Featherweight Flamenco

by Adam Perlmutter

I’m not necessarily a flamenco guitarist, but when I play some basic rasgueados and golpes on Córdoba’s F7 Paco, the sound is unmistakably Iberian. What’s more, the guitar’s cedar soundboard and rosewood back and sides—as opposed to the more common choices of cedar and cypress or sycamore—seem to give it a warm, rounded sound that lends itself to the classical repertoire. And its modest street price, at just over $500, further sweetens the deal.

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Light & Well-Built

The F7 Paco is not a signature model, but a tribute to Paco de Lucía. It’s apparently patterned after several of the instruments that the flamenco great played before his death, in February 2014, at the age of 66.

As on most flamenco guitars, the top is more lightly built than on a classical instrument. It’s reinforced with fan bracing, allowing it to vibrate more freely than a lattice-braced soundboard for responsiveness and tonal balance. The body is a little thinner, too, with a lower bout of 89 millimeters (3.5 inches), compared to 97 (3.7 inches) on a typical classical model. These attributes help make the F7 Paco featherweight—our review model weighed only three pounds, five ounces on a digital postal scale.

The guitar’s mahogany neck has a two-way adjustable truss rod, allowing for easy adjustment. Traditionalists might scoff at this component, but others, especially those having to deal with the radical changes in climate that can make necks move and render them difficult to play, will appreciate the feature.

An attractive selection of tonewoods was used on our review model. The grains on the solid Canadian spruce top are tight and clear, free from obvious defects, and the laminated quarter-sawn Indian rosewood on the back and sides ranges from a warm brown to a deep purple.

It’s a handsome and tastefully appointed guitar, with maple binding on the body and a maple end and back strips as well. The rosette, a mosaic of multicolored natural woods, is elegant. And especially nice details are found on the tuning machines, Córdoba’s own design. The tuners are mounted to plates embellished with black-and-gold floral motifs, and the black plastic buttons have a grainy appearance that mimics ebony.

The F7 Paco might not be a fine concert instrument, but it’s nicely built. Its 19 frets are cleanly seated and polished; its bone nut slotted with precision. The glossy polyurethane finish doesn’t feel overly thick and is very cleanly buffed. Inside the box, there are minimal artifacts from the manufacturing process, like the occasional trace of glue, but they don’t detract much from the instrument.

Great Playability & Sonic Range

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Weighing almost nothing, the F7 Paco sits nicely on the lap. It’s a pleasure to play with its traditional C-shaped neck and 52-millimeter (2.04-inch) nut. The instrument’s flat neck angle and sleek low action make it possible to do speedy single-note lines and barre chords alike without any fret-hand strain.

The F7 Paco has a fast and lively response in all registers, with good note separation, and this is what makes it work well as a student flamenco guitar. It’s satisfying to use the guitar in trying seven basic techniques—the five-stroke tremolo, picado, arpeggio, golpe, alzapúa, legato, and rasgueado—as the guitarist Ben Woods demonstrates on Cordoba’s YouTube page.

It feels similarly good to read through some pieces intended for the classical guitar: an arrangement of Maurice Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte and Toru Takemitsu’s All in Twilight, the latter piece benefitting from the instrument’s vibrant harmonics. In an entirely different direction, I tried some chord-melody-style jazz in the manner of Gene Bertoncini, as well as some bossa nova comping. The F7 Paco fares well in these contexts—the individual members of complex chords can be heard clearly, perhaps owing to the rosewood back and sides.

Whether or not Paco de Lucía would have approved of the new instrument bearing his name will never be known, but what’s clear is that the Córdoba’s F7 Paco is a smart choice for the guitarist looking to delve into flamenco without investing in an expensive instrument. As a bonus, it’s a versatile guitar that works quite well in other contexts. But perhaps most important, it’s great fun to play.

At a Glance Córdoba F7 Paco

BODY
Solid Canadian cedar top with Spanish fan bracing; Clear Spanish golpeadores; Indian rosewood  back and sides;  High-gloss  polyurethane finish

NECK
Mahogany neck with  rosewood fretboard; 650mm scale length; 52mm bone nut; Córdoba black-and-gold 14:1 tuning machines

EXTRAS
Savarez Cristal Corum 500CJ high-tension strings; Córdoba gig bag

PRICE
$670 list/$529 street ; Made in China; cordobaguitars.com