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This article was originally published in issue #23
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Flamenco guitars are sometimes wrongly assumed to share identical specs with their classical counterparts but the Flamenco guitar is a very different instrument. While Flamenco guitars use nylon strings and share an apparently similar construction to the classical guitar, a key feature is the markedly shallower body for a brighter and more percussive tone that reflects the flamboyant and highly expressive Flamenco style.
Cordoba's GK Pro is very much a part of this innovative US-based company's fascinating work on developing the classical acoustic guitar for a 21st Century market. Pointy headstocks with Death Metal pickups, self-tuning guitars and MIDI instruments are fine and they all have their uses, but the thrilling sound of a traditional acoustic takes a lot of beating and what Cordoba has done, since it was founded in 1997, is take the traditional instrument and make it both affordable and appealing to modern guitarists. We've looked at a Cordoba before and can understand why the company is achieving such success in the USA. We're not supposed to have favourites, but it's hard not to have a soft spot for a company that has set itself such difficult, idiosyncratic and high goals.
So, on to the GK! First, let's just establish that this is a Gypsy Kings signature model - so it has something to live up to! It's also available in several versions, too, from the GK Studio, which has a Spanish cypress back and sides matched to a solid European spruce top, to the GK Studio Negra, which features Indian rosewood back and sides, to this luxurious GK Pro, which (with a few other variants along the way) tops the range. This model is an enhanced version of the GK Studio and GK Studio Negra, being the first to pair the solid European spruce top with solid cypress back and sides. Additionally, it features an upgraded Fishman Prefix ProBlend pickup, and the headstock is finished with a flamed maple veneer. There is a 1920's Esteso-style rosette featured on the GK Pro, which is the signature of every all-solid guitar in Cordoba's Luthier series. It is, in other words, a very classy guitar indeed!
The build quality on our sample was very good, with neat joins and good quality timbers employed throughout. The pale spruce top looks a bit anaemic beside the darker back and sides and the thin internal fan bracing is unusual compared to a typical nylon strung classical guitar but again the bracing style reflects that this particular guitar is designed to deliver a distinctive tone with more emphasis on attack.
One of the first things that you notice when you pick up the Cordoba is its lightness and the ease with which the shallow 3.5-inch body depth makes the guitar sit so comfortably against your body. This guitar feels very delicate, fragile even, but it does come complete with a good quality fitted hard case, which eases some anxiety that this guitar won’t take easily to being chucked in and out the back of your car! Don’t assume that means this guitar is any way deficient or weak - that is how it has to be made to do the job it's designed for.
Starting from the headstock, the Cordoba GK Pro departs from traditional Flamenco guitar construction courtesy of its plush gold-plated tuning machines, which are geared types as opposed to the awkward wooden pegs insisted on by some die-hard purists. These geared tuners feel very sensitive and consequently tuning the Cordoba is a piece of cake. Given a choice between these outstanding tuning machines and pegs, I don’t think that the majority of guitarists would opt for the latter!
The slim mahogany neck also presents a sublimely low playing action, suggesting that the GK Pro will be an ideal instrument for Jazz/crossover guitarists who want to switch to a nylon strung guitar without having to grapple with the less forgiving nature of a full blown classical model.
One area that many guitarists will appreciate is the Spanish-foot neck heel, which takes the form of a small scoop or cutaway that allows the user to gain more purchase whilst playing up on the upper reaches of the fingerboard. Combined with the cutaway, this nimble neck heel graces the GK Pro with a sleek and very versatile feel that opens up a gateway to exploiting the guitar’s entire range.
One slight area of compromise regarding the guitar’s low action is that the upper register sounds a little thin, lacking some of the resonance of a traditional classical model but generally speaking the GK Pro still has the tonal gravitas to make a very convincing sounding classical guitar. Employed as a crossover instrument, the GK Pro sounds more in its element and delivers a fluent articulacy with just the right amount of warmth.
Playing single note lines with a flat pick tends to emphasise the Cordoba's natural brightness and impressive punch, both things that the guitarist can use to his advantage with no fear that this guitar will struggle to cut through a mix, especially when amplified.
Plugged in, the GK Pro’s amplified tones can be tweaked courtesy of the onboard Fishman Premix Pro Blend pickup system, which is a hybrid of a bridge-mounted Piezo pickup and an internal microphone (very much the Quiet Room's preferred way of amplifying acoustics - Ed). The blend is adjusted via a slider on the control panel that allows the user to mix the warmer sound of the internal mic with the brighter Piezo pickup to restore some of the guitar’s natural acoustic tone.
The Pro Blend control panel is a bit cramped and some of the controls functions are not easy to read but this system still offers a comprehensive array of useful controls including a flexible three-band EQ and a phase inverter that can come in very handy as an emergency anti-feedback countermeasure.
The Cordoba GK Pro is a fabulous guitar - there's just no escaping that. It is a bit of a hybrid in that it isn’t quite a classical guitar, nor a staunchly traditional Flamenco instrument but neither of these factors counts against it. We can see it appealing to guitarists looking for a good nylon strung guitar that will give them the versatility to play contemporary repertoire or just a good ol' Rock or Jazz guitarist who wants to experiment and expand his style with the sort of guitar it would be so easy to fall in love with. It's well priced for such a well made instrument using high quality tonewoods and for the right buyer would represent a great buy. If it seems a bit too much for your budget, check out the less expensive versions. But do check them out. These Cordobas are, as they say, something else.