Saturday, March 23, 2013

POTW - Alvarez AP-70

Am I the only one who's noticed a new interest in "specialty" guitars? It seems as though, lately, people are foregoing the tried and true 14-fret neck Dreadnaughts and OM styles and opting for other, less common guitar types. If what was on display at the January NAMM Show was any indication, the answer is "No, I'm not the only one who's noticed it". Guitar companies are sitting up, taking notice and offering up a tasty smorgasbord of various guitars.

One of these companies is Alvarez.

Alvarez, along with their expected crop of Dreadnaughts and Folk (think "OM") models, offer a couple of instruments outside the usual selections found in the line-up of an import guitar line. In particular is the one upon which we will heap the title of "Pick Of The Week", the AP-70 Parlor Guitar:

An AP-70, in all of its 12-fret splendor...

The AP-70 is from the "Artist Line" of Alvarez Guitars. It features laminated East Indian Rosewood back and sides, and a finely grained, solid Sitka Spuce top.

East Indian Rosewood back and sides on the AP-70...
The fingerboard and patented bi-level bridge are Rosewood, as is the peghead veneer:

The Alvarez bi-level bridge...

The neck meets the body at the twelfth fret and is topped off with a slotted headstock that's fitted with open gear tuners. It comes equipped with D'Addario EXP strings. 

The slotted peghead on the AP-70...

This little guitar plays extremely easy. The 12-fret neck makes for slightly less tension while, at the same time, helps round out the sound. The slotted headstock allows for a bit of a greater break angle over the nut, which helps to counter any "slack" feeling you might otherwise perceive in this guitar.

Being a smaller body, it doesn't have the low-end punch that some guitars have, but it's not supposed to. The guitar has center-scalloped bracing which permits the top to respond to even the slightest of touches. This is a fingerstyle player's guitar, first and foremost, and it performs that role convincingly well. 

The smaller body also makes it a perfect choice for young beginners; maybe 12 years old and younger, or those adults who enjoy a petite build and have a difficult time properly handling a larger bodied instrument. In either case, this is a guitar which will stay viable for who ever is playing it for a long time.

I remember being rather impressed with the AP-70 the first time I picked it up, and that impression hasn't waned in the weeks since that first encounter. After spending some "quality time" with it over the last couple of weeks, this is a formidable instrument which scores high marks on the BFTB (hereafter and forever known as "BANG FOR THE BUCK") scale.

So, what's the bottom line? 

This guitar is a winner. For someone looking for a well-made 12-fret guitar, that doesn't cost $1,000.00, one needn't look any further. For a "street price"of $379.00, this guitar matches up quite well to other similar, but higher priced, instruments on the market.

So, if you're looking for a guitar which isn't going to break the bank or raise the eyebrows of your significant other, the Alvarez AP-70 is a good way to go.

Actually, when your significant other hears how inexpensive it was, the eyebrows might get raised, anyway, but only for all the right reasons.

*Text and photos by Steve Parr

Sunday, March 3, 2013

POTW - Martin 000-17SM

You might think I just sit back all day running through the litany of cool gear suitable for POTW but, let me assure you... well, you're right. I do. We've got a lot of cool gear here at PMC @ Broadway and, sooner or later, we're going to tell you about all of it. 

A few weeks back, Carrie (our Manager) went to Anaheim, California for the annual NAMM Show. She went shopping, and we're beginning to see some of the things she bought coming through the doors of our store.

I'd had another instrument picked out for this installment. I was all ready to start taking photos, and then I planned on sitting down at the computer and writing all about it. It was right about that time when Nick, our driver, brought through our door a guitar I've been dying to get my hands on. When I saw the box, I knew the previously selected little POTW nugget was just gonna' have to wait another week.

You see, this week, I decided I would bestow POTW honors on the Martin 000-17SM:

The Martin 000-17SM...

A couple of things about this guitar just jump out at you when you first see it. First, the finish on the gloss top (the back and sides are satin) is just silly. It's a subtle, yet striking example of understated beauty. Second, you notice the slotted headstock. It gives this instrument a distinctively vintage vibe and fits in very well with the whole motif. This is a 12-fret guitar, so this 000 body size is a bit smaller, particularly in the upper bout, than, say, a 000-28.

The body sports tortoise shell binding, as well as a tortoise shell pickguard. The bridge and fingerboard are Morado (think Pao Ferro), and the headstock overlay is East Indian Rosewood.

Small diamond inlays on the Morado fingerboard...

The solid Morado bridge with solid Ebony bridge pins...

Flipping the guitar over, you get a good look at the solid Mahogany back and sides. The "select hardwood" neck (I'm thinking it's something similar to Mahogany) has a low oval shape, and is very comfortable.

The satin finished Mahogany back and sides of the 000-17SM...

So, how does it play? Well, it plays really well. The 12-fret neck, as you would suspect, affords a bit less string tension than a longer scale neck. I'm not exactly known for multi-fret finger-stretches, but I could probably pull them off a bit easier on this than on, say, my Yairi. The slot headstock increases the break angle over the nut, which seems to reel in a "slack" feel one might otherwise feel in the strings. The fingerboard width is 1-3/4" at the nut, so there's ample space. 

The slotted headstock; a very definite vintage vibe...
On a scale of 1 to 10 in the playability department, I'm giving this one a solid 9.

Now, let's talk sound.

Sonically, I've always loved 12-fret guitars. They just sound a bit warmer than their 14-fret counterparts, and the 000-17SM does not disappoint. There's a rich, almost breathy sound to this guitar that I really like, and the bone nut and saddle only enhance this. 

The low end is more prominent than I expected out of a smaller body, but the high end isn't nearly as pronounced as I thought it would be. It's definitely a bit subdued.. Overall, though, it's an amazing sounding instrument. Mahogany and Spruce is one of my favorite guitar combinations, and it takes on a certain quality in a 12-fret that's difficult to describe. It's like a hot cup of coffee on a cold Portland night; it warms you right up. I tuned the guitar to a double drop D and I got all gooey inside. It sounded sooooo freakishly good.

So, looks, playability and sound. This guitar hits the "POTW" trifecta, and in convincing fashion. With a street price of $1,599.00 (which includes the Martin hardshell case), this guitar delivers, and it delivers big. It's not the least expensive guitar you'll ever buy, but it hangs in there, rather handily, for a lot less than the competition.

So give us a call at 503-228-8437 or, better yet, come down to 2502 NE Broadway in Portland, and ask Steve or Carrie for a test drive of this wonderful instrument.

Photos and text by Steve Parr