Acoustic guitars are tricky beasts, particularly when it comes to playing live. What sounds fantastic in your living room can sound downright ugly onstage. An onstage acoustic should complement the singer's voice, not overpower it. It should have projection and volume, but not feedback at the slightest twitch of the player. Last but not least, anyone who goes onstage wants his or her instrument to look good. Knowing that Alvarez hand-builds some of the finest acoustic guitars in the world in their Yairi models, I was curious to see how that translated to their more-affordable Artist Series.
Each guitar's solid spruce top is complemented beautifully with a maple back and sides. The overall lighter hue of the guitar is in contrast to the rosewood fretboard and bridge, which mimics the shape of the direct-coupled bridge of the Yairi models. Other visual accents include die-cast tuners, white pearl rosette, multiple binding, and the Alvarez Artist Series logo inlaid on the headstock. Under stage lights, these guitars look incredibly sharp.
After taking in the gorgeous look of these guitars, I was eager to hear how they sounded. I'd only played on a jumbo once or twice before, and was left with the impression that the bigger lower bout and extra depth felt clunky. I immediately knew that was not the case with these guitars. Both were equally comfortable to play, whether I was seated or had them strapped on. The cutaway allows you to make the most of the upper ranges of these guitars, and is a must if you do any lead playing (there are non-cutaway versions of both these guitars as well).
The maple back and sides make these guitars much brighter than I had expected, given their jumbo status. Mixed with the low-end-enhancing depth and lower bout, the overall tone favors the midrange, with powerful projection and warm resonance. This proved to be a very big asset when I took them to a gig.
The 600T Mk II electronics system is one of the most versatile and functional I've encountered in an acoustic-electric. The built-in pickup is an under-saddle piezo, and the preamp section provides an auxiliary input with its own level control for the optional ASP50 Mk II soundhole pickup or ACM50 condenser mic. The 3-band EQ has a unique enhancement, the Mid Freq knob. The knob lets you change the center frequency of the Mid EQ slider from 600Hz to 1.2kHz. So much control might sound overwhelming, but it makes it really easy to enhance virtually any nuance of the guitar's natural sound with a simple adjustment. Whether I wanted to simply amplify the acoustic tone or boost a given frequency range, the electronics in these guitars delivered with ease.
Two additional features that make the 600T Mk II such a flexible system are a built-in tuner that auto-mutes the pickup when activated and a post-EQ notch filter that gives you an instant reprieve from any feedback you may encounter. I found both of these features invaluable from a performance perspective: the tuner made it a snap to get in pitch without subjecting the audience to the distracting sound of tuning up, and the notch filter gave me the peace of mind to move around while onstage.
In The Mix
I substituted the AJ60SC for my own acoustic-electric during a gig so I could get feedback from some regular fans who are familiar with our sound. One word that kept popping up was "clear." Even with the rest of the band playing – including an electric guitar – these guitars cut right through the mix and were easy to hear. It was nice to actually get some compliments on my playing, since the volume of the other instruments often overshadows it. It made me realize the importance of good electronics in an acoustic-electric, something I'd taken for granted before playing these Alvarez guitars.
In the world of acoustic guitars, jumbos are known for their big, bold tone; intense volume; and outstanding projection. While some players find them too big, bulky, or boomy, with the AJ60SC and its 12-string counterpart Alvarez managed to capture all the best qualities of a jumbo acoustic and avoid the pitfalls. The tone is crisp and boisterous, yet not overpowering or too bottom-heavy. As a singer, I found that it worked well with my voice instead of against it. Add to that the versatile System 600T MK II electronics and the Alvarez tradition of building fine guitars, and these Artist Series jumbos add up to an exceptional value.
Features & Specs
- Solid Engelmann spruce top
- Maple back and sides
- Rosewood fretboard
- 600T Mk II electronics
- Fully bound
- White pearl rosette
- Headstock inlay
- Nickel die-cast tuners