Weekend Test Drive: Guitar Vista Albuquerque Edition

Eastman E10SS, Bourgeois Slope D, 1949 Epiphone Broadway, and 1959 Gretsch Anniversary Reviewed

Guitar Vista occupies unassuming real estate in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill area. Don’t let the modest facade fool you though; inside you’ll find the best selection of high-end acoustic and electric instruments to be found in the Land of Enchantment. It’s a niche that was seriously lacking in the city, particularly since Encore Music shut its doors several years ago. Stan Burg is the man behind Guitar Vista, and he was instrumental (pun intended) in helping me navigate the inventory on a Saturday afternoon several weeks ago.

New Inventory

Stan curates a pretty astounding inventory of new instruments, including current models from master luthiers at Bourgeois, Collings, and Huss & Dalton. For the budget-conscious (but still discriminating) musician, he also carries instruments from China-based Eastman Guitars. I’m on a long-standing quest for a mahogany companion to my rosewood D-28, and I was enthused to see that Stan had an E10SS in stock. Solid wood, slope-shouldered dreadnoughts from American luthiers usually fetch a pretty penny; the E10SS offers pro-level features in an extremely reasonably priced package. The example I tested did not disappoint; ample bass, crisp trebles, and plenty of volume complemented the gorgeous sunburst finish and smooth playability.

Continuing with the slope-shouldered theme, Stan brought out one of the truly stand-out instruments in his inventory — a Bourgeois “Banjo Killer” Slope D (see pic with the giddily grinning author at right). The Slope D, with bearclaw spruce top and figured mahogany back/slides, is most famously wielded by bluegrass virtuoso Bryan Sutton. Vista’s example is absolutely stunning; master workmanship is represented in every detail, from the sunburst finish (applied by Dana himself), to the seamless match between the grain on the Ziricote headstock plate and the fingerboard. The premium tonewoods contribute to a robust tone that should hold its weight in any picking contest; this is the kind of guitar I want to run into again in 10 or 20 years, when the wood has opened up and the sound has matured to its full potential.

Played-in Gems

Guitar Vista also boasts an impressive collection of used gear, including some truly inspiring vintage pieces. Pickers seeking to channel their inner Freddie Green should check out Vista’s 1949 Epiphone Broadway. The 17 3/8″ maple and spruce archtop is straight out of the pre-amplified big band era, when jazz guitarists had to compete acoustically with drums, bass, piano, and a whole mess of horns. It was amazing to hear the instrument project its dry tone unidirectionally forward, minus 3-dimensional overtones or even a hint of excess bass (despite its dimensions and solid wood construction). Dreadnought players used to an expansive onslaught of sound may be put off at first strum, not understanding what this instrument was designed for (and excels at) — heavy-handed four-on-the-floor rhythmic accompaniment. Such a cool guitar, and in beautiful condition to boot.

Shortly before departing, Stan let me pick one of his more recent acquisitions, a 1959 Gretsch Single Anniversary in handsome smoke green. Vintage Gretsches can be a mixed bag, sometimes plagued with playability issues and funky hardware; this instrument displayed no such quirks. Playability was pure butter, and the tone from the single neck Filtertron — plugged into a mint 1960s brownface Fender Concert — puts the contemporary crop of reissue imitators to shame. I even found all the positions on the 3-way preset tone control to be useful, allowing the player to shift from Duane Eddy twang to Jim Hall jazz at the flip of a switch.

I could easily have spent an entire day with the full inventory at Guitar Vista; I’ll certainly be back to see what else comes through Stan Burg’s shop. Guitarists with time to spare and a sweet tooth for boutique gear should similarly make the pilgrimage if passing through the Duke City.

Stan Burg serenading friend-of-N.O.S. Jana Pochop on the ’59 Gretsch Anniversary. 

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