The Alvarez story
Alvarez was founded in 1965 by Gene Kornblum of St. Louis Music. When Gene met with legendary Japanese luthier Kazuo Yairi a few years later, a partnership was formed that would change the acoustic guitar industry for good.
Alvarez & Yairi always wanted to simply make the best instruments on the market for an affordable price. In order to do this, they committed to putting the player first, aiming to constantly learn and improve their designs over time. Their manufacture methods famously incorporate R&D into every step – as Yairi once said, “Perfection is a journey, not a destination.”
Revolutionary forward-shifted bracing
One of the biggest innovations at the heart of the Alvarez range is their bracing. Chris Meikle, Kazuo Yairi and the team went through 18 different iterations before landing on the perfect design: FST-2. This stands for Forward-Shifted Type 2. It was initially launched in their high-end instruments, then gradually fed into the building process for the entire range.
The key to this bracing is the position; compared to traditional X-bracing, FST-2 sits slightly differently on the soundboard (under the guitar’s top) to allow more space for vibration. In addition, the shape of the tone bars (that form the braces themselves) is asymmetric; painstakingly tweaked to allow optimal resonance. Some of the bars are scalloped in the middle, while some are scalloped on the edges, allowing the perfect balance between midrange projection and depth in the lows/highs.
Everything is finished by hand
Alvarez respect their instruments and the materials that they’re made of. They understand that the acoustic guitar is a complex bit of engineering, and every step is considered carefully.
One such step that’s emphasised in their design process is the finish. It’s crucial to strike a balance between letting the wood breathe and resonate, making it look beautiful, and making it last. The company spent over a year researching different sanding methods, and eventually settled on a complex process involving hand-sanding with extreme attention to detail. This ensures crystal-clear grains and sound – let the wood do the talking.
In addition, the finishing process is similarly complex. The finish is applied, sanded and re-applied several times to prevent blemishes and inconsistencies. You’ll seldom find a guitar at this price point with this much care and attention to detail!
Unique bridge and headstock design
Kazuo Yairi was a big believer in the importance of getting the right string tension. He came up with a unique bi-level bridge system that angles the strings at a steeper angle. This helps to maintain consistent tension, intonation and sustain.
In addition, Alvarez guitar headstocks are angled at 15°. Again, this decision was made after extensive research and many iterations. Combined with the bi-level bridge, you’ll get perfect resonance, action and tuning stability on all Alvarez guitars.
All Alvarez guitars feature solid-wood tops, while many also feature solid backs & sides. An acoustic guitar top is arguably its most important component in terms of tone, so using solid wood can make a big difference.
Alvarez explore using Sitka Spruce, Cedar, Mahogany and Walnut tops, among others. All of their tops are at least A grade, with many high-end models featuring A+ or AA. But one thing that’s consistent across all of their instruments is that the tops are all hand-picked for their quality.
Yes, they’re all A-grade, but there’s quite a lot of variety within that range. Alvarez pay their suppliers a little extra to allow them to go in and hand-pick their favourites. Because of this, Alvarez guitars feature premium-quality wood without the associated high price – bravo.
Complex Radius Necks & Bevelled Armrests
If the quality of the wood, the world-class build quality and the variety in the range isn’t enough, Alvarez’s ergonomic design features might just seal the deal.
Many models feature a complex radius neck to improve playability. It starts off as a shallow V to accommodate big chords and open voicings, and gradually transitions to a familiar C shape for smoother high-register playing. This unique profile is another great feature created to heighten both playability and player engagement – no matter where you are on the neck.
On top of this, you may have noticed that some models feature bevelled armrests. Sometimes, the right-angled edge of an acoustic guitar can become uncomfortable after a while, especially with big-bodied guitars. Alvarez wanted an efficient way to soften this angle, and came up with some bevelled edge designs for a handful of their Artist range guitars. Again, you’ll usually find this on more expensive or luthier-made instruments, but it features on many of Alvarez’s affordable models.