand are all about development and constant cycles of learning and improvement. You’ll see this when comparing today’s instruments with those of earlier years: they’ve always been high quality guitars, but you see where the bridge has been improved, the wood has been upgraded and the electronics developed. It’s a constant cycle of assessment and improvement,
This means that the quality is always increasing, the guitars are better than ever, and that the value is pretty outstanding. Good news for us, the players!
There are several different series that Alvarez offer, and they do have quite specific qualities to each, so why don’t I guide you through each of the main ones? This way, please…
I’d refer to the Alvarez Artist series as the brand’s backbone. This is where all of the innovations found on more expensive examples filter down to what is a pretty amazing level of value. If you’re looking for an Alvarez guitar, the Artist Series is perhaps the place to start: you get a huge selection!
Alvarez Artist series guitars come in a variety of shapes including dreadnoughts, grand auditoriums and folk models. They all feature solid tops, so each instrument will start out sounding good and then just improve the more it is played. Supporting this quality sound is an Alvarez innovation: FST2 bracing. This specially developed bracing is shifted forwards within the body towards the soundhole, just a little more than normal. This allows the guitar’s top to be more flexible in its movements, which in turn gives the instrument a more dynamically exciting voice.
The Alvarez Cadiz series is composed of authentic classical and flamenco models. Alvarez actually travelled out to Cadiz in Spain - one of the country’s ‘capitals’ for flamenco - and conducted months of R&D out there in order to get as much authenticity into their Cadiz series guitars as possible in terms of insights and practises.
Going further like this is a good example of how Alvarez does business: always refining and revising, always working on improving. For Cadiz guitars, it’s proper use of woods like Cypress, it’s choosing the correct scale length, the right (low) action for flamenco models, and lots of other small details that add up to make a big difference.
Jazz & Blues
Alvarez Jazz & Blues models are the slightly more specialised, specific designs. Here is where you’ll find parlour guitars, for example, called ‘Delta’ models after the Delta Blues tradition. These guitars share the same innovations as the more overtly modern-styled guitars of the Artist and Artist Elite ranges, so you’ll find LR Baggs pickups and special bracing on these. The gorgeous Shadowburst finish is popular with the range, too.
The Alvarez Artist Elite range sits between the Artist Series and the Masterworks models. These are highly spec’d guitars with wood choices and features that won’t be found within other ranges.
For example, the Artist Elite range features solid Cedar tops, Macassar Ebony bodies (relatively unusual!) and so on. This range uses a semi-gloss finish to give them a distinctive look, and they have backwards shifted bracing which affords them their own sound, too.
The Artist Elite series guitars have lovely details, like flame maple binding! If there is such a thing as 'tastefully ostentatious', then flamed maple binding deserves that title! It looks wonderufl and is another examle of the brand just going further than expected.
The main defining feature of any Alvarez Masterworks guitar is the fact that it is completely solid. The top, back and sides are all built using solid timber: there are no laminates or plies used for these guitars at all. This is a huge step up for the sound, the resonance and the dynamic range of the guitar. Moreover, the whole instrument will season and improve in tone as the years progress and the guitar is played and played.
On top of that, the timbers themselves are very high quality. For example, if a guitar in this range has a spruce top, it’ll be AAA Sitka spruce! Alvarez Masterworks guitars all use FS6 bracing, which is a further development of the forward-shifted method I spoke about earlier.
Add to this some gorgeous finishes and increased attention to detail - for a brand that is already notable for such - and you have an excellent proposition indeed.
Some of My Favourite Alvarez Models
Now, this next section is perhaps a little more subjective than the rest of the blog, but it seems to make sense that we take advantage of my years on the sales floor - as well as years taking meetings and writing blogs - to see what I make of some particular Alvarez guitars. These are models that I’ve encountered, appraised with my scrutinising eye, and left feeling impressed.
Alvarez Artist Series AC65HCE
I’ve picked this guitar - which is not in fact part of the prestigious Cadiz series - because I think it performs pretty exceptionally for the money.
The Alvarez AC65HCE boasts an A+ grade Red cedar top, which for me is a lovely thing to warm up and round off the attack and cut of a nylon string sound. The inner bracing is the traditional fanned arrangement for this type of guitar, and Alvarez have thrown in a very good quality LR Baggs pickup system. All in all, there’s a ton of guitar here for the money, with more than a hint of Iberian authenticity, too. You could spend tons more on a similar guitar, but why?
Alvarez Masterworks MF60OM Herringbone
This wonderful Masterworks MF60OM is so charming and full of character! The body shape and addition of Herringbone purfling (we say herringbone binding often but it’s really next to the binding) give this a very ‘traditional Nazareth’ vibe, if you take the inference!
I love OM or Orchestral model acoustics, because they feel slightly more intimate and personal than dreadnoughts, for some reason. This one piles on the value with its AAA Spruce top and African mahogany body. It has a very familiar sound, and makes me want to just keep playing, as good a sign as any other of a well-considered and well-built instrument.
If you’re looking for a new songwriting companion, I’d say this measures up well to instruments that cost double, at least.
Why Choose Alvarez
Why choose Alvarez? It seems fairly simple to me: they’ve got the experience, they’ve done the decades of R&D, and they spread all of that quality into each of their guitar models, not just the top-priced ones.
Alvarez punch above their weight in terms of build quality, components, and ultimately they are the best-made guitars in each of their price ranges. They look classic without being obtusely derivative, and the bang-for-buck is pretty tremendous.
What’s not to love?