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Balaguer Standard Series Espada review

This tricked-out electric from Balaguer rewrites the offset formula for the modern era

Balaguer Standard Series Espada review
(Image: © Future / Olly Curtis)

Guitar World Verdict

The Espada is a thoroughly modern and supremely playable offset that excels at high-gain, but has a whole lot more going on once you engage the coil-splits.

Pros

  • +

    Excellent high-gain tones and contemporary offset voicings.

  • +

    Coil-tap adds versatility.

  • +

    A high-quality instrument at a very fair price.

  • +

    A very shreddable 16” radius fingerboard and contoured neck.

Cons

  • -

    Neck pickup is a little wooly.

  • -

    Clean tones in full-humbucking mode are not super-inspiring.

It may have taken six decades, but offset guitars (opens in new tab) have finally come of age. From global awards ceremonies to your local pub, there are just as many Jazzmasters and Mustangs hitting the stage as Strats (opens in new tab) and Teles (opens in new tab)

But offsets were never exactly designed for more technically-demanding playing styles... Enter Balaguer Guitars. The Pennsylvania, USA firm has spent the past six years equipping familiar outlines with ergonomic tweaks and contemporary features at attractive price points. 

The Espada is Balaguer’s take on modernising the Jazz, most notably with that almighty top carve, which not only makes a dramatic visual impact, but also a comfortable resting place for your forearm during extended playing sessions. 

This kind of performance-focused ethos is carried throughout the rest of the instrument: it’s in the satin-finished C-shaped neck, 16” radius and the smooth-playing ebony fingerboard. There’s also a contoured heel for those dusty-end pyrotechnics, a through-body-stringing hardtail bridge and locking tuners. 

The Espada reinvents the offset for a new generation

As you’d expect, the Espada shoots for modern sounds in the tone department, too; Balaguer has equipped it with its highest-output own-brand humbuckers, the aptly named Ferals.

These pickups thrive with a good high-gain amp or plugin, yielding singing sustain, chunky chugs, and all the pinched harmonics you can handle from the bridge ’bucker. However, the neck position is a little wooly for our tastes, and the clean tones, while pleasingly touch-sensitive, aren’t much to write home about – but that’s where the handy coil-split comes in.

The Feral humbuckers are wound hot, and excel when you dial in a heap of gain.

The Feral humbuckers are wound hot, and excel when you dial in a heap of gain. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Tugging on the tone control brightens up that neck position wonderfully, yielding fat single-coil tones that provide the perfect neutral platform for adding a liberal splash of stompboxes.

In that sense, the split sounds embody one of the Jazzmaster’s most enduring qualities, albeit with a higher output that also works well for classic rock tones, and can even handle some Strat-style middle-position funk.

Besides reinventing the offset for a new generation, Balaguer has offered some serious value for money here, from the spec to the tones and even the heavily padded gigbag, which ranks among the best we’ve seen thrown in with a guitar.

Specs

The Espada has clearly been on a body sculpt workout, with an almighty forearm contour, plus rear belly and heel cuts.

The Espada has clearly been on a body sculpt workout, with an almighty forearm contour, plus rear belly and heel cuts. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
  • PRICE: From $699 / £699
  • 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: Balaguer Guitars (opens in new tab)

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Mike is Editor-in-Chief of GuitarWorld.com, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism, and has spent the past decade writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar (opens in new tab), Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as the best part of 20 years performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe (opens in new tab).