Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.
Want to learn what all the furor and hubbub over Esteban guitars is about? Have you made the mistake of investing in an Esteban guitar and are looking for some background information? Have you been so wronged that you potentially want to hunt Esteban himself down and give him a strong talking to?
Whatever your story and your reasoning for being here, welcome along as we look at the storied history of Esteban guitars, their standing within the guitar community, and what exactly makes them so notoriously bad among aspiring beginner guitarists and music enthusiasts.
The Story of Esteban Guitars
The Esteban guitar began appearing at the beginning of the millennium, on infomercial advertisements that claimed the guitars were made the same as $1500 guitar while only costing a fraction of that price ($100). Contrary to other stories that start this way, there is no meandering towards a spooky and haunting conclusion.
Rather, the name behind the face of the company was a classical guitarist by the name of Stephen Paul, who once went by the stage name Esteban. You would be forgiven for not exactly knowing who he is already.
In his time he was a more or less unknown performer who had attempted to make it work as a classical guitarist on the scene in the 70s. Soon after, as superhero origin stories go, he was embroiled in a car crash which left him physically and mentally unable to perform.
He overcame this encumbrance and returned to performing again in the late 80s, though having by this time lost most if not all of the progress he had already made, despite still being a more than capable guitarist.
Regardless, he came to catch the eye of the inventor of the Miracle Mop, a middle-class gizmo that was sold on the Home Shopping Network, and due to his natural charisma and welcome face, he became the public representative of a series of budget guitars advertised to be for beginners that were masterminded by the creator of the Miracle Mop.
Each guitar would include a set of instructional DVDs on guitar basics taught by Esteban himself. The range of guitars became rather famous and even led to Esteban’s music entering the Billboard charts and becoming a minor commercial success.
However, despite this commercial success, the legacy of Esteban guitars is one of dismay and loathing – some even going as far as to call them the worst guitars ever made.
The Models That They Made
The company featured two guitars in their main line of instruments, which was rather grandly named the ‘American Legacy’ collection, and which were individually named the Esteban AL – 100 and the Esteban AL – 200.
To an undiscerning eye, the guitars would have appeared very similar if not largely identical, though the latter AL – 200 was the ‘Master Class Cutaway Edition’, featuring a cutaway on the body as well as some cosmetic enhancements that were meant to give off the impression of luxury.
No matter the specific model of the Esteban guitar, each one was electro-acoustic and thus came fitted with jack input and a mini PA system that allowed the guitar to be plugged into an external amplifier source.
At such a price point, you can expect this electro aspect to not exactly be of the best quality, regardless of his having gained commercial success. The electronic element is rather specialized, hence why those kinds of guitars usually fetch a considerable amount more money as a minimum asking price.
The same rings true even for the children-sized guitar fittingly titled the ‘Esteban Children’s Classical’, which was advertised to include everything that might otherwise be on a full-sized guitar, but on a smaller scale befitting of a child. The mother of pearl inlays around the guitar added to the visual appeal that might encourage children to pick it up and play (much like a bird to bright objects).
What’s the Consensus Among Guitar Players?
The consensus among guitar players is one of utter ridicule, with the brand name Esteban coming to stand in for any one of a whole host of guitar-based slanders.
1. ‘I don’t play guitar, I only bought this for my boyfriend who was picking up the guitar. He saw what a deathtrap it is and dumped me. Meanwhile, Sally goes out and buys him a Gibson Les Paul Custom and a Marshall stack and he now loves her. In short, this guitar is so bad I lost my boyfriend to it. Don’t buy.’
2. ‘It sounds great if you can tune it to an Open G-Chord and just strum on it. Outside of that, you’re stuck, because no human being on earth could contact the strings with the fretboard beyond the 5th fret. It simply cannot be done.’
3. ‘This guitar is solid. I don’t know the kind of wood they use, but who cares? It’s covered in paint and lacquer. This baby can take a beating. I’ve had it for two years and played it every day and nothing has broken. In a gig, I play hard too.
With the windmills, I smack it around pretty well. Actually, this is pretty embarrassing, but one time I did a spin on stage, and the cable wrapped around my leg and I fell right on top of the guitar. No damage, except to my pride.’
4. ‘Not reliable at all. I’m embarrassed to play it in front of family or friends because of the sound and the dead frets. This Esteban guitar has no durability since it started breaking down after only 3 months of owning it, and I played it gently, having a suspicion that it wasn’t made well to start with. As reliable as a deadbeat dad.’
It seems many people were duped by the convincing infomercials, something which some people simply have no sympathy for in these kinds of online forums.
What Are Esteban Guitars Actually Like?
All the horror stories above certainly paint a grim picture of the situation for the brand, but Esteban guitars are still more than playable for the price. Granted, they might not last as long as other guitars at a higher price point, and in turn, might be more difficult to play, but you probably already knew that anyhow.
One of the more regular complaints that you are likely to hear when sifting through complaints of Esteban guitars is that the fretboard itself is not set up very well.
Consequently, the playing of notes and chords higher than the 5th fret is rendered either rather difficult and painful or otherwise downright impossible.
This is a problem with action and intonation, something that affects plenty of guitars and guitar bridge types, though has been known to affect Esteban guitars far more than most.
Seeing as these guitars are designed for and aimed toward the beginners’ market of guitarists, this is rather uncalled for. A beginner guitar is meant to feel as comfortable and good as possible so that a new guitarist will feel welcomed to the instrument without any fuss or fighting.
From the first date a guitarist uses an instrument, it should feel good. Granted the first few years will be more painful than most, but if the experience is too painful an aspiring beginner guitarist might be put off altogether.
