In the 1960s the St. Louis Music Company had developed a reputation as one of the leading acoustic guitar suppliers in the USA. St. Louis Music was one of the first brands to import foreign made guitars on a mass scale, and they had tremendous success with their Alvarez brand thanks to the incredible quality of these instruments, produced by their Japanese partner, master luthier, Kazuo Yairi.
Alvarez guitars became incredibly popular after being used by a number of high profile players, with Johnny Cash and Paul McCartney being some of the biggest names. They offer one of the widest ranges of model types on the market, and produce quality guitars to suit practically every budget.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ll take a look at 7 of the best Alvarez guitars available today. We’ll cover everything from budget to pro level models, giving you an all-encompassing look at the Alvarez range. In each review we’ll look at the construction, overall build quality, and of course the tones of each model. Keep on reading to learn more about these amazing guitars.
- Best Alvarez Guitars: Our Top 3
- Best Alvarez Guitars: Individual Reviews
- How To Choose The Best Alvarez Guitar For You
- Final Thoughts on the Best Alvarez Guitars
Best Alvarez Guitars: Our Top 3
For those after a blend of price and performance, our top pick, the Alvarez MGA77CEARSHB Masterworks Elite 77 is a phenomenal choice. It features all-solid wood construction, with gorgeous dark walnut used throughout. It offers unique tones and stand out looks for those who like something a little different.
Budget conscious shoppers should take a look at our best budget option, the Alvarez AD30CE Artist 30. This is an excellent guitar for the price, and even more impressive when you consider its quality electronics and solid Sitka Spruce top. It delivers a well balanced tone, and great playability, too.
If you’re looking for the very best Alvarez guitar on the market, and money isn’t an issue, consider our Editor’s Choice, the Alvarez FYM60HD Yairi Honduran Series. This is an absolutely stunning instrument, made with AAAA grade solid Sitka Spruce, and old growth mahogany purchased directly by company co founder and master luthier, Kazuo Yairi.
Best Alvarez Guitars: Individual Reviews
The Alvarez Masterworks Elite 77 is an impressive guitar that packs in a lot of features considering its mid tier price point. It offers high end aesthetics and feel, yet it’s attainably priced, making it a perfect choice for any working musician.
It had a Grand Auditorium body shape, which was very comfortable to hold, and adding to the playability was a cutaway for excellent upper fret access. The top was solid walnut, and was paired with walnut back and sides.
The neck on this model was mahogany and had an extremely comfortable soft V to C profile. The slick neck made it easy to quickly get up and down the laurel fretboard, and the frets were all nicely finished with well beveled edges and smooth crowns.
The Masterworks Elite also had a few nice aesthetic touches that really set it apart from other models in this price range. It had an abalone rosette and binding, and pearloid inlay dots on the fretboard, all of which looked fantastic.
Tonally it was mellow, but still nicely balanced with some sparkling top end. We found that it had great response across the entire frequency spectrum, and its midrange presence was especially impressive.
The electronics on this guitar were equally as impressive. It had a premium LR Baggs VTC Element pickup system, which is one of our favorites. The amplified tone from this system was absolutely fantastic, with great clarity and definition, while still retaining the acoustic character.
As for the hardware, it had quality Alvarez branded tuners with a 20:1 ratio, which made it incredibly easy to get extremely accurate tuning. Both the nut and saddle were bone, too, which improved both sustain and intonation.
Verdict: The Alvarez Masterworks Elite 77 is an impressive all rounder. It has the look and feel of a much more expensive guitar, and actually reminded us a lot of the US made Martin 000-15M – but at a mid-range price. Its tone is warm and balanced, with plenty of projection and presence.
- High end electronics
- Nice embellishments
- Comes with soft shell case
- No built in EQ
- Laurel fretboard
The Alvarez AD30CE is a beginner to intermediate focused dreadnought at a phenomenal price. The top was made with solid Sitka spruce, and it was paired with mahogany on the back and sides. Considering the price, the embellishments on this guitar were quite impressive; it had an attractive, yet subtle abalone rosette, and even full body binding.
The soft V to C profile mahogany neck on this guitar was slim and fast, making it easy to get up and down the fretboard. The nut and saddle were both made from plastic, but they were well cut and didn’t negatively impact the tone or intonation.
