Rodriguez FG Madagascar Review
It’s always a pleasure to make the acquaintance of a well-crafted Spanish guitar, and the Manuel Rodriguez and Sons Model FG Madagascar recently paid a welcome visit to my studio. The Rodriguez guitar company is steeped in the Spanish guitar tradition, with roots going back to the shop of José Ramírez I and José Ramírez II, where company founder Manuel Rodriguez Sr. (1926–2008) apprenticed in the 1940s. Rodriguez began working on his own in the 1950s, when he opened a shop in Madrid. Not long afterward, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he started a family, continuing his craft until returning to Spain in 1974. The company is now run by Manuel Rodriguez Jr.—another brother, Norman, also works in the business. The factory is located outside Madrid, in the town of Toledo and Rodriguez guitars are distributed in the United States by Guitar Center.
Rodriguez produces a wide array of guitar models, ranging from affordable student classical models, an “ecological” line (constructed from sustainable woods), cutaway electric models, flamenco guitars (the company also produces a line of flamenco cajons, the percussion instrument commonly used in performances of modern flamenco music), as well as high-end guitars made with all solid woods—pretty much something for everyone. The FG Madagascar falls into the high-end of its classical line. It’s also available with Indian rosewood (model FG) at a slightly lower price ($4,699 list/$2,499 street).
Clean Traditional Construction
The Model FG Madagascar makes a fine first impression, with an even high-gloss lacquer finish, finely grained Canadian cedar top, ebony fingerboard and neck strip, black-and-gold Fusteros tuners with ivoroid tuning buttons, beautiful black-veined (though not exactly matching) solid Madagascar rosewood back and sides, hand-set purfling and rosette, and traditional Spanish-heel construction. The red and green hues in the purfling and rosette add pizzazz to the overall look, and the rosette features a simple pattern of concentric rings, which is more typically seen on guitars from Granada rather than Madrid.
A look inside the instrument revealed that the interior is not lacquered except for the heel, but the clean joinery and absence of glue globs or drips confirmed that the apparent high standard of construction on the exterior carried through internally. It’s rare to find a Spanish student guitar without some sort of minor defect—looking a bit more closely, I was able to find a few, including a smear of some sort of glue or filler on the back of the instrumentwaydown deep inside, and a bit of lacquer missing from the bass side of the neck at the 18th fret. But these are minor aesthetic issues. I really had to go searching for them, and they have zero impact on the sound or playability of the guitar.
The lacquer, however, was laid on pretty heavy, with some lacquer filling up the joint of the neck and body. Though this amount of lacquer offers more protection, it can muffle the sound. Personally, I could live with the risk of a few more dings if it meant a superior-sounding instrument.
Tuning up the instrument demonstrated silky smooth action from the tuners, with no grabbing or popping from the carved bone nut. Intonation was good across all the strings. The nut has a series of carved arches between the strings, which, though not functional, was a nice detail.
The FG’s setup was excellent and so was playability. The neck contour is flat, which isn’t unusual, but players used to a bit of camber on their fingerboard might find this takes some getting used to, especially when barring. The ebony fingerboard, which is standard on pretty much any concert guitar, provides a playing platform that is superior to rosewood. The strings were responsive to the touch and the picking-hand feel is typical of cedar (as opposed to the stiffer feel of a spruce top), giving the immediate gratification that comes with a fast response.
Balanced Sound & Spanish “Growl”
So how does it sound? The FG Madagascar was well balanced when I played chords and had ample sustain. Response was good, particularly in the middle and lower ranges. One of the desirable traits of a good Spanish guitar is the bass tone. Some describe this as “growl,” others call it “focus,” but whatever it is, that visceral bass tone is what I look for in an instrument and, happily, the FG Madagascar has it. The bass was focused and even overall, except for the second-fret F# on the sixth string and the second-fret B on the fifth string, which had just a hint of wolfiness. When I checked the treble strings for evenness by playing every pitch up the neck on the first three strings, the C# stood out noticeably: it had a quick response, was louder than the other pitches on the treble strings, and had little sustain. Overall, however, the treble had a sweet sound and sustained well. The first string had a slightly tight sound, but I would expect this to improve as the guitar opened up with time and playing.
A guitar in the FG’s price range ought to be quite responsive and have a wide dynamic range. The volume was good, but not mind-blowing, and the guitar didn’t quite give me the dynamic headroom I was looking for. When I dug into the trebles to test the dynamic range, the instrument topped out quickly and left me wishing I could get just a little more out of it. Pounding out single-note lines, you would need to take care not to overdrive this guitar. Conversely, playing through an arpeggio piece, I could shape dynamics nicely and the resonance of the instrument shone through. The FG is not a cannon, but overall the volume is acceptable and the tone gets your attention. With its quality materials and construction, Spanish tradition, and good playability, the FG is worth checking out.
Teja Gerken: At a time when many classical guitars are being made with contemporary design elements and features, the Rodriguez FG Madagascar is a reminder of how cool a more traditional Spanish guitar can be. While the FG doesn’t have the explosive volume or finely tuned tonal balance of some modern guitars, its soul is pure Madrid: growling basses, plenty of attitude, and great sounds throughout its range. Playing pieces from the Spanish repertoire is a natural on the Rodriguez, but it’s also fun on nonclassical material, where it’s mature voice gives it a lot to offer in many contexts.
AT A GLANCE
SPECS: Solid Canadian cedar top. Slanted fan bracing. Solid Madagascar rosewood back and sides. Honduras red cedar neck with Spanish foot. Ebony fingerboard. Rosewood bridge. 650-mm (25.59-inches) scale length. 52-mm (2 3/64 inches) nut width. Bone nut and saddle. Gloss lacquer finish. Black-and-gold-plated Fustero tuners. D’Addario EXP46 strings. Made in Spain.
Price: $4,999 list/$2,999 street.
Maker: Guitarras Manuel Rodriguez and Sons; guitars-m-r-sons.com.
Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar November 2013