How Good Are Alvarez Guitars?

alvarez guitar brand

When it comes to answering whether X or Y brand of guitars is any good, the answer will always have three parts: 

  1. How’s the brand’s reputation? 
  2. Which model, and from which period of the brand’s history? 
  3. Good for what? 

In this little article, we’ll look at each of those question’s answers applied to the mythical and somewhat obscure brand of guitars known as Alvarez.

The Reputation of Alvarez Guitars

For most of their history, Alvarez guitars have enjoyed a stellar reputation, especially when it comes to their acoustic and classical guitars. Over the decades since their inception, in 1965, they’ve been used by several notable names in music such as Carlos Santana, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa, Thom Yorke, and several others.

Here’s a video of Eric Clapton using an Alvarez 1977 Classical Guitar during the performance of tears in heaven. He also used it for some songs during his Unplugged. 

Granted, perhaps Eric Clapton could make any guitar sound great… but thinking of the arsenal that man must have at his disposal, the fact that we would go for an Alvarez should be a good indicator of their quality. 

As for the names mentioned, it’s worth saying that they usually use an Alvarez not as their sole guitar, but as a nice acoustic to go to when they need to record or play something that calls for that sweet and warm sound. This is the case even for a bassist. Mike Inez of Alice in Chains used an Alvarez acoustic bass for their unplugged, but he wasn’t rocking one for most of their other shows. 

Now we know that these guitars have been indeed used by professionals, you can attest to the quality of their sound by listening to those recordings, but does that mean every Alvarez guitar out there would be considered good? And if so, how come they aren’t that popular? 

To answer that, let’s take a look at: 

A Brief History of Alvarez Guitars

Alvarez was founded in 1965 by distributor St. Louis Music, a company that had been importing European violins to America since 1922. By the ‘60s the company had grown to be a major distributor of several types of musical instruments and accessories. It was then run by the founder’s son, Gene Kornblum. 

During a trip to Japan, Gene met Kazuo Yairi, a Master Luthier that produced handmade concert classical guitars. By partnering with St. Louis Music, and taking advantage of the industrialization that was sweeping the country, Kazuo started to design and develop steel string acoustic guitars at his own factory in Japan and importing them into the US and Europe. The guitars were then branded as Alvarez. 

That’s when people like Clapton, Santana, and Graham Nash started using them since they were, and still are, quite a boutique product, at least if it was produced under the supervision of the Master Luthier himself at the japanese factory. 

At some point, the company decided to not only use Alvarez for the guitars made personally by Kazuo in Japan but also start producing other less-costly instruments in China, under the design specifications of the Master Luthier. 

This is where the big difference perhaps came for Alvarez Guitars. While Alvarez-Yairi guitars became quite well-renowned, as evidenced by the list of people that use them, the other models failed to catch up and have since been limited to rather a small production. Well, small if you compare it to industry behemoths like Gibson or Fender. 

The story, of course, doesn’t end there. When the company was most successful, in 2005, it got purchased by LOUD Technologies Inc., which also owns brands like Mackie, Ampeg, and Crate. While this allowed Gene Kornblum and Kazuo Yairi to enjoy their retirements, the new management perhaps didn’t sit all too well with the luthiers back in Japan. I say this because, in 2011, the company was bought again by St. Louis Music, who continue to manage Alvarez guitars to this day. 

Now, what does this mean in regards to whether an Alvarez guitar will be any good for you? Well, for starters, there is the difference of origin. An Alvarez guitar made in China will be significantly different from one made at the Yairi factory in Japan. The latter is as good as any acoustic that a seasoned professional would play, so you can be sure it should be good, but it’s going to cost somewhere around 2,000 USD. 

This, of course, doesn’t mean that the low-cost Alvarez guitars made in China will never be good. Any search in forums to this same question will lead to numerous testimonials of satisfied musicians that have had one in their families for years and still love how it plays and sounds, or people that are quite content after getting a new one. 

Of course, without knowing the exact models that all those pro’s use, we can’t rule out that one, or multiple, of them, might be using made-in-china Alvarez guitars. Who knows? And that’s exactly when the next question enters… 

Good for what?

In the end, whether an instrument is ‘good’ or not depends more on the player. If you’re a weekend folk singer, a 12-year old beginning to play, or a classical performer, a Chinese Alvarez might be good. If you got the dough, one made in Japan might be astounding. 

If you’re going to be playing in your bedroom, however, having a concert and studio quality guitar might be too much. If you’re going for a not-so-expensive Alvarez, my suggestion would be to ask about its origin. If it’s made in China, the best bet would be to try out that baby first, and then the matter of “good” or not is something you can decide for yourself. 

How does it feel to you? How does it sound to you when you put on your finger picks? Those are always the most important things when getting a guitar, as it’s going to be your guitar. If the instrument is to be an extension of yourself, you’re the ultimate judge of its adequacy to you and your playing needs. 

21 thoughts on “How Good Are Alvarez Guitars?”

  1. Purchased a 2018 Grateful Dead OM Lightning, #366 of 400 made in Japan I am told. Visually very nice. The strings are very high off the fingerboard, my luthier measured and found the neck is canted forward creating this issue. Said he could only improve by half due to the way the bone and wood bridge is constructed. Not pleased. Cost another $80. to fix. Like it but expected more. Any comments?

