I hope that my message finds you all in good health. I'm writing this to share my experience with you in relevance to my recent guitar purchase. So, a few months ago I decided to sell my guitar because I have always been drawn to a deeper/darker sound, which my spruce "Torres" model didn't deliver. It wasn't that the instrument lacked anything, it had been an awesome companion in my journey thus far but maybe it was something which I lacked and I was searching for. Nevertheless, I travelled from China to England visiting Brighton, Kent and London to test guitars and hopefully find that missing something. I'll write below the instruments I tried and a short review of what I felt about them. I spent three full days playing and replaying many instruments, so writing a review for each of the guitars would be a very big job, I will however provide information on the instruments I feel were most appealing to me. It is important to understand that this is only my opinion, which is highly subjective and would probably not be the same for everyone.
Juan Hernandez Maestro- New (GBP2800): Specs - Top: Canadian cedar. Nut width: 52.5mm. Back and sides: Cocobolo. Varnish: Nitro Lacquered. Fingerboard: Ebony. Scale: 650 mm. I really liked this instrument from the first time I lay my hands on it. The construction of the instrument was first class, with high quality woods from all over the world and a very tidy finish. One of the reasons I liked it almost instantly was because of the ease in playability due to a well shaped neck and a great set up. The instrument was also very loud but with sublime control. The bass did not overpower the trebles and the notes had great sustain. My only issue with the instrument was the it was a little too big for my liking and I wanted an instrument, which to me was perfect from the get go. If you don't mind a slightly larger instrument, I would seriously recommend the Hernandez Maestro. Overall score 4.5/5 Pablo Requena- Second hand (GBP 2000): Specs - Top: Cedar. Nut width: 52mm. Back and sides: Indian Rosewood. Varnish: French Polish. Fingerboard: Ebony. Scale: 650 mm. Nowadays, Pablo's guitars go for over 4000GBP brand new so this seemed like a bargain. Having said that, after playing the instrument and considering the price I thought that it was not worth it. In my opinion the Alhambra 10p is much better in terms of value for money. Don't get me wrong, it was a good instrument. The balance of the instrument as well as sustain and playability were good but for the same price one could buy a similar instrument with a case and a year's warranty. Overall score 4.0/5 Stephen Hill 2A- New (GBP 3000): Specs - Top: Spruce. Nut width: 52mm. Back and sides: Wenge. Varnish: French Polish. Fingerboard: Ebony. Scale: 650 mm. I don't see what all the fuss is about. The instrument was no more exceptional than most guitars in the 1500GBP-2000GBP category. Again, I'd like to stress that it was not that the instrument was not good, but for the same price one could buy an instrument with higher quality woods and tuners. The workmanship was great as would be expected from a maestro luthier but for me the price of the instrument and what it delivered were not on par. The Hernandez was head and shoulders ahead of it in terms of power, balance and sustain, but the playability of both instruments was similar. Overall score 4.0/5
Amalio Burguet 1a- New (GBP 2300): Specs - Top: Cedar. Nut width: 52mm. Back and sides: Indian Rosewood. Varnish: Lacquer. Fingerboard: Ebony. Scale: 650 mm. This instrument was very enjoyable to play. I found that even as a new instrument, it had maturity and balance across the fingerboard and strings. I spent quite a long time playing this instrument because I think that for the price it was a very good deal. It had power and sustain, doing a lot of work for the player and making it a very good companion. However, it was missing something, maybe it was me but I felt that I hadn't found what I was looking for, so I continued my search.
Overall score 4.2/5
Jose Ramirez 1a 1967- Second hand (GBP 5000): Specs - Top: Cedar. Nut width: 54mm. Back and sides: Brazilian Rosewood. Varnish: Lacquer. Fingerboard: Ebony. Scale: 664 mm. The best instrument I've ever played. I had heard that the old Ramirez were very difficult to play because of the action, the size of the instrument as well as the scale length, but it just goes to show that one shouldn't believe something because someone said so. The guitar was very easy to play, the size was not big and the scale length was not noticeable. But oh my, the sound. The notes had a piano-like quality and an extra-ordinary balance. For once Segovia's words mades sense. "The guitar is like an orchestra looked at by the reverse side of the binoculars. It is a little orchestra". And that it was. It had something within it that spoke without words, things within me I had not known. If I had the money I would have bought it instantly.
Overall score 5/5
Pappalardo S2- New (GBP 2900): Specs - Top: Cedar. Nut width: 52mm. Back and sides: Indian Rosewood. Varnish: Lacquer. Fingerboard: Raised/Ebony. Scale: 650 mm. I loved this guitar. In terms of playability, it was the best out of all the guitars I tested. It was highly responsive and a low action made the difficult passages very simple to play. The volume was the same as most large guitars but there was an unusual control even when one strikes the strings without control. All this, added to the raised fingerboard made it a players dream. An example of this ease in playability is the B section in Satie's Gnossienne No. 1, which goes up to an A on the high E string. On this guitar it was really easy to play that usually awkward note. Having said all of that, it lacked the piano-like notes on the high E string, which I heard on the Ramirez 1a. A little thing like that made sure that I kept at it.
Overall score 4.6/5 Yulong Guo Chamber- New (GBP 3000): Specs - Top: Cedar. Nut width: 52mm. Back and sides: Santos Rosewood. Varnish: Lacquer. Fingerboard: Ebony. Scale: 650 mm. Armrest. This instrument was a strange one. After playing the Pappalardo for almost 30 minutes I picked up the Yulong Guo and I put it straight back down. I really disliked it. It was bright even when I played tasto or tried hard to create a darker sound. And honestly it felt like no matter how much I tried to colour a piece with different tonal variances, I seemingly got the same response. The guitar was however loud and easy to play. Again, this may just be me and my preference of sound but for the asking price it was not worth it.