If fingers hurt from guitar more than usual, then it is a problem in need of fixing, for a beginner guitarist, especially one that is younger and thus more likely to be unaccustomed to the ways that pain can elicit profit, this might be enough to put them off the learning of the guitar altogether.
Are They Well Made?
It’s interesting, for the answer is not quite what you would expect. The materials that the Esteban guitar is made from are of surprisingly high quality, especially considering the difficult price point. Many suggest that it is in fact the way that they are put together that is the underlying problem.
This makes them rather prone to falling apart with even minimal use, especially if you are known to treat your guitars badly or with little respect. The craftsmanship that goes into building guitars is arguably the most important of the process, though many might have you think it is about the materials.
The right choice of wood is essential for a quality guitar, especially when it comes to the choice of fretboard wood cos it can really impact the sound. An Esteban guitar is made from various different woods and thus cannot be relied upon to tell easily which wood is where and for what. Typically, though, spruce wood is on the top, with rosewood on the sides and a neck that is made of maple.
There is a real emphasis on the mother of pearl aspects, especially on the guitar for children, likely as a way to convince newcomers that the guitars are made of sufficiently adequate building materials. The mother of pearl also acts as a way to get a child to play guitar, much like a bird to a shining object.
The tuners of most if not all of the Esteban guitars provide nothing of note, they are thoroughly in line with what you might find on most mid-range acoustic guitars.
I suppose this in itself is of note, for these are certainly not mid-range acoustic guitars, and in fact, I would go so far as to call them low mid-range acoustic guitars at best.
The tuners are chrome sealed, so they can more or less be relied upon to get the job done, but with no added frills.
Here, as previously elucidated, is where things go awry. The wood used, the tuners present, and the mother of pearl inlays all certainly look good on paper, but it is mostly for show.
There have been several reports of people receiving new Esteban guitars in the post that still smell of varnish, which they have surmised to imply a quick and cheap way to make imperfections in the building process of low-quality woods look more expensive than they are.
Likewise, there have been reports of the frets completely falling off, as though there was no care of attention put forth in the gluing process.
Are Esteban Guitars Worth Anything?
Funnily enough, it is a bit of a running joke in guitar circles that once you do own an Esteban guitar, you are likely going to own it for life, for they have become notoriously difficult to sell on to other guitarists, whether through reputation alone or else.
The hype after the big commercial success gradually dawned, and people began to realize that an Esteban guitar is a no-good hunk of instrument that is not going to do a guitarist any favors, regardless of their skill level.
Thus, more and more guitarists wanted less and less to do with them until they eventually became as unsellable as they are today, and their reputation has only begun to precede them more and more to the point that it snowballs.
It is the opinion of myself and many others that, even if you are an aspiring beginner guitarist who has all the world yet to see, you would be doing yourself and those around you a disservice by playing an Esteban guitar.
Many suggest that you are better off spending an extra $50 or $100 to purchase an instrument that both feels like a real guitar and is actually going to serve you as a guitar should, especially since Esteban guitars gives those same aspiring beginner guitarists a bad taste in their mouth that leaves them never wanting to play again.
In fact, it is common knowledge that to even make an Esteban guitar playable, you will need the help of a licensed professional – be they a guitar technician or luthier – which in itself will cost more money. Thus, you would be far better suited just putting the money you would spend getting an Esteban guitar up and at em towards a better guitar.
So, there you have it! What a rollercoaster, what a journey for us and old Esteban. If you have been wronged by Esteban guitars, you are sadly not entitled to any compensation, though you will no doubt have the sympathies of a whole legion of other guitarists who got bit in the butt hard by the strong marketing and advertising at play.
Take solace in this, and watch as your relisted Esteban guitar on eBay does not at any point take wing to fly into the arms of another. The best you could do, really, is destroy it so that no other guitarist can be done wrong as you have. How you go about destroying it is the entire of your choosing, though now might be an opportunity to get more creative than the guitar has allowed you to be thus far.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Seeing as their whole shtick out of the factory is that they are affordable guitars made from expensive materials, they are not really worth a whole lot upon resell. In fact, they are notoriously rather difficult to get rid of second-hand, for no one in their right mind would want to invest any money toward an Esteban in the first place, let alone one that has been previously owned by someone else who has been silly enough to make the mistake of buying one.
In terms of the product that they have to offer the world, not really, no. Esteban guitars are notorious across the western world for being no good, and the name itself is even a bit of a stand-in for a bad guitar – i.e. ‘oh, gee, that guitar is a real Esteban’. The brand itself, however, is kind of impressive, in that it managed to sell a considerable amount of these less-than-good guitars to a whole host of consumers through effective branding on infomercials and advertisements.
Anyone keeping up with the whole saga of Esteban guitars might have noticed a degree of radio silence on the matter since the mid-’00s. After enough people were upset enough about the quality of Esteban guitars to raise a fuss, the company itself heard their pleas and simply stopped manufacturing the instruments, likely for the threat of getting into some serious trouble. They were, after all, manufacturing and releasing products that did not exactly live up to the promises made. Esteban himself has not been heard from since around 2006 when he released a greatest hits album.
Yes, he is. Though not much was heard from him since he released his greatest hits LP in 2006, he is allegedly now the ambassador for a spa and resort in Prescott. He sees the job as a natural extension of his soul-soothing music, which he had always intended to be used for such purposes. In fact, if you were to visit there on the off chance, they would more than likely be spinning any one of his 26 albums chock full of Spanish classical guitar music. He apparently looks forward to performing now that the pandemic has rectified itself somewhat.