We were impressed with the overall quality of the fretwork considering the price point of this guitar. Every fret was finished nicely and properly leveled. The hardware on this guitar was also surprisingly good – the tuning machines delivered excellent stability with no slip, and easy fine tuning.
For a budget guitar, we found it delivered some seriously impressive tones. It had tons of mid and lower mid punch, with a big booming voice. The Sitka spruce top gave it plenty of clarity and sparkle, and the mahogany back and sides balanced the tone with a nice warmth.
The Alvarez SYS250 electronics system on this guitar was simple but effective. It had an onboard preamp, as well as a volume and tone control, and even a tuner. The sound was crystal clear when amplified, with good feedback resistance, and it had no problem cutting through a mix.
Verdict: The Alvarez AD30CE Artist 30 is a great budget guitar that really punches above its price tag. It offers well balanced tones, and excellent projection – rare features at this price point. All in all, this is a great guitar for anyone looking to get started with a quality acoustic guitar from a well respected brand at a good price.
- Comfortable neck
- Great fretwork
- Quality electronics
- Plastic nut
- Layered back and sides
The Alvarez FYM60HD Yairi Honduran Series is an 000 style acoustic built in Japan by some of the brand’s best luthiers. The top was made from solid spruce and was paired with aged old growth mahogany back and sides.
The wood used for the back of this guitar was hand picked by master luthier Kazuo Yairi over 50 years ago, and was actually forgotten about until recently, and so, has been aging in the perfect conditions for 5 decades.
The neck was absolutely incredible. It was made from Honduran mahogany, and it was finished with a beautiful semi gloss finish. Like almost every model in the roundup, it had a variated profile, running from soft V to C, giving it great ergonomics and making it extremely comfortable. On top, it featured a stunning ebony fretboard which felt amazing under the fingers.
As expected, the fretwork was also immaculate. There were no sharp edges or irregularities, everything was perfectly leveled, and the crowns were polished to a mirror shine.
Tonally this guitar was absolutely wonderful. It gave us some incredible depth, which was no doubt influenced by the Honduran mahogany. That depth was still balanced by plenty of clarity and brightness, making it an incredibly versatile guitar. Its responsiveness to changes in attack were superb, switching from sweet and delicate to bright and bold in the blink of an eye.
We found that the hardware was also great, with smooth-turning Gotoh 510 machine heads, a Tusq nut, a bone saddle, and an ebony bridge.
Verdict: The Alvarez FYM60HD Yairi Honduran Series is an absolute masterpiece. This guitar was designed to produce the best tone and playability possible, and it delivers on both fronts. Its tone is incredibly balanced, with plenty of depth, clarity, and projection. It was built with incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail. This is truly an exceptional guitar.
- All solid wood
- Excellent electronics
- High end hardware
- Very expensive
- Extremely sensitive to heat and humidity changes
Being a premium model, the Alvarez CY75CE Yairi Standard Series Classical Guitar was built with a selection of high end solid woods.
On the top, it was western red cedar, and on the back and sides, east Indian rosewood. The neck was mahogany, and it had a traditional wide profile – something that serious classical players will find comfortable, but we’d suggest that less experienced players may want to consider a guitar with a slimmer neck.
We found that the rosewood fretboard was smooth, and felt phenomenal. The frets, as they were on the FYM60HD, were just about perfect.
The combination of tone woods used in the construction of this guitar gave us a beautiful, warm tone with plenty of complexity – perfect for classical music. It had tons of depth to its voice, and projected well.
The electronics were also good. It had a LR Baggs preamp with a built-in tuner, and an Element pickup. The amplified tone retained the guitar’s natural character, with no coloration of the tone thanks to the flexible film sensor. This sensor actually picks up on the movement of the soundboard rather than the string vibration, which is why the amplified tone is much closer to what you’d hear acoustically than you’d find on a more traditional acoustic pickup like a piezo.
The hardware was once again, phenomenal, with Gotoh Gold tuners for impeccable tuning stability, and a real bone nut and saddle, which delivered incredible sustain and intonation
Verdict: The Alvarez CY75CE Yairi Standard Series Classical Guitar is an excellent choice for those who want a pro level classical guitar built by some of the world’s best luthiers. Its construction is flawless, with solid woods used throughout, and offers some of the best playability you’re ever likely to come across.
