Has there ever been a better time for players to keep a nylon-string guitar on their roster? With everyone from Polyphia to José González and Seu Jorge having achieved international success with a new take on old-school nylon textures it would seem a logical conclusion.
That said, classical nylon-string guitars can be quite a shock to the uninitiated player. With their wide fingerboards, 12-fret to the body necks and delicate sound, the nylon-string guitar family can prove particularly challenging to use in contemporary band and solo performer contexts on stage and in the studio.
Enter the new Stage model from Cordoba guitars, who since 1997 has been championing the cause of the nylon-string instrument as a workable tool for contemporary players outside of the classical and flamenco spheres of its birth.
While Cordoba already dipped a toe in the water with its Fusion ‘crossover’ model, the Stage is its first truly electric offering. Decanting the beast from its padded gigbag, we are a greeted by a slimline single-cut hollow body topped with a sumptuous flamed maple veneer, beneath a deep root beer hued sunburst that Cordoba describes as Edge Sunburst.
The pleasing visuals extend further; the guitar’s body lines are elegant and well-balanced, albeit interrupted by a shoulder-mounted triple sound hole – the brand’s logo – which itself draws direct inspiration from the arches of the Mezquita mosque-cathedral and is echoed in mother of pearl on the slotted headstock.
Speaking of which, while the three-a-side tuners – featuring an attractive gold and black tree motif – are par for the course with classical guitars, the relatively slim 48mm nut width is a tangible update. Eyebrows will definitely be raised at the use of a truss rod, with a truss rod cover embedded just behind the nut.
At the other end of the neck we find a stacked heel with a swept ergonomic carve allowing full access to the top frets. In a nod to modernity Cordoba have used a 14-fret to the body join here. While entirely de rigueur for acoustic flat-tops, this is still a relatively unusual approach for nylon string guitar design and we are curious to hear what sonic effect the longer neck has.
This is an electric guitar and we are not expecting much in the way of acoustic performance – despite the hollow mahogany body and offset soundhole. Instead the lion’s share of sonic splendour is pumped out via a hybrid piezo/body sensor pickup system that Cordoba developed in conjunction with piezo Grand Poohbahs Fishman. While wooden knobs are guaranteed to split opinion on aesthetic grounds, the three-part active control system here offers an array of textures via volume, tone and blend knobs. Knice.
Purity of sound being the order of the day for our test, we try the Cordoba Stage first into a Fishman Solo amp and then directly into Logic via a UA Apollo.
With its light body and beautifully carved neck, the Stage feels very good indeed both seated and on the strap. While we were prepared to dismiss the idea of using the instrument for unplugged duties there is some acoustic resonance to explore which you could certainly fling a mic in front of if you fancied. What you’d do with it after that is anybody’s guess.
The real good stuff in a nylon electric guitar like this, be it Godin, Yamaha, Gibson or even Parker, is found when plugged in. A guitar of this type will stand or fall on how it negotiates the delicate balance of acoustic pleasingness and electrified power.
The initial signs are good with the Stage; its nylon treble strings sound full and sweet, and there’s a real breadth and detail here which is as inspiring as it is musical. Even with injudicious use of a pick we never get an unwanted click to the initial attack. This is good news.
Things are less convincing across the bass response. The characteristics that made the trebles so strong have an adverse effect on the wound bass strings of our test guitar. The guitar is super sensitive to string squeak and even the lightest movement between chords can lead to egregious handling noise – whistles, splats and crunchy transients all feature heavily, regardless of pickup setting. It’s a pity really as the instrument’s basic voice is a good one.
The Stage’s volume knob is powerful and smooth, and in fact we’d recommend that you set any electro-nylon at about 80% volume to get the most natural sound. The onboard EQ makes a decent fist of moving from a scooped mid-free sound to totally flat. Even so, we can’t help wishing for a parametric EQ to help get surgical with some of those crunchy transients and the slightly tubby bass response.
Body blend pickup systems can be hit and miss but there is a wide range of timbres available as we move from pure piezo to maximum body. Despite this, we fail to pin down a set-and-forget sweet spot that covers everything from fingerstyle bossanova to classical and flamenco. Fine adjustment is needed, and it’s something an external preamp pedal or combo amp with its own parametric EQ could perhaps address.
Translating a nylon-string impulse into a pleasingly musical sound is a tricky business which demands compromise. This is certainly true of the Stage. It does not have the punch of a Gibson Chet Atkins – nor anything like the ridiculous weight. It lacks the sonic finesse of the Yamaha SLG200N but feels more solid. It also lacks the warmth of the Godin MultiAc but it is a quarter of the price.
In short, the Cordoba Stage is its own animal, a new voice in an admittedly niche marketplace and if you’re in the mood for some nylon action then it should definitely be on your radar.
- PRICE £625 (including padded gigbag)
- DESCRIPTION Six-string electric nylon-string guitar designed in the USA and made in China
- BUILD Chambered single cutaway mahogany body, spruce top with flamed maple veneer, glued-in 22 fret mahogany neck, pau ferro fingerboard, bone nut
- HARDWARE Cordoba black and gold tuners
- ELECTRONICS Fishman Stage hybrid pickup system – active electronics
- SCALE LENGTH 25.6”, 650mm
- NECK WIDTH 48mm at nut, 59.2mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 20mm at first fret, 23mm at 9th fret
- STRING SPACING 39mm at nut, 58mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 2.3kg
- FINISH Edge Sunburst in gloss polyurethane
- LEFT-HANDERS No
- CONTACT Cordoba Guitars