Alvarez is one of the USA's most successful acoustic brands - and recently it's been starting to gain serious ground in the UK and Europe too. Tim Slater checks out a pair of electro-acoustic models from the all-solid Masterworks series.
Alvarez guitars seem to have been around forever but whilst the US brand is hugely popular at home, it remains relatively unknown outside its native land. Joe Bonamassa has recently started using Alvarez, however, and his presence has certainly helped boost its reputation outside the US. But why would a player like Bonamassa, who could afford anything he wanted, use a relatively humble 'production' guitar? When we first played the MG75 SCE and MD75CE we began to appreciate one reason. These are very forgiving instruments, with a distinctly modern vibe that can help to smooth the awkward transition when switching between an electric and acoustic guitar. They are also eminently gigable. If one got damaged or stolen, you wouldn't bankrupt your insurance company but you'd still have been playing a fine guitar!
The MD65CE is an all-solid Dreadnought style model that features an AA grade solid cedar top and solid mahogany back and sides, which are uniformly finished in a clear high gloss. The satin finish mahogany neck has a comfortable medium 'C' profile whose agile feel is demonstrated by a good set-up and a comfortably low action, reflecting the current move away from the challenging feel associated with an old-school acoustic steel string, towards a far more supple electric guitar-style playability.
This neck really empowers the player with confidence, you can whiz around on this Dreadnought all day without getting fatigued and the lower cutaway obviously offers easier access to the upper frets during soaring solo flights.
Some all-solid acoustic guitars can err toward feeling on heavy side but the MD65CE and the Grand Auditorium style MG75 SCE both feel very light and manageable. The Dreadnought model is physically larger than its stable-mate but its great playability and relatively adaptable weight manage to make it feel more companionable and less like a hefty great lump of a guitar that you have to roll up your sleeves and battle with!
Acoustically the MD65CE Dreadnought demonstrates the power and well balanced tone that the Dreadnought style is renowned for; the solid cedar top has slightly less marked attack compared to Sitka spruce but cedar sounds noticeably warmer and less strident compared to spruce - a quality that balances well with the solid mahogany back and sides' lively natural resonance. Digging in, there seems to be a tad more compression than one might like to hear but generally speaking the MD65CE is very easy guitar to like. It feels about as user-friendly a guitar as you are likely to find anywhere.
The built-in SYS 650 blend system preamp features a handy built-in digital tuner, a three-band rotary controlled EQ, master volume, anti-feedback notch filter and a slider that mixes the output between the guitar's onboard bridge transducer pickup and a built-in microphone. A single XLR output jack feeds that output to an amplifier or mixer and in use the Alvarez Dreadnought's amplified tone does a very good job of replicating the guitar's natural acoustic qualities, with the built-in microphone particularly helping to restore a more natural sounding resonance and 'body' in contrast to the dryer tone from the transducer pickup. This is definitely one of the better electro-acoustic systems out there, representing an advance over the still common 'bung a piezo under the bridge and call it quits' approach!
Smaller players or those with a preference for solid rosewood back & sides might find themselves more drawn towards the MD75 CE Grand Auditorium model. Whilst both guitars share similar easy playing neck profiles and solid cedar tops, the MD75 CE's solid rosewood back and sides sound silky and very detailed with slightly more emphasis on the treble and bass frequencies. The tighter waist also helps to give the high-end extra definition compared to the fractionally bassier sounding Dreadnought, although the Grand Auditorium style still gives away virtually nothing in terms of projection. The SYS 650 blend system preamp is identical to the one fitted to the MD65 CE and in this context it also offers a very workable method of reproducing convincing amplified acoustic tones that reflect the character of the instrument. The tuner LED display is a bit small but is still backlit strongly enough to render easy monitoring on stage or in bright natural daylight.
These are at the top end of the Alvarez range and as you'd expect feature all those nice touches that, well, cost money! You get real Grover machine heads, quality tone woods, satin finished necks and open pore body wood finishes. You also get bone nuts and rosewood and maple bindings and purflings, depending on the model you choose.
Despite being familiar with Alvarez mainly by reputation, I have to say that getting to grips with either of these guitars definitely wasn't a disappointment. Great playability allied to really very good onboard electronics makes either of these an ideal choice for the electric or Rock player who requires an acoustic for live work but dedicated acoustic players won't find themselves wanting either.
Judging by these two, it's not hard to see why Alvarez is such a successful brand in the USA. These two are good value for money all solid wood instruments, that are very playable indeed and sound just great. Who could ask for more?