To the uninitiated, a classical guitar isn’t much different from a steel-string acoustic. But to anyone more than casually acquainted with either instrument, the distinctions between the two aren’t the slightest bit subtle. Different string types aside, a classical, with its wide neck and flat fretboard, feels a world apart from a steel-string, with its narrower neck and radiused fretboard. A crossover guitar like Alvarez’s AC65HCE bridges the gap between the classical and the steel-string. With a long and relatively narrow neck, the guitar feels a lot like a steel-string, but sounds like a classical—at a tiny fraction of the cost of a concert instrument.
The AC65HCE is a member of Alvarez’s Artist series of solid-topped guitars and ukuleles. It’s built with old-school details like the Spanish heel neck joint and tapered fan bracing. But its 22-fret neck and 14th-fret neck-to-body junction are a departure from tradition, as is its truss rod, allowing, of course, for the adjustment of the neck’s curvature. Smaller non-standard details include a strap button mounted at the end block and another on the neck heel.
The big hunk of plastic that is the guitar’s preamp notwithstanding, the AC65HCE is quite handsome, looking more like a boutique instrument than a budget offering. Its thinly grained cedar top has a warm amber glow, to which rosewood binding and a wooden mosaic rosette offer an elegant counterpoint.
Imported low-price guitars, once notorious for their shoddy construction, have seen dramatic improvements in craftsmanship in the last couple decades, and the AC65HCE offers good evidence of this trend. It’s built tidily from stem to stern. The frets are perfectly smooth, and so is the body’s high-gloss finish; the inlay work is clean and precise; and inside the box, you won’t find any glue gobs or other sloppiness.
FEEL AND SOUND
A nylon-string guitarist might at first feel disoriented on the AC65HCE, especially when venturing past the 12th fret. Conversely, steel-string players looking to branch out to the nylon-string will feel right at home, though the neck’s side-dot position markers stop abruptly at the ninth fret, and this too can be disorienting.
The AC65HCE’s action is nice and low, and the guitar is a smooth player all around. Its nut—48mm as opposed to the customary 50mm—not to mention its slender neck profile, makes it easy to play full barre chords and to fret bass notes with the thumb. It’s a neck that will also feel great for a player with small hands.
As would be expected of a guitar in its price range, the AC65HCE doesn’t necessarily have the volume, projection, and sustain of a fine concert instrument. But, thanks to its solid cedar soundboard and mahogany back and sides, it does have a sweet, warm sound that works well for everything from Leo Brouwer etudes to solo bossa-nova arrangements to sophisticated pop accompaniment.
The guitar’s onboard LR Baggs electronics are a definite boon for any situation requiring amplification. When the guitar is plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic with the EQ controls on both the guitar and the amp set flat, it sounds very natural—the Element undersaddle pickup was engineered to capture the movement of the soundboard rather than just the attack of the strings. Bass, mid, and treble sliders on the preamp allow for a wide tonal range, and the notch control works well to attenuate feedback when the amp is turned up.
With its attractive sound, both amplified and acoustic, and excellent playability, the AC65HCE is an excellent gateway guitar for the steel-string player looking to get into the classical literature with an instrument that doesn’t feel completely foreign. It’s also a smart choice for the recording guitarist in need of fresh tonal colors.
And, with a street price of under $500, the guitar is quite a bargain.
AT A GLANCE BODY Solid western red cedar; mahogany back and sides; natural gloss finish