From the July 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY GREG CAHILL
Nylon-string guitars are associated in the mind of many guitar players with the classical world. But these are highly diverse instruments, suitable for rock, blues, country, folk, jazz, bossa nova, and a host of other styles. And the guitars themselves come in a wide range of designs, from traditional instruments aimed at the classical market to hybrids with narrow nuts and radiused fretboards that might appeal to a steel-string guitarist looking for the sound of nylon but not wanting to move outside the flattop comfort zone.
Here are five new models at several price points that together deliver the something-for-everyone promise.
Takamine Hirade Series H8SS
Taking its name from the brilliant Japanese luthier Mass Hirade, who became Takamine’s head of production in 1968, the H8SS is a stunning concert-model guitar (video above). It features a Sitka spruce soundboard, back and sides of quarter-sawn Indian rosewood, mahogany neck (supported by a truss rod) with ebony fingerboard, and Spanish-fan bracing. Adding a classy touch are the engraved gold-plated Gotoh tuners with pearl buttons.
The guitar’s voice is full and clear, balanced and transparent. While it may not hold up as a concert-level professional instrument, it is a good choice for intermediate and advanced players looking to explore the classical literature and beyond.
PRICE $2,691.99 MSRP/$1,749.99 street.
Córdoba Master Series, 1931 Esteso model
How do you create a modern nylon-string guitar based on the work of Domingo Esteso, one of the greatest Spanish luthiers of the 20th century? Especially one that lives up to the reputation of the Córdoba Master Series? Go to the source. In this case, Córdoba obtained two 1931 Esteso models, which the company’s master builders studied scrupulously and played repeatedly.
“The mission was to understand the essence of what gives these iconic guitars such an amazing voice and feel, and then recreate an instrument that possesses these characteristics and carries the same magic in its DNA,” Córdoba’s sales literature notes. “The process was a combination of science and feel; the wood thicknesses of the top, back, sides, and braces were measured to the nearest hundredth of a millimeter, bracing patterns were traced and mapped, and details of the materials, inlays, wood grains, and vibrations were all carefully analyzed. The guitars were played and listened to for hours to gain an understanding of the balance between the trebles and basses and the resonance of the tops, and to develop a sense for the feel and response of each guitar when played in a variety of styles and environments.”
The result is an exceptionally lightweight, small-body guitar with a full-size scale length, handcrafted in Mexico. The back and sides are constructed of solid Palo Escrito (Mexican rosewood) and the top is either solid European spruce or solid Canadian cedar. The details—from the 1931 Esteso five-fan bracing to the perloid rosette—are taken directly from one of Esteso’s own guitars. The model also features nitrocellulose finish, bone nut and saddle, a Spanish-cedar neck, and an ebony fingerboard.
PRICE $2,795 (MSRP)/$2,199 street.
Silence is golden, or so they say. Big-city apartment dwellers and suburbanites with a need to play quietly (Shhhh, the baby’s asleep!) have come to appreciate the plug-and-play ease provided by the SLG200N’s onboard electronics. They don’t call it the Silent Guitar for nothing. And while the SLG 200N is a great practice instrument, it’s also fully capable of use as a concert or studio instrument (folk-rocker Buffy Ste. Marie is among the touring artists to use one onstage as a primary guitar). The key is Yamaha’s Studio Response Technology pickup and preamp system, which models the sound of a concert nylon-string recorded with high-quality microphones in a professional recording studio. The system features the usual tone controls, plus a blend knob for adjusting the ratio of sound coming from the under-saddle pickup versus the preamp’s modeled sounds. Another knob lets you graduate between different digital reverb and chorus effects.
Oh, and did I mention that the SLG200N weighs just 4.5 pounds? That’s good news for those guitarists challenged by ergonomic issues.
PRICE $1,015 MSRP/$629.99 street.
With its distinctive cutaway, slightly narrow nut, and proprietary electronics, this handsome guitar resoundingly breaks with tradition. Warmly voiced and highly versatile, this Ortega nylon-string should be welcomed not only by classical players in search of a guitar that is out of ordinary, but also by coffeehouse singers and folk, rock, and jazz players looking for built-in electronics and a faster neck. The body sports a solid Canadian cedar top, and a rosewood back and sides. The mahogany neck features a rosewood fretboard, comfortable 50mm nut, and Ortega’s gold-plated tuning machines.
PRICE $900 list, $600 street.
This newly released model in Alvarez Guitars’ Artist Series also has a cutaway, a narrow 48 mm nut, L.R. Baggs Stage Pro Elements preamp and pickup system (though it is also sold with an SYS550 designed by B-BAND), and built-in tuner. Billed as a classical hybrid, this model has a fretboard arched with a radius similar to that of a steel-string guitar, so if you’re not a dedicated classical player you might find this within your comfort zone. Alvarez has taken care to build these with attractive, quarter-sawn, solid cedar tops, mahogany back and sides, hand-sanded scalloped bracing, and a bone nut and saddle. Quite a bargain.
PRICE $679 MSRP, $449 street.