If my knowledge of the last few centuries is correct, the Spanish are responsible for planting the family tree from which every modern guitar swings. One of the more fortunate consequences of their fierce pillaging of the lower portion of The New World is the introduction and proliferation of six catgut strings wrapped around a box of wood that, thrust into the unwitting hands of the locals, resulted in some of the most elegantly mournful, ferociously passionate and profoundly influential moments in music history. The romantic music of the south-western tip of Europe has survived, if not flourished in parallel to its American cousin to become one of music’s most respected traditions. It is with this time-honored reverence that the master craftsmen behind Esteve Guitars proudly present their 9C/B.
There are 52 pairs of weathered, expert hands that occupy Esteve’s workshop, many of whom have been there long enough to remember working alongside founders Francisco Esteve, Manuel Antonio and Monfort Adalid; among them the son of the latter, Manuel Adalid. That means that 52 sets of discerning eyes have set upon every last piece of work that is sent through the doors into the swarthy Valencia sun. It is abundantly clear as soon as you cordially introduce yourself to one of their instruments that this rich history and familiarity is at the very core of their vocation. You can feel the decades of dedication in the warm heft that allows you to lift it from its case as it rings with quality and nuance even before you dare chance a note.
There is a clever tapestry of wood choices at play here. Cedar and spruce sooth the rich baritone that forms the basis of the voicing, while the density of Indian rosewood around the guitar’s hips sings with a vibrant yet velvety top note. It’s restrained and graceful, but has so much personality that if it allows you to really open up your right hand it will simply bay at the moon. The fingerboard is dark and smooth (as ebony famously is) and even with my clunky, uninitiated rock hands, it played like absolute butter. The simple, familiar surface belies a tonal complexity that rings true of the music this guitar was born to bring to life. It begs to be allowed to tell its tales but will scarcely give up all its secrets right away.
The finishing touches are understated works of genius too. As much as the heart of the company beats for tradition, Esteve Guitars’ designs have hardly ignored the developing needs of the modern player. Time tested build techniques are augmented by tasteful necessities like carbon fiber bracing and pristine glossy polyurethane varnish. While some of their models come loaded with a selection of pickup systems mounted in the side, the model I clung to was happily left undimmed by such an intrusion. However, the fact that they are offered as an option elsewhere in the catalogue leads me to think that Adalid has not let his father’s lifework slip quietly under the boot-heels of more progressive builders.
The Clasicás 9C/B is an entry into the satisfying world of classical guitar, made by a troupe of craftsmen unequalled in their respectful response to both traditional elegance and modern evolution. They are crafting masterful instruments according to the very letter of the Esteve legacy while picking up brand new tips and tricks from modern makers along the way.
For more details on Guitarras Esteve guitars, head to zenithmusic.com.
Hits and Misses
Full of character