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This article was originally published in issue #39
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Regular Quiet Room readers will have seen several of Cordoba's guitars pass through our hands over the past few years and always with very satisfying results. This innovative American manufacturer certainly seems able to hit the mark and but this time they have sent us something very different from the traditional classical style guitars we have looked at in the past. This time Cordoba sent us the Mini O, which is a ‘mini’ nylon string guitar, made with an increasingly popular tonewood called ovangkol.
Cordoba started producing guitars in 1997. The company's range includes a wide variety of classical and flamenco guitars, with prices and specifications ranging as widely. One of its objectives it says is to generate lightweight and resonant guitars combining the traditional methods with the contemporary ones. Winning characteristics are consistency in quality, tone, playability and attention to detail as well as the very wide price range. As I say, the ones we have looked at have been consistently very good indeed so it's no surprise that Cordoba has become one of the USA's most popular classical brands and that the company's reputation has now spread around the world.
Straight from its soft case (included in the price), this small size classical guitar (775mm overall length) has a stunning natural look, with contrasting wood colours and unique features: from the handsome looks of the solid ovangkol used for the top, back and sides, to the rosewood bridge, binding and fingerboard, and finally the mahogany C-shaped neck.
There are two other variants of the Cordoba Mini beside the ovangkol model, the ‘R’ and ‘M’ models, which are respectively spruce/rosewood and spruce/mahogany and you might want to check those out too as they are less expensive than the ovangkol version we are looking at - the mahogany version in particular is quite a bit cheaper- so if you are interested in the concept but can't quite stretch to the Mini O, don't forget there are these alternatives.
To contrast the ovangkol tone wood in satin (matte) finish, there is a delicate inlaid abalone-style rosette, matching the ‘Cordoba’ logo on the headstock. The latter features excellent machine heads with black buttons, while its mahogany C-shaped neck is beautifully finished.
Both the 50mm nut and the saddle are made of cow bone for an improved sustain. The neck is very comfortable to play, also thanks to high-quality bespoke gut strings designed and produced by the Italian company ‘Aquila’. These strings are made to measure for this instrument and they come in two different tunings; a perfect fourth up from standard tuning (A, D, G, C, E, A) which is the set recommended by Cordoba for optimum, bell-like tone. Alternatively, a set in standard tuning is also available from Cordoba’s website. These strings are secured at the bridge as on a steel strung acoustic guitar.
This guitar doesn’t have a truss rod, as it doesn’t need one, by the way, on account of its reduced scale length of 510mm (20”).
The rosewood fingerboard makes the Mini O a very resonant guitar. Even with its small body, this guitar has a generous and well-balanced response all across its 18 frets, particularly in the mid-range and trebles, as a result of the traditional fan bracing method used to assemble its top, as well as the tonal qualities of the ovangkol, sounding perhaps like a compromise between rosewood and maple.
Another of the winning characteristics of this guitar is its neck and fingerboard width (50mm at the nut), which is the same found in most full-size classical guitars. Most of the small size guitars in the market have a proportionally smaller neck, which could be a hurdle in terms of playability for the avid fingerstyle guitarist, due to the unfamiliar spacing between strings. The Cordoba Mini is, as a result, a perfect companion for travelling, especially considering the stringent regulations enforced by most airlines about taking musical instruments onboard.
Furthermore, as well as being an excellent travel guitar, this would be an ideal instrument for teaching young students, as they will be able to practice and develop their technique as is they were using a full size classical guitar.
There is also another benefit to this instrument. The sparkling tone produced by this Cordoba with the aforementioned ‘A tuning’, makes this another desirable addition to the session guitarists’ arsenal, who will be able to produce parts reminiscent to a cavaquino or other similar South American related instruments, but with the added benefit of being able to use the same relative tuning as a classical guitar.
It took me no time to tune it and to feel at ease with its action, with a very good set-up straight from the box. Tuning was made easier also thanks to its accurate classical style Cordoba premium gold machine heads, which look and feel great.
In conclusion, this is another great instrument from Cordoba - not only a great travel companion for the avid classical guitarists who would like to practice with a traditional classical size neck with great portability, but it could be an additional new sweet guitar voice for live and studio work, particularly due to a combination of ovangkol and bespoke strings tuned up a perfect forth. In essence, fretting an E minor (E shape), the guitar will produce an A minor.
I strongly recommend finding a Cordoba dealer near you and trying the Mini O as well its slightly less expensive variations featuring rosewood or mahogany backs and sides, I am sure you will be very impressed with these instruments, as I was!