BY ADAM PERLMUTTER | FROM THE SPRING 2018 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR

Not long ago, Ben Woods was in Valencia, Spain, in a guitar workshop’s wood-drying room, where he selected the billet of cedar that would be used in a new instrument. The guitar ended up serving as the prototype for his new Ortega namesake model, an electro-acoustic with rosewood back and sides.

A signature guitar might be unusual in the world of flamenco, but so is Woods. In the early 1990s, he identified as a heavy-metal musician, and it wasn’t until his electric guitars were stolen that out of necessity he focused on the one instrument that he still had—a nylon-string guitar. This led to his discovery of—and immersion in—flamenco guitar. But Woods didn’t leave his metal roots behind; he’s recently been touring Europe, playing classical guitar arrangements of Iron Maiden songs with Thomas Zwijsen, who has also received an Ortega signature model. [In the video above he plays his own piece, Flametal Tangos.]

The Ben Woods signature model, which is made in Spain, is limited to 66 guitars. I auditioned one and was struck by its easy playability; good sound, both acoustic and amplified; and relatively affordable price.

Ben Woods Ortega Signature Back

HIGHLY COMFORTABLE AND PLAYABLE

Upon removing the guitar from its included sporty gig bag, the first thing I noticed was how comfortable it felt. The body ranges from 80mm to 85mm deep, somewhere between a standard flamenco depth and that of a thinline. Woods chose these dimensions because he wanted the model to be more ergonomic than a traditional guitar, but not suffer from the bass deficiencies common to shallower instruments.

The neck angle is such that the action is on the low side; the neck has a relatively shallow profile and the guitar feels very easy on the fretting hand, whether for playing barred formations or single-note passages. A Venetian cutaway makes it possible to reach notes well past the 12th fret on all six strings—a region that is often overlooked.

Though the guitar is built in a fairly traditional way, it features some updates. The neck can be adjusted with a two-way truss rod, and the bridge has 12 holes instead of six—a design that Ortega claims has tuning and tonal benefits, and which makes the strings easier to change and less prone to breakage. 

The guitar looks smart and is solidly built. Its 19 frets are smoothly crowned and polished, without sharp edges. A cleanly applied high-gloss finish highlights richly colored, quartersawn rosewood on the back and sides and tightly grained red cedar on the soundboard. Signature model guitars can be over the top in terms of ornamentation, but the Ben Woods model is minimally and tastefully decorated, with a mosaic rosette, red and dark brown, not to mention rosewood binding, complementing the tonewoods nicely.

Ben Woods Ortega Signature Rosette and Front

HANDSOME VOICE UNPLUGGED AND AMPLIFIED

With its rosewood back and sides, the Ben Woods signature model is of course an example of a flamenco negra guitar, having a voice that sits somewhere between a classical guitar and a flamenco blanca. For his guitar, Woods wanted a sound less bright and brittle than a classic flamenco tone, something darker and creamier.

Judging from the review model, Ortega seems to have nailed this tonal profile. The guitar does indeed have a rich overall voice, one well suited to a range of classical-guitar repertoire, from Bach arrangements to Frederic Hand pieces. This fine sound is consistent in all registers, and from string to string. The bass response is firm and present, and the trebles are clear and singing.

At the same time, the guitar, which is outfitted with a golpeador (clear plastic tap-protection plate), responds well to flamenco techniques. It might not be quite as loud and lively as some of the best traditional instruments, but when I dig in with some basic rasgueado patterns, it has a satisfying bark and a convincing flamenco voice.

That voice amplifies quite well thanks to the guitar’s onboard electronics—Fishman’s Clásica Blend system, which, as the name suggests, is optimized for use on nylon-stringed instruments. The Clásica Blend combines an undersaddle Sonicore pickup with a preamp and an internal microphone. Like on many acoustic-electric guitars, the preamp is mounted to the guitar’s upper left bout, and while this isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing solution, it certainly is  a handy addition, especially given its built-in tuner. 

Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp and set on the pickup sound only, with the EQ on both the preamp and the amp set flat, the guitar has a natural and detailed sound. Dialing in some of the mic’d sound adds wamth, making the instrument useful for both live and studio applications without fuss.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Ortega’s acoustic-electric Ben Woods Signature Model obviously wouldn’t be the first choice for the most traditional flamenco guitarist. With its excellent electronics, though, it’s a great option for players who require amplification or want an instrument that is easy to record in the studio. Given the guitar’s easy playability and versatile sound, it would also make an ideal companion for the steel-string or electric guitarist looking to get into nylon-string territory—not unlike Ben Woods himself more than 20 years ago. 

Ortega Ben Woods Signature Model
BODY Western red cedar soundboard; Indian rosewood back and sides; gloss finish
NECK Mahogany neck with two-way truss rod; ebony fretboard; 650mm scale length; gold tuners with black buttons; gloss finish
EXTRAS   D’Addario EXP46 hard tension strings; gig bag
PRICE $1,599.99 street
Made in Spain. ortegaguitars.com