Many of us guitarists are surprisingly old-fashioned, when it comes to the choices of timber used in our instruments. This is especially true for the oldest and most traditional of guitar instruments – the classical guitar. We tend to automatically associate South American mahogany and so-called ”Spanish” cedar necks, ebony fingerboards and bridges, spruce or cedar tops, and rosewood rims and backs with quality and traditional guitar-making.
Some of these legendary materials are becoming scarce, some even teetering on the brink of being seriously endangered. Even though the reasons for this are mostly not the fault of instrument makers, scarcity does raise material prices, and CITES inclusions make the exporting of and/or the travelling with such instruments a bureaucratic nightmare.
Luckily, an ever-increasing number of guitar manufacturers are reacting to these developments by introducing environmentally friendly alternatives using non-traditional wood species.
One very good example is the traditional Spanish guitar company Guitarras Esteve, whose brand-new Organic Eco-Series introduces three classical guitar models that are handcrafted using traditional methods in their Valencia workshop, but who feature innovative wood choices. The icing on the new series’ proverbial cake is Esteve’s new, environmentally friendly water-based open-pore finish.
That was more than reason enough for us at Kitarablogi.com to take two of the new Esteves for a spin. The Esteve Jucar (679 €) is a solid-top instrument, while the Esteve Segura (895 €) is an all-solid classical guitar.
Fitting the ecological theme, Esteve has chosen to name its three Organic models after three scenic rivers that run through Spain’s south-eastern parts, near the Valencia region.
The Jucar has a solid top made from cedar, which is one of the traditional features of the instrument.
The back and sides are made from small-leaved lime (tilia cordata), which is a tree that grows abundantly in most parts of Europe. To give the Esteve Jucar a traditional look the lime plywood has been dyed a rich brown hue.
The neck has been crafted from an African mahogany substitute called okoume, which is found increasingly in many new acoustic string instruments.
The Esteve Segura is a very competitively-priced, all-solid classical guitar, which is also built with a cedar top.
The Segura’s back and sides are made from ovangkol, an African relative of rosewood. The neck has been carved from khaya, another proven alternative to genuine mahogany.
Photo courtesy of Guitarras Esteve.
As already mentioned in the introduction, the basic construction of the Organic Eco-Series follows Spanish guitar-making tradition, by making the neck joint the pivotal point of the whole building process.
The guitar’s neck isn’t glued into a neck block inside the glued body, almost at the end of the building process, like you see in many other acoustic guitars. Instead Esteve apply the Spanish Heel construction technique that glues the whole soundbox – top, back and rims – straight to the neck itself for superior vibrational transfer.
The most obvious sign that the Organic Series is using non-standard wood types is the look of the bridges and fingerboards. Instead of ebony or rosewood, both the Jucar and the Segura use wenge, a very hard and very lively looking African wood.
Esteve uses genuine bovine bone for the nuts and bridge saddles on both guitars.
While many entry-level nylon-string guitars these days sport stuck-on rosette decals, the soundholes on these mid-priced Esteves are adorned with genuine coloured wood inlays.
Here’s the rosette on the Jucar…
…and this is what the Segura’s rosette looks like.
Both models come factory-equipped with high-quality Savarez strings from France.
The Esteve Jucar and Segura both feature necks whose nut width has been toned down by a couple of millimetres. This might not seem much, but it makes the instruments noticeably easier to play. The neck profile, on the other hand, stays traditional, which means rather flat and slightly angular.
The amount of handwork going into the Organic guitars is noticeable in subtle individual differences in the feel of the necks, and in the set-up of the guitars.
Our review sample of the Esteve Jucar has a slightly flatter neck than the Segura. The neck also gains only a very little thickness going up towards the body.
The set-up is very comfortable (low E: 3.1 mm; high e: 2.7 mm), while offering a wide dynamic range without any fret buzz.
For some strange reason I prefer the lively look and brown hue of the Jucar’s lime body over the slight greenish tint of the all-solid ovangkol found on the Segura.
The Esteve Jucar has a clear and loud voice, and it offers a surprising amount of dynamic range for a classical guitar with plywood rims and back. There’s a slight, but very pleasant, low-mid bump that nicely fills out the Jucar’s bottom range.
The neck on our sample of the Esteve Segura starts out with a tad more thickness at the nut, compared to the Jucar. It also gains a slight bit of additional girth on its way towards the neck heel.
The Segura’s set-up is also excellent (low E: 3.7 mm; high e: 3.1 mm), making it possible to take full advantage of the instrument’s wide dynamic range without any annoying fret buzz.
I just love the way both of these Esteves seem to breathe. This is quite likely the combination of quality workmanship and the new ecologically sound, ultra-thin finish. These new Organic Eco-guitars seem to want to make music with you willingly, you never get a sense that you have to fight and conquer the guitar.
It is always very educational, when you get to compare very similarly built guitars. The solid-top Jucar is a great guitar, offering exceptional value for the money, but the all-solid Segura clearly takes things up one notch further.
The Esteve Segura displays a big and dynamic sound, with the added volume and expanded low end that only a well-made all-solid classical guitar can offer.
It is great to see such a traditional guitar maker as Esteve take on the challenge to come up with high-quality alternatives to long-established wood choices.
In my view the new Organic Eco-Series models feature the right combination of traditional Spanish luthiery, ecologically-sustainable wood choices and modern non-hazardous finishes.
The Esteve Jucar and Segura take eco-friendly guitar-making out of the realm of the boutique builder or custom shop, making such instruments affordable to a much wider clientele, without compromising their playability or sound one iota.
Esteve Organic Eco-Series Jucar & Segura
Ecologically sustainable classical guitars
Esteve Jucar, current price in Finland: 679 €
Esteve Segura, current price in Finland: 895 €
Finnish Distributor: Musiikki Silfverberg
A big thank you to Vantaan Musiikki for the kind loan of the review instruments!
Pros (both models):