Overall score 3.8/5
Manuel Adalid Membrana- New (GBP 2800): Specs - Top: Cedar. Nut width: 52mm. Back and sides: Pau Ferro. Varnish: French Polish. Fingerboard: Ebony. Scale: 650 mm. It was between this instrument and the one I chose for the final showdown. It has everything, power, balance, control, sustain and fantastic playability. Before playing this instrument in terms of tonal quality my favourite had been the Hernandez Maestro and in terms of playability it had been the Pappaladro, but the Membrana had a bit of both worlds and a little more. I really enjoyed playing it and it seemed like this was going to be the one until...
Overall score 4.8/5
Mengual y Margarit Luthier- New (GBP 3500): Specs - Top: Cedar. Nut width: 52mm. Back and sides: Indian Rosewood. Varnish: Lacquer. Fingerboard: Ebony. Scale: 650 mm. I played this. This was it. From the first note I played, it captivated and held my attention. Legend has it that the Stradivarius instruments have something within them that only the player feels. Tests on frequency and pitch have shown that they are no different from most modern instruments but then what is it that gives them their charm and mysticism? Maybe there is something innate within the player, which they find within their instrument. A bond that can't be described but only felt. I felt this instantly with my guitar and now it is here with me, in China.
Overall score 5/5
For anyone in the UK, don't use Yodel for delivery when buying or selling guitars. I've been waiting 10 days for delivery and after sending an email to complain they've now replied saying they've lost the parcel! I'll be letting Stefi in LGS know in the morning.
I've finally ordered my new guitar, the latest model of Moshin's guitar, the Javier Mengual Luthier series from London Guitar Studios. I looked up this thread to read Moshin's reviews again while considering what to do, and they've been a big help helping me decide. London is too far for me to travel so haven't tried it out first, I've owned the Alhambra 4P cedar before and know how nice they are, in build and to play, so have enough faith and confidence that a Luthier model will be beyond my expectations, and Moshin's review confirms what I would imagine.
I'll now be selling my Esteve Madrid to help pay for it, had someone around the house earlier to try it out so we'll see, but still on sale for anyone interested in the UK!
My new Alhambra will be with me next week, I'll have to double my efforts now to justify owning it, and hopefully will drive me on to achieve a higher standard.
You're right about trying a guitar first when paying this much. Rafal's guitars do look the business and I would most probably be happy with it, but it's still a gamble. I've bought both my guitars from Stef at LGS, the second an Esteve Madrid model. I should text her again tomorrow to ask what rough price I could get for a trade in on both guitars. I'm in N.Wales so would be a 4 hour drive down there.
Hi Nathan, thank you for the feedback. So, firstly if you want my advice I would suggest never to buy a guitar before playing it. On paper most instruments seem amazing, this added to a few positive reviews and we get drawn in. There are too many variables to consider, which can't be addressed without playing the instrument. That being said, in relevance to my guitar, I did in fact purchase it at London Guitar Studio. If you send Stef. an email, she will be able to guide you better on the stock she has available. This is the second guitar that I bought at LGS and I would strongly suggest giving them a try. Stef. is very knowledgable, patient and most importantly cares about finding the right guitar for you. As for the Rafal Turkowiak guitars, I cannot give my opinion as I have never tried the instruments and I think making a judgement based on a website, pictures or videos is really doing the luthier a disservice. In regards to the nut, I honestly didn't feel a difference between the 52mm or the 54mm width. It wasn't something I had previously considered, so maybe that's the reason I didn't focus on it. Needless to say, once you try out the different instruments, you'll be able to make a better judgement for yourself.
So, with all that out of the way I'd like to share a little story with you that I think might help. Over the past two years I ordered two guitars online, one through Siccass Guitars in Germany and the other from Shanghai. I enjoyed the instruments but there was always a little something missing. As you could imagine once one has paid a large sum of money for an instrument, that instrument should be perfect but these weren't, at least not for me. So, I decided to sell these instruments because I thought that after these failed attempts I knew what I wanted. I researched a lot, read reviews and watched videos as well as spoke to countless luthiers and classical guitar players. Being sure of what I was looking for, I left for the UK and after playing many guitars, I learned that the research I had done was not very useful. The guitar I chose was one I had not even considered. What i'm trying to say is that no matter how much you try to figure things out by watching videos and reading reviews, nothing will do the job like playing 100 different instruments and choosing the one that suits you. I hope that helps. Mohsin
Last question/request. Video please!!
And a question about nut width, did the wider 52.5 and 54mm you played make it easier for you? I was going to order a 53mm from Rafal. There's parts in some songs I struggle with fitting 3 fingers on one fret, e.g Capricho Arabe and the beginning of Autumn Leaves
Thank you so much for this excellent thread, invaluable information which I've been looking for but haven't quite been able to find online! I was very interested in the Yulong Guo and also the Alhambra which you have bought. It's quite clear from your review that yours is head and shoulders above.
I was thinking that maybe spending that much was a bit out of my reach so was thinking of opting for the Alhambra Linea Professional, but your words are inspiring me to go for the Mengual again!
I've also been in contact with Rafal Turkowiak discussing a purchase at the same price point, but I'd be taking a big leap of faith buying from Poland before trying. With the Mengual I could drive down to London Guitar Studio to make sure. Was this where you bought yours from?
I bought my Alhambra 4P cedar top from there and I love it, only issue I have is the high E rolls off the side of the fretboard too easily. The quality of the build is stunning so I can only imagine how good the top end models are.
I'd be interested as well to hear what you think about Rafal Turkowiak guitars, even if it's only from seeing online.