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Balaguer Standard Series Espada review

With a clever spec and shred-worthy playability, has Balaguer's Espada changed the game for the contemporary offset?

  • £699
  • $699
Balaguer Standard Series Espada review
(Image: © Future / Olly Curtis)

Our Verdict

The Espada turns the offset template on its head for a shred-ready electric that's built to play loud

Pros

  • Contoured body is all about the ergonomics.
  • High-output pickups are great for ripping leads.
  • The neck is quick.
  • Great value.

Cons

  • Neck pickup can be a bit woolly.
  • Clean tones could be a bit more exciting.

What is it?

There was once a time when guitarists pooh-poohed the offset. Not everyone, of course, but there was definitely a widespread appreciation deficit for  Jazzmasters, Jaguars and their ilk. 

Maybe that's because they were seen as specialist guitars, oddball shapes for the alt-rock and indie players, for shoegaze and all that non-jazz. Maybe it is because the offsets were never geared up for shredding, or for the technically adroit to take their playing to the next level. But times have changed, offsets have changed, tastes have too and now you can't move for offsets, heaps of them, in all different styles 

There are the traditional, retro-styled offsets but then there are twists on the form that run from subtle tweaking, such as the special run Fender Jazzmasters with rosewood necks, and the outrageous, such as Fender's weaponised Jim Root Signature models. And then there are offsets such as the Espada from Balaguer Guitars which kick the offset's evolution on that bit further.

 

A sculpted heel will confirm your suspicions that this is for those whose record collections are more Shrapnel than Sub Pop

Balaguer is a Pennsylvanian guitar firm and the Espada – Spanish for sword – is a made-to-order offset that has a whole suite of modern features and a feel that caters for the high-performance player.

Hitherto the Espada was available only online – you would place the order direct, pay 150 bucks shipping and it would arrive through the post when it was ready. But GuitarGuitar has made the Espada more readily available in the UK, and at £699 it is an attractive option for those looking for their first serious guitar.

The Espada makes sweeping changes to the classic offset body, excising a huge part of its bulk with a dramatic body carve that doubles as a nice armrest. That sets the tone. Wrap your fretting hand around the neck and you'll find a satin-smooth piece of maple carved into a C-profile, and an ebony fingerboard with a very flat 16" radius. 

A sculpted heel will confirm your suspicions that this is for those whose record collections are more Shrapnel than Sub Pop. You could see budding Paul Gilberts making good use of this. The hardtail bridge is a neat string-through-body number and there is a set of locking tuners too. You'll get no bother with this one, gov'. 

A pair of Balaguer's own Feral humbuckers completes the spec. As the name suggests, they are the hottest Balaguer make, and these are controlled by a volume and tone, a push-pull coil-split and a three-way blade selector switch.

The Feral humbuckers are the hottest pickups that Balaguer make. They are named and wound with the high-gain freaks in mind.

The Feral humbuckers are the hottest pickups that Balaguer make. They are named and wound with the high-gain freaks in mind. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Performance and verdict

It comes as little surprise to find the Espada eating up high-gain, with its bridge 'bucker delivering a hotrodded performance that's perfect for hard rock and heavy metal, readily teasing out the roman candle of pinched harmonic squeals that are required to get the job done.

Also consider...

(Image credit: Future)

Fender Jim Root Signature Jazzmaster
A seriously satisfying playing experience, bolstered by the chunky neck and jumbo frets. The Jim Root Signature model has been refreshed for 2020. It's just as minimalist, but now features newly wound signature EMGs and is available in Polar White. This model in black has a set of EMG81/60 active humbuckers.

Epiphone Lee Malia RD Custom Artisan Outfit
Lee Malia's pickup choices are sweet, too, with a Gibson USA P-94 single coil in the neck, and a USA 84T-LM humbucker in the bridge. The Gibson RD was ripe for reinvention and Malia has really made this his own. 

There is a brightness and clarity to the bridge pickup's crunch, a treble-forwardness that is not reciprocated in the neck pickup. That's a little more mousy, a little on the mothball side of woolly. The clean tones lack something, too. It is not dynamics, for they respond well to your playing, and you could find a lot of expressive middle ground when pushing an amp just passed breakup. But maybe a little character.

Perhaps that's why Balaguer wired the circuit with a coil-split. That opens up the neck pickup's potential nicely, dealing in the sort of oversized single-coil tones that pair well with fuzz, delay and weird 'verbs. It's a bit like the Espada taking out its wallet to show some id that proves it is an offset. 

Play around in the middle position and you'll find all kinds of usable tones, even funky cleans should your compressor be up to it. The question is, are your chops up to it? The Espada is built for stunts, for speed, and it is priced perfectly for experienced players looking for a fun, shreddable offset on the side, or for those who have acquired just enough skills to hint at the potential of the fretboard. Hey, the Espada will add a bit of flash to your playing. The flash of the blade indeed.

MusicRadar verdict: The Espada turns the offset template on its head for a shred-ready electric that's built to play loud.

Hands-on demos

Everyday Guitarist

Specifications

  • BODY: Alder
  • NECK: Maple
  • SCALE: 25.5”
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony, 16” radius
  • FRETS: 22
  • PICKUPS: 2x Balaguer Feral humbuckers
  • CONTROLS: 1x volume, 1x tone (w/ push/pull coil-split), 3-way pickup selector
  • HARDWARE: Locking tuners, Graph Tech graphite nut, hardtail bridge
  • LEFT-HANDED: Yes
  • FINISH: Gloss Metallic Silverburst, Gloss Shell Pink, Gloss Sky Blue, Satin Black, Gloss Vintageburst (reviewed)
  • CASE: Padded gigbag included
  • CONTACT: GuitarGuitar, Balaguer Guitars