- Sensational tones
- Perfect fretwork
- Incredible amplified performance
- Wide neck
- Doesn’t accommodate ball end type strings
The Alvarez MDA66SHB Masterworks Steries is a square shouldered dreadnought style guitar, made with solid mahogany, on boh the top, back, and sides. Getting a premium solid wood for the entire body is practically unheard of at this price point, and this adds a lot to the overall value for money.
Like the rest of the body, the neck was mahogany, and had the same soft V to C profile as the other models in the roundup. This made it easy to get our fingers around the fretboard properly all the way from top to bottom.
Being a mid tier model, it did come with an Indian laurel fretboard which was frankly a little disappointing. To get an all solid body, but a fairly basic laurel board seems like a bit of a cop out. We would have loved to have seen rosewood in use here.
The sound of this Alvarez was very laid back. It had a good balance between low end warmth and mid range punch, with just a touch of top end sparkle that made it an ideal choice for rhythm work or as a guitar for vocal accompaniment.
It had the big, cannon like dreadnought voice and huge projection, but the use of mahogany kept the tones super mellow. We think it works best for folk and indie styles rather than pop, rock, or country, all of which usually need a bit more snap.
We did like the hardware, and found it all to be of good quality. It had Grover style tuners, which admittedly weren’t as nice as the Gotoh models on the Yairi guitars we tested, but still delivered strong performance. It did feature a bone nut and saddle, and all of the inlay was real abalone and mother of pearl, which really made it feel special.
Verdict: For anybody looking for a big dreadnought voice, with above average warmth, the Alvarez MDA66SHB Masterworks Series is an excellent choice. Its mellow voicing works beautifully with vocals, and the incredible sustain and resonance that comes as a result of the all solid body is extremely rare at this price point.
- Huge punch and projection
- All solid woods
- Real abalone and mother of pearl inlay
- Laurel fretboard
- Tonally not as versatile as a spruce topped model
The Alvarez Delta00E/TSB is one of the most popular models in the Alvarez lineup thanks to its fantastic playability, handsome looks, great tones, and reasonable price point. It had a decidedly vintage look with its Tobacco Sunburst finish, and the use of full body binding gave it a premium feel.
It featured a solid Sitka spruce top, together with African mahogany back and sides. This is a tried and true combination of woods that worked perfectly with the 00 body shape.
It had a mahogany neck, which (surprise, surprise!) had a soft V to C profile. While there’s not much variation between neck profiles with Alvarez guitars, it does say a lot about the brand’s confidence in the shape. We happen to like it, and we think that it’s a great middle of the road type profile that will suit the vast majority of players.
The fretboard was Indian laurel. It felt a little dry, and could definitely use some conditioner. Unfortunately this is a common theme with laurel, and something you’ll have to remember to do with each string change for optimum performance.
Tonally, it was extremely sweet sounding. We often find this with 00 shape guitars, and this was no exception. It was super responsive, and we think it was at its best when played fingerstyle. It was absolutely able to handle strumming, but the smaller soundboard meant it wasn’t as full sounding as some of the dreadnoughts we tried during the roundup.
The lack of volume was compensated for, however, thanks to the LR Baggs Element pickup system. It delivered extremely accurate and authentic tones when amplified, which isn’t always the case with guitars at this price point.
We found that the tuning stability was great, and was helped along by the gorgeous Alvarez branded open gear tuners. They held firm, and gave us accurate and easy fine tuning. The nut and saddle were both made from bone which had a big impact on the resonance, and also helped a lot with the intonation.
Verdict: The Alvarez Delta00E/TSB was so much fun to play, and delivered some gorgeous tones. It was crisp and clear, with superb note separation and articulation. Fingerstyle players in particular will enjoy this guitar most, but anybody who picks it up will appreciate the superb craftsmanship and handsome looks, as well as the incredible comfort and ergonomics.
- Comfortable body
- Gorgeous finish
- Excellent electronics
- Dry fretboard
Thanks to its grand auditorium body, the Alvarez AG60CEAR Artist 60 delivered huge punch and came with a massive voice, while still being more comfortable than a dreadnought. It had a solid Sitka spruce top, which served up some amazing top end sparkle and mid range clout. The lower mids and bass side of things were brought about by way of the gorgeous African mahogany back and sides.
It was equipped with the same wonderful soft V to C shape neck as the other models. The neck was made from mahogany, and had a fantastic satin finish which made getting up and down a real joy. The fretwork was excellent, and really showed the focus on quality assurance that Alvarez put into their instruments.