  2. To sum up the article’s answer to ‘How good are they?’:
    The $2,000+ models like the one Clapton used are good.
    It’s up to you if the lower priced China production run guitars are good.
    Thanks for that detailed analysis.

  3. I obtained my 1st Alvarez in 1973, for about $150 and played it for many years. Now I ‘turned it over to my youngest daughter who is learning to play. I enjoyed the guitar
    My Dad purchased his in 1971 for about $300 and played it for many years. I inherited that guitar and that is my main guitar today.

    Both guitars are not Yairi guitars.

    Both guitars were manufactured in the plant in Kalamazoo Michigan. Where does this fit in the Japan/China description lines?

    1. those guitars are not made by alvarez. the older ones were made exclusively in japan. it sounds like you have a gibson or epiphone both made in kalamazoo

  4. Hi, just thought I’d leave this note. I’ve been playing about sixty-plus years, I currently own a small concert size Alvarez that has been my main acoustic for almost twenty years and I truly love it. I use it live with a sunrise pickup and it is a joy to play and sounds great. I’ve owned Gibson’s, Martins, guilds, epiphones, etc,etc , and so on and on. For me this inexpensive guitar was a find .

  5. I purchased an Alvarez PD85 in 2007. Since discontinued. My main guitar for many years. Well built and stays in tune. I’ve upgraded to the Alvarez Yairi WY1. From the Bob Weir series. Unbelievable sound. He has many videos on YouTube playing it. I recommend “Bob Weir Corrina Tribeca” and you’ll see a solo performance of him giving that guitar a hard work out. Beautiful.

    1. Trying to buy an acoustic/electric. I got treated badly at 2 shops in our area..i guess a 67 year old is condemned for wanting to play music.

    2. I am privileged to own an Alvarez 5064, Made in Japan. I bought it from eBay for just over £100. It has a sticker on the reverse of the headstock from a music shop in Nashville & an adjustment sticker inside dated 1982. I absolutely love it. Superb playability & tone. It is now an heirloom!

  6. Flávia C.P.Cunha

    Boa tarde pessoal!
    Tenho em minhas mãos um violão acústico Alvarez modelo 5080N e número de série 615192, em perfeito estado de conservação. Gostaria de mais informações sobre o mesmo pois ganhei de presente e tenho interesse em vendê-lo.

  7. I have played practically every commercially available nylon string guitar over a 50 Year span. K. YAIRI is absolutely the BEST I have touched, hands down. The quality is just astounding. I have visited their factory in Gifu, Japan, and was amazed at the heart the luthiers put into every instrument. I am proud to endorse this phenomenons line.

  8. Was just given an AJ60SC for Christmas. At guitar shop getting set up. Any way to find out the year? Thanks! JK Washington, DC

  9. George Kraushaar

    I’ve got an Alvarez Yairi DYMR70 which is an all solid Masterworks Yairi built in Japan. The best of the best. Paid as much for it as a new D-18 Martin. This Yairi is really a top flight guitar. I like as well as any guitar I have ever owned. It doesn’t sound like a Martin, because it isn’t a Martin. I like it better.

  10. I started with a Yairi DY40C BLK(Black), Mahogany b/s, Sitka spruce top. Very articulate. Then I researched tonewood and moved to East Indian Rosewood b/s with better quality spruce tops. I found my niche and since own a 2003 DY84BR, Brazilian rosewood, a thunder cannon, 3 DY 90’s, PD 100S, MD 95, MD 5000, so on & on. One of my guitar friends has a Martin D-28, he loathes my DY90’S. I have played the high priced D 45, 42, 41 ( I love ornate guitars) previous and will take my Yairi’s over them, plus any Taylor-treble overload, and my Breedlove Masterclass. You should see my ’78 DY90 with Brazilian rosewood three piece back, adorned in abalone and loaded for bear musically. Yes, I love Alvarez. Rest in peace Kazou. He made the wooden musical world a great place to inhabit. Beethoven said, “Music is a higher revelation than philosophy”. I rest my long case!!!

  11. Hi Steve I am thinking of purchasing the following guitar; Alvarez AD6012CESHB Artist Series Dreadnought 12-String Electro-Acoustic Guitar with Cutaway in Shadowburst. Unfortunately, due to my location I can not go to store and try out this model. I would be grateful if you could pass on any knowledge you or any any of your friends may have regarding this model,. I’m assuming that due to the low price, it is a Chinese model.Likewise, any input from other contributors would be gratefully appreciated.
    Yours sincerely

  12. i found a 70’s model that doesn’t say where it was made but by the price I paid its obviously from China and I absolutely LOVE it!! I wanted one mainly cuz that’s all Ani Difranco played.I recently bought their new Baritone acoustic that’s was made in St.Louis and that guitar is very beautiful guitar with a beastly sound.

  13. Roberta A Hegy

    I have a 1974 Yairi DY95. Owned since new. Basically a Martin D45 with rosewood sides and back and spruce top. Beautiful instrument.

  14. I special ordered a Yairi auditorium size guitar new in 2000. The 1rst 10 years it had no low end, no sustain at all on the low E & A strings. I tried to love it, kept playing it. It then Gradually opened up like a beautiful flower. In the past 5 years I’ve compared it to Martins, Guilds, etc. They do not compare favorably in tone, playability, neck, etc. I now truly love my Yairi.

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