By Harold Steinblatt | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
With its sloped shoulders, slotted headstock, wider neck (1 3/4 inches), and 12th-fret-joint-to-the-body design, the Alvarez-Yairi Masterworks DYMR70SB is a variation on the classic square-shouldered, 14-fret dreadnought that emerged from Pennsylvania to conquer the world.
However, this instrument was designed and produced half a world away in Kino, Japan, by Alvarez and Kazuo Yairi, the brilliant Japanese luthier who joined forces with the firm in the late Sixties to create Alvarez-Yairi, the high-end pride of what is today a guitar-manufacturing giant. Yairi, now 80 years old, personally oversees the small group of luthiers who hand-build the guitars in the Masterworks series.
The master’s touch and craft are plainly evident in the DYMR70SB. This is a dangerous instrument, a siren whose dazzling beauty can lead even the most levelheaded guitarist to reach for his credit card before playing a single note. The most seductive thing about the DYMR70SB is the high-gloss sunburst finish of its AA-grade Sitka spruce top, skillfully buffed so that it appears to glow. Even the translucent pickguard is aesthetically pleasing.
Sandwiched between the sealer and finish, it allows the top’s golden rays to shine through while adding its own pretty touch to the guitar. That splendid top is nicely complemented by the guitar’s handsomely grained Indian rosewood back and sides, mahogany neck, and gleaming ebony fingerboard. Also made of ebony are the very distinctive “direct-coupled” bridge (see interview, below) and bridge pins. The inlays—mother-of-pearl for the headstock, and abalone for the signature Alvarez-Yairi diagonal line gracing the 12th fret and the rosette’s outer circle—are understated but elegant, as is the rosette’s rosewood inner circle.
While any guitarist would do well with the DYMR70SB, it is ideally suited to folk- and blues-influenced open-chord strummers and fingerstyle players. I strummed a series of first-position chords and was able to immediately discern a clear difference between this guitar and other square-shouldered dreadnoughts. Where the latter are prized for their hammer-like bass and cutting trebles, the DYMR70SB, while loud, produces a balanced tone; the mids don’t have to fight to be heard.
The chords echoed ethereally with lovely sustain, making it perfect, I found, for songs like Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” the Eagle’s “Take It Easy”— particularly that regally strummed G-C-G-Am7 intro—and Gregg Allman’s rhythm guitar part to “Melissa,” in which he demonstrates the healing power of playing open chords up and down the fretboard. It stood to reason that the DWMR70SB would perform beautifully in open tunings, and it does. I got a little carried away playing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “That’s the Way,” and several songs from Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Every chord, every string rang true.
Fingerpickers (or hybrid pickers), whose left and right hands are always on the lookout for more space, will appreciate the guitar’s 1 3/4–inch-wide fretboard. Whether you’re a singer-songwriter type, a classic rock player, or a would-be English traditionalist, you’ll find yourself navigating songs like “The Boxer,” “Dear Prudence,” and “Black Mountain Side” with the greatest of ease. And that previously much-lauded balanced tone will be music to the ears of every player who’s ever experienced the frustration of hearing his low E string manhandle his D and G.
With its great looks, superior tone, and exquisite construction, the Alvarez-Yairi Masterworks DYMR70SB is one guitar you’ll be proud to bring home to mother. And since it retails for only $3,699—given the price of boutique instruments in its class, only is the appropriate word—you won’t have to pay an arm, leg, and thumb pick to own it.
LIST PRICE: $3,699
Brace Yourself: Alvarez-Yairi design-team member Jerry Proctor reveals what makes the DYMR70SB sing.
What accounts for the DYMR70SB’s open, balanced sound?
First, there is the 12th-fret-join-to-the-body design, which results in the neck being moved further into the body. That, in turn, places the bridge closer to the center of the top, causing it to vibrate more. Also generating increased vibration is Alvarez-Yairi’s FSTII forward-shifted X-bracing system, which places the X pattern closer to the sound hole. Opening up more of the top also increases the volume and adds a bit more bass while retaining the highs and mids, thus accounting for the guitar’s balanced tone.
Talk about the direct-coupled bridge on the DSYMR70SB, which is standard for all Alvarez-Yairi guitars.
Inside the guitar is an ebony block with a flange that pulls the bridge plate and top. The strings inserted into this block pull it up, coupling the strings directly to the bridge plate and top. At the same time, they exert downward pressure only on the bridge, ensuring that it can’t be pulled off of the guitar. The entire system could literally function without glue, since the string tension pulls the block to the top while also holding down the bridge. The system also increases downward pressure on the saddle, thus increasing sustain, volume, and resonance while creating very clear articulation between the strings.
What is special about the construction of the Alvarez-Yairi neck?
The guitar has an extended dovetail neck block. This adds support to that area between the body joint and the end of the fingerboard, where so many guitars develop a hump at the joint. The neck features a longer adjustable truss rod, facilitating full adjustment and increasing stability all the way to the sound hole. And it impacts the sound. There’s a lot of tone in the neck.