Like most grand auditorium style guitars, it had a huge mid range presence and a lot of volume. It projected like a dreadnought, and had something of a similar voicing, but thanks to the narrower waist, was much more comfortable to hold. While it was most prominent in the mids, it still had some nice top end, but we thought the bass registers were a little muddy when playing loud.
The hardware was of the same high standard as we’d encountered in the rest of the field in this roundup. It had the same Grover style tuners as the Alvarez MDA66SHB Masterworks Series, a bone nut, and a bone saddle.
It featured an LR Baggs StagePro EQ system and an Element pickup, which made it an incredibly versatile stage and studio guitar. It delivered organic acoustic tone, and thanks to the preamp controls, we were able to easily shape the sound – this is ideal if you’ll be playing venues of different sizes, or different styles of music.
Verdict: The Alvarez AG60CEAR Artist 60 lived up to the reputation set by the rest of the field, and solidified our opinion that Alvarez is a much underrated brand. It offered excellent playability, and has one of the best pickup systems you’ll find in any acoustic at this price. It looked great, and had plenty of power and projection in case you want to spend your time playing unplugged.
- Big voice
- Tons of character
- LR Baggs electronics
- Muddy at the bottom end
- Layered wood on back and sides
How To Choose The Best Alvarez Guitar For You
If you were unfamiliar with Alvarez guitars before now, the above selection should have given you a taste of what the brand is all about. It’s clear to see that they offer an extraordinary range of guitar styles and sizes at prices to suit every budget.
When shopping for your own Alvarez guitar, these are some of the things you should be looking for when trying to make your decision.
The wood choice in an acoustic guitar is one of the most influential factors in the way it sounds. Alvarez tends to use the following woods in their construction.
Sitka spruce is a high end wood usually reserved for the top, or soundboard of a guitar. It’s widely known for its resonance and flexibility, which results in guitars with tons of top end sparkle, and a bright, peppy tone.
Mahogany is typically used on the back and sides of spruce topped guitars, although in some cases it’s used as a soundboard, too. Mahogany has a dark, rich tone that when used in combination with spruce balances out the brightness of the lighter wood. When used as a top, combined with mahogany back and sides, it delivers an incredibly warm, mellow tone.
Cedar is commonly used on classical type guitars. It serves up complex tones with tons of character, and excellent projection and volume. This makes it a great choice for nylon strung guitars which typically struggle with volume compared to steel strings.
Rosewood is primarily reserved for the back and sides of guitars due to its weight, its strong, dark tone, and the price. It has a deeper, more nuanced tone than mahogany, which when paired with cedar or Sitka spruce results in a beautiful voice with complex overtones and stunning aesthetics.
After the wood, the body shape, or style, has the next biggest impact on tone, as well as playability.
Dreadnoughts are big, booming guitars with huge volume and projection. They have a square shouldered, boxy shape with a wide waist, resulting in an enormous soundboard. These characteristics give the dreadnought an incredibly versatile sound, which is why it has become one of the most popular styles for players of practically every genre.
Grand Symphony models, often referred to as “00”, are some of the smaller full size guitars on the market, and are known for their sweet sound, excellent playability, and incredible articulation. They’re extremely popular with fingerstyle players, because of their great ergonomics and articulation.
Grand Auditorium guitars are just slightly smaller than dreadnoughts, resulting in a very similar sound profile, but with perhaps just a little less bottom end presence. They do have a much narrower waist than dreadnoughts, however, which makes them ergonomically speaking, much more comfortable. They’re great all rounders and work with most music styles.
Final Thoughts on the Best Alvarez Guitars
For anybody who was unsure about Alvarez guitars before, we hope we’ve been able to open your eyes to this fantastic brand. They’re meticulously built, they sound incredible, and offer exceptional value for money.
To sum up our favorites, our top pick, the Alvarez MGA77CEARSHB Masterworks Elite 77, delivers an amazing blend of price and performance. Our best budget choice, the Alvarez AD30CE Artist 30 is far better equipped than the vast majority of models at this price point, making it a great choice for beginners and intermediate players alike. Our editor’s choice, the Alvarez FYM60HD Yairi Honduran Series is a sensational guitar that we’d put up against the best from any other mainstream brand in the world.