This distinctive dread is a sweet player—at a sweet price.
Conceived 50 years ago to sell affordable Japanese acoustics to a guitar-crazed American public, the Alvarez brand sprang from a partnership between St. Louis Music and the late, great Japanese luthier Kazuo Yairi (whose name appeared on upscale Alvarez-Yairi models). Alvarez guitars have been used by players as diverse as Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia, Ani DiFranco, and Monte Montgomery, to name a few.
To celebrate 50 years in the biz, Alvarez stayed true to their affordable-guitar roots by introducing the 1965 series. The line of solid Sitka spruce-topped guitars includes standard and slope-shouldered dreadnought, OM, and parlor models. The good-looking, super-playable ADA1965 reminds us why Alvarez has thrived in the affordable acoustic market for so long.
Classic Style and a Touch of Flash Our ADA1965’s Sitka spruce top has fine, even grain free of irregularities. Instead of the mahogany-laminate back and sides you often see on guitars in this price range, the 1965’s satin-finished back and sides are made from layered acacia, whose sonic properties are not worlds apart from those of koa.
It’s a pretty reddish brown, with an attractive hint of marbled figuring on the back. The satin-finish mahogany neck is affixed with a customary dovetail joint. The headstock cap, fretboard, and Alvarez’s trademark bi-level bridge are dark rosewood.
In other words, the ADA1965 is an attractive guitar. Its glossy sunburst finish (Alvarez calls it Shadowburst) imparts a pre-war Gibson vibe, blinged out a bit with purfling and a rosette of Paua abalone. The fretboard is clean and sparingly adorned, with a single eye-shaped marker at the 12th fret.
The craftsmanship is generally excellent. While there are some subtle tooling marks on the fretboard, things look and feel good where it counts. The 21 vintage-style frets are neatly seated and polished, with no jagged edges. The binding is perfectly flush with the body, and the inlay work is precise. Inside, things are mostly tidy, though there are hints of excess glue around the bracing on the bass side (not uncommon on guitars in this price range).
Walking the Big Guitar Tightrope The ADA1965 feels light and weighs in at 4.75 pounds. Traditionalists might find the C-shaped neck a bit on the skimpy side, but players with modern tastes are likely to enjoy its slim, fast, almost high-performance feel. The 1 3/4" nut width is ideal for fingerstyle, providing ample room for fretting fingers to form complex chords. The factory-set action is nice and buzz-free, diminishing fretting-hand fatigue.
Overall, the ADA1965 has a clear, strong voice. It tends toward brightness, yet it’s evenly balanced between registers, allowing notes and harmonics to shine through clearly. All notes ring true in excellent intonation, and the neck has no dead spots, lending the guitar a lively, high fidelity feel and sound.
It’s versatile too. For Carter-style strumming, the clear, balanced low end pairs well with the guitar’s essential brightness, making the harmonic blur of fast strumming crisp and articulate. Bluegrass runs and single-note solos sound fat and defined as fretted and open strings bounce off each other beautifully. Chord-melody jazz and even classical pieces sound rich and natural too. Open D, open G, DADGAD, and even C tunings showcase the guitars evenness and resonance. While you can find dreads with fatter low end, the ADA1965 never sags or sounds overmatched in lowered tunings.
The Verdict Steel-string guitars in this price range are often competently built, but they can sound bland. It’s hard to find instruments of distinction, sonic or otherwise. But the ADA1965 distinguishes itself with excellent playability, handsome styling, a balanced voice, and great versatility. It may not have the booming, low-end weight some players listen for in a dread, and even a low-end pickup and preamp might have been a nice addition. But it’s hard to imagine a better-playing, more versatile flattop for under 500 bucks.