A pre-war style blues machine with a modern-leaning sound.
With the introduction of its new Jazz and Blues series of guitars, Alvarez seems to be looking back and forward at the same time. The vintage vibe of the Delta00, from its honeyburst finish to its soft-V-shaped neck, sloped shoulders, and open-geared tuners, says pre-war blues all the way. But, according to Alvarez, there’s more to this guitar than meets the eye—most notably a bracing system that gives the guitar “more modern style projection.” Indeed, for a little guitar, this Alvarez sounds very big.
Bursting with Big Tones
The Alvarez is roughly equivalent to a Gibson L-00 in terms of size and profile. There are no markers on the actual fretboard, but there are on the top of the neck at the usual 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th frets. Craftsmanship looks very solid. I could not spot any flaws, and I was impressed with the vintage gloss “shadow burst” (which, to my eyes, looks much like a Gibson honeyburst). The body is solid wood with a Sitka spruce top and mahogany back and sides. Back-shifted, scalloped bracing on the interior explains some of the lean toward a modern tonal sensibility. And the slightly arched back allows it to sit comfortably against your body.
With the first chord, I thought, “What a cannon!” For a relatively small box, the Alvarez can really project! It has a sharp, barking voice, as well, which makes it a perfect pre-war blues machine. The guitar was set up with slightly higher action than a lot of pickers might prefer. But the upside is that the little extra space between fretboard and strings meant I could readily delve into bottleneck slide—a task for which the Alvarez’s voice is ideal. Slide sounds good in open D, but the extra string tension from open E made the Delta00 really sing as I played through Tampa Red’s “Boogie Woogie Dance.”
Back in standard tuning, the crisp clarity in the Delta00’s tones helped the guitar articulate treble and bass without getting mushy, which also made bluegrass crosspicking and G runs sound great. And while the Delta00’s basic voice is not especially complex in these settings, it’s far from thin. I tried out Big Bill Broonzy’s “Hey, Hey”—a blues fingerpicking staple—and generated plenty of thumping bass without ever sounding boomy.
In general, the Delta00 has a tight, midrange-based tonal focus. For some strummers that may mean inadequate low-end “boom.” But again, it’s the trebles and mid-based clarity that make the guitar an ideal candidate for blues-styled fingerpicking, and this quality also translates well to more modern, midrange-centric musical settings.
Room to Roam
String spacing at the bridge is 2 1/4", which makes the Delta00 comfortable for fingerpicking. The 1 3/4" spacing at the nut, meanwhile, provides lots of space for the fretting hand. The satin finish on the mahogany neck feels fast, although the neck shape and size may make this guitar a little more challenging to play for those with smaller hands. And while the Delta00’s 24 13/16" scale should feel just a little looser than a longer scale guitar, it was slightly stiffer than I would have imagined. That said, it’s not really an issue unless you like to bend up a whole step or really fly around the neck.
Our review guitar was equipped with an L.R. Baggs VTC Element active pickup—an under-saddle piezo pickup with endpin preamp and soundhole-mounted volume and tone controls. The Baggs does a good job of capturing the Delta’s essential voice. I ran the signal through a Schertler Jam 150 and dialed down the VTC tone control about 75 percent to minimize some of the piezo “quack,” which yielded a very acceptable amplified sound.
This Delta00 is a nicely executed, well-built instrument for those who want to get a good sounding and authentic feeling fingerstyle or pre-war blues box at a more affordable, low-mid price. The back-shifted bracing does seem to tilt the tone toward more modern, and perhaps less authentically vintage, midrange-heavy tones. As such, it may have less appeal for players seeking a full-sounding, bass-heavy strumming guitar. But with onboard electronics that make this guitar gig-ready, Delta00 should provide players with less-strict definitions of “vintage correct” with plenty of proper blues attitude.
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