BY ADAM PERLMUTTER | FROM THE FALL 2018 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR
Alvarez has long been known for its good-quality budget guitars, including classical and flamenco models. Not long ago, in a research-and-design mission to build even better nylon-strings, the Alvarez team visited Cádiz, in southwestern Spain, the birth region of the classical guitar, where it explored time-honored construction methods of the Spanish guitar from the perspectives of both luthiers and players.
Alvarez has tapped into these ideas in a new series of guitars, appropriately called Cádiz, designed to be lightweight and responsive. The series now includes a half-dozen classical and flamenco models, with and without cutaways and electronics. All are built using a new mold—longer and narrower than Alvarez’s previous classical body style—and with the Spanish heel neck joint. The Jose Ramirez III–inspired bracing on each Cádiz is asymmetric, with a treble bar intended to create singing notes on the top three strings, and lighter bracing on the bass side for a strong bottom end.
I auditioned two very different instruments from the series—the CF6, a traditional flamenco model, and the CC7HCEAR, a crossover acoustic-electric classical guitar—and found them to be consistently well-designed and executed. What’s more, with the CF6 selling for well under $500 and the CC7HCEAR for less than $600, both guitars are hard to beat in terms of value.
The CF6 is a smart-looking guitar with its A+-grade solid Sitka spruce and butterscotch-colored cypress back and sides contrasting nicely with ebony binding and a wooden mosaic rosette. It’s a relatively lightweight instrument and is well-built overall. The frets are tidily crowned and polished, without any roughness at the ends, and the finish has been buffed to a uniformly lustrous gloss. There are, however, the subtlest of imperfections—for example, at the butt end of the guitar, there is a tiny gap where the body binding’s ends meet.
At first, it felt a little foreign to play the CF6—which has a 660mm-scale-length fretboard, as opposed to the standard 650—especially with chords requiring fretting-hand stretches of greater than four frets. But the three-piece neck has a relatively low and comfortable profile, and the strings sit at an ideal distance above the fretboard, so it didn’t take long to get accustomed to the fretboard’s generous quarters.
Perhaps owing to the long scale length, the CF6 has a fast attack and a punchy voice, with a good amount of projection, more than expected on an instrument at this price. The guitar’s clear and bright voice is well-suited for the flamenco applications for which it’s intended. Played with basic rasgueado technique, the instrument feels dynamic and responsive, an excellent first flamenco guitar that’s also suitable for players farther along in their musical development.
In contrast to its flamenco counterpart, the CC7HCEAR classical hybrid is a decidedly more modern guitar. It, too, has a solid A+-grade Sitka spruce top, but sports walnut back and sides, as opposed to a traditional wood like rosewood. A Venetian cutaway, built-in L.R. Baggs electronics, and an armrest bevel—a feature first seen on boutique steel-string guitars, which has made its way to instruments in all price ranges—complete the package.
Like the CF6, the CC7HCEAR is a handsome guitar, with the same wooden mosaic rosette and elegant acacia body binding. Fit and finish on the CC7HCEAR’s are comparable to that of its companion: mostly good and clean, with the occasional anomaly, like a hint of bleed from one of the purfling’s layers—by no means a deal-breaker at this price.
Perhaps because of the neck’s adjustable truss rod and the onboard electronics, the CC7HCEAR is notably heavier than its companion is. With the 660 mm scale length, a 14th-fret neck junction (rather than the standard 12th-fret), and 22 frets (compared to the traditional 19), the neck on the CC7HCEAR feels quite long—and even more disorienting at first than on the CF6. But, like the flamenco model, the CC7HCEAR boasts very good playability in all regions of the neck. With a relatively narrow nut for a nylon-string—1-7/8″—the guitar would obviously make a good fit for the steel-string player venturing into classical territory or in search of new tonal colors.
The CC7HCEAR has an attractive voice, and what it lacks in body and complexity, it makes up for in warmth and clarity. It’s obviously not pitched at the traditional classical guitarist, but the guitar does lend itself just as much to student literature like the Sor and Giuliani studies as to the Villa-
Lobos preludes. Whereas the CF6 is chiefly a flamenco instrument, the CC7HCEAR feels more diverse. It’s a good guitar for fingerstyle jazz—cluster voicings sound crisp, with a separation between the individual members of chords—and for improvisations in open tunings like DADGAD.
While a classical purist might not have much use for the CC7HCEAR’s L.R. Baggs electronics, the guitar sounds quite realistic when plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp. The nine-volt-battery-powered preamp, like many modern solutions, offers useful sound-shaping capabilities with its three-band EQ and feedback protection, and includes a handy and easily readable electronic tuner.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to choosing a student instrument, there are many options out there these days. If the CF6 and the CC7HCEAR are any indication, the classical and flamenco guitars in Alvarez’s Cádiz line stand out among the crowd, in terms of their overall versatility and bang for the buck, to say nothing of their visual aesthetics. They’d make terrific guitars on which to learn—and grow.