From the September 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER


With their substantial, but comfortable, V-shaped necks and small bodies, a pair of freshly made Alvarez guitars—the Jazz and Blues Series Blues51/TSB and Delta00/TSB—feel like 80-year-old steel-strings. And they’ve got a sound to match: a growl and bark perfect for fingerpicked blues and ragtime, conjuring up vintage sounds of the Mississippi Delta and the American South. Alvarez, long known for its affordable, high-quality guitars, scores major points with these prewar doppelgangers.

Handsome Vintage Looks
Fans of Alvarez will notice points of departure on the Blues51 and the Delta00. In place of the company’s trademark bridge shape, there’s a traditional low-profile bridge. And the Blues has an arched rosewood back, uncommon for a flattop guitar. Both guitars boast solid high-grade Sitka spruce soundboards, supported by back-, rather than forward-shifted, scalloped X bracing, in which the axis is proximal to the bridge, designed in the service of structural integrity and sonic projection.
The guitars’ deep brown sunburst finishes and vintage-style open-geared tuners also set them apart from their Alvarez stablemates, but the company’s mother-of-pearl headstock logo and single 12th-fret fingerboard inlay stick to the prevailing aesthetic. All told, the Blues and the Delta are a handsome pair, a judicious use of modern flourishes providing a nice counterpoint to their traditional design.

The Blues and the Delta are well built, but the craftsmanship isn’t perfect. The finishes could be thinner, and they have a bit of orange-peel effect here and there. But the fretwork is clean, and so are the slots on the genuine bone nut and saddle. The setup, with low action and proper neck relief, is excellent right out of the box; no tweaking needed.

That Old-School Sound
The Blues51 and the Delta00 both have appealing voices, a bit nasal and compressed—in a good way. The Blues 51 has a hint more sweetness and projection, while the Delta’s sound is slightly drier and more focused. Overall, both guitars have good balance between their registers, but the E string on the Blues sounded slightly subdued compared to its neighbor.

To test the instruments, I played a few of the selections that have appeared recently in this magazine: “Pete’s Barrelhouse Rag,” by contributing writer Pete Madsen; “You Gotta Move,” by the bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell; and the evergreen associated with the Carter family, “Wildwood Flower.”
Both instruments were terrific for fingerpicking through “Pete’s Barrelhouse Rag” and had the appropriate snap and color for a rag. For fingerpicking, the Blues edged out the Delta just a little; the former is a touch more responsive to pick-hand nuances and dynamics.

The guitars maintained their earthy sounds when placed in open-D tuning on “You Gotta Move.” Though the action on both instruments isn’t optimally high for bottleneck playing, the warmth and richness I got when playing the piece with a slide gives a good indication that with a correct setup, it will be great for slide playing.

The guitars felt just as good to play with a pick as they did to fingers. Both had a good amount of presence and clarity when subjected to the Carter strumming of “Wildwood Flower”: there was plenty of note separation between the bass-line melody and chordal accents, not to mention a general old-timey character that worked well for this music.


At a Glance

Alvarez Blues51/TSB

Body

12-fret parlor size

Solid A+ Sitka spruce top

Rosewood arched back and sides

Rosewood bridge

High-gloss Vintage Burst finish

Neck

Mahogany

Rosewood fingerboard

24 13/16-inch scale

1.75-inch nut

Chrome open-gear tuners

Extras

D’Addario EXP16 strings (12–53)

Genuine bone nut and saddle

Hardshell case—is this included?

Price

$649 MSRP

Made in China. alvarezguitars.com

 

Alvarez Delta00/TSB

Body

14-fret parlor size

Solid A+ Sitka spruce top

Mahogany back and sides

Rosewood bridge

High-gloss Vintage Burst finish

Neck

Mahogany

Rosewood fingerboard

24 13/16-inch scale

1.75-inch nut

Chrome open-gear tuners

Extras

D’Addario EXP16 strings (12–53)

Genuine bone nut and saddle

Hardshell case

Price

$599 MSRP

Made in China. alvarezguitars.com


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This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

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