Amongst Chinese-made acoustic brands Walden is a special case. The company’s instruments aren’t just Walden-branded rebadged OEM-guitars, instead they are crafted at their own factory to their very own specifications and using their very own methods.
Walden’s main man is American luthier Jonathan Lee, who not only knows how to make fine acoustic instruments, but also affords special attention to things such as working conditions at the Walden plant, as well as environmental issues; or, as the man himself put it in a recent Guitarist-interview: ”I want to go to bed at night and not wake up sweating about being a bad guy and getting kicked out of the gates by [Saint] Peter!”
Based on Jonathan Lee’s experience as a boutique builder, Walden Guitars feature an enticing mix of old-school and contemporary building methods: For example, all Waldens sport graphite (or fibreglass) reinforced bolt-on necks, as well as traditional scalloped X-bracing for their tops.
The Walden G630CE (current street price in Finland approx. 450 €, including a Walden-gigbag) is a Grand Auditorium -sized cutaway acoustic-electric.
A Grand Auditorium’s body has approximately the same cubic capacity as a Dreadnought, but its more curvaceous outline with its slimmer waist generally results in a tighter, more focussed bass and a slightly chimier character, compared to a typical D.
The G630CE is part of Walden’s satin-finished Natura-range. Its body is made from a solid Western Red cedar top and laminated Indian rosewood rims and back.
The elegant headstock sports a beautiful rosewood veneer. The top nut is supplied by Graph Tech, using their Fossalite material, which claims to sound like vintage bone.
The Walden’s mahogany neck is a three-piece affair comprising a single long piece for the bulk of the neck, with two additional pieces for the neck heel and the headstock (the glue line is just above the neck’s wrist).
The sealed golden tuners do a good job of keeping the guitar in tune.
The nice dark and dense rosewood fingerboard is bound in black plastic and equipped with 20 small frets.
Hidden beneath the ’board lies the two-way truss rod, as well as the two fibreglass rods on either side of it. Added neck rigidity is a good thing for two reasons – the neck stays straight with less stress on the truss rod, and the guitar’s sustain is improved.
The rosewood back is a real stunner, with the gorgeous wood grain being enhanced by the satin finish and the crisp black-and-white binding. The rosewood cap on the neck heel is a stylish little detail.
The neck bolt is clearly visible in the mahogany neck block. Walden is one of the very few Asian manufacturers to use this modern type of neck joint, which is favoured by Taylor Guitars among others. In Jonathan Lee’s view the sonic difference between a well-executed bolt-on neck joint compared to a traditional dovetail job is practically negligible. And who am I to disagree ?
The G630CE’s extremely reasonable price is visible in the slightly rough look of the kerfed linings inside the soundbox. But this is only a minor cosmetic issue which doesn’t affect the playability or the mechanical soundness of the instrument at all.
There can be no complaints about the cedar top on this Walden whatsoever – this is a fine piece of wood with a very regular grain and tightly spaced annual rings.
The elegantly designed rosewood bridge holds a compensated Graph Tech Fossalite bridge saddle.
Beneath the saddle lied the guitar’s B-Band under-saddle transducer…
…which works in conjunction with B-Band’s own T35 preamp.
The T35 offers three-band equalisation, a phase switch to combat feedback howl, as well as a backlit a chromatic tuner. You can use the tuner without a lead plugged into the output jack.
The G630CE is equipped with an endpin output jack. The quick release battery compartment has been placed on the lower rim of the Walden.
Walden’s Madera-series is direct result of Jonathan Lee’s tireless efforts and perserverence in his quest to build ecologically sustainable acoustic guitars. It took Lee several years to get everything lined up and find the right suppliers for this venture. Now, with the Madera-series, Walden Guitars is offering 100% FSC-certified instruments at prices that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
At the moment the Madera-range comprises six Dreadnought and Grand Auditorium models with full FSC-certification. We chose the Walden CD4040-CERT – a Dreadnought – for this review.
The Walden CD4040-CERT (Current street price in Finland approx. 950 €, including a Walden-case, a humidifier and a second bridge saddle) could be described as Jonathan Lee’s take on the venerable Martin D-18. This classy guitar uses solid sitka spruce for the top and solid South American mahogany for the sides and back.
The yellowish finish adds a certain vintage air to this model’s looks.
Walden use South American katalox (swartzia cubensis) – as an ecologically sustainable alternative to ebony – for its Madera-series bridges, fingerboards and headstock overlays. The beautiful headstock inlay is a stylised version of the Chinese character for the word ”tree” (mù: 木).
The CD4040-CERT’s saddle is made from genuine bone.
The fretboard is equipped with 20 traditionally-sized small frets.
On its top models – an the CD4040-CERT certainly qualifies as such – Walden use a pair of graphite rods to stiffen the mahogany neck.
On our test sample the interior displays the same high degree of care that has also been afforded to the guitar overall.
In line with the CD4040’s vintage looks the guitar’s neck bolt has been hidden behind a Walden-branded mahogany plate.
The rosette is a very elegant mix of black and white rings and abalone inlays.
The bridge’s katalox is somewhat lighter in colour than the piece used for the CD4040-CERT’s fingerboard. The compensated saddle has been carved from bone.
Here you can see a crisp vintage-style look at its best.
The Walden G630CE sits extremely comfortably in your lap, and its well-applied satin finish feels pleasant to the touch.
The neck profile is contemporary in a very good way: There’s enough meat on offer to hold on to comfortably, without the neck feeling fat or angular. I would describe the profile as a medium-sized, oval ”C”.
The string spread at the bridge is wide enough for fingerstylists without alienating the plectrum strumming punters. Our test sample’s string height was set to a very comfortable level (E = 2,0 mm/e = 1,6 mm).
The G630CE sings with a beautiful acoustic tone – its tight and sinewy bottom end nicely leaves space for this guitar’s clear midrange and bell-like top end. There’s a good deal of volume on tap, even if this guitar probably won’t win over a good Dreadnought in a head-to-head shouting match.
The B-Band-system goes a very long way in keeping the Walden’s acoustic timbre intact, and the amplified tones are far more realistic than you might expect from an under-saddle pickup.
Here are a few soundbites I recorded for you:
Need I spell it out? One word is enough to describe the feel of the Walden CD4040-CERT – classic. We all know what a gloss-finished Dreadnought feels like, don’t we?
On this model the neck profile is almost identical to that of the G630CE, but the CD4040 adds a whiff more thickness to the recipe. The test sample’s action is a tad higher than on the Grand Auditorium (E = 2,5/e = 2,0 mm), which will surely delight the Country and Bluegrass fans among you. The CD4040’s playability is still top-notch and effortless, but the slightly higher action gives you that bit more purchase, dynamics and volume-before-string-rattle.
Walden’s CD4040-CERT is a beautiful-looking and -sounding guitar – and it’s also quite loud. The bottom end is fat and muscular, without ever mushing out, while the midrange is vocal and clear. Put a good helping of silky bright icing on top of this, and your in for a true tonal feast.
Even though this guitar arrived for review straight off the wall of a music shop, I never got a feeling of overt newness or tightness from this instrument. Instead this Walden sounds and feels like an already ”broken in” steel-string, and breathes freely.
Here are two examples I recorded:
Based on my test drive I can only recommend checking out a Walden or two.
Walden’s G630CE is a very well-built acoustic-electric, which feels and sounds great. The B-Band T35 looks like the perfect match for this model, thanks to its natural tone and low background noise level.
The Walden CD4040-CERT is further proof – if needed – of the quality levels Chinese guitar manufacturers are able to achieve today. This Walden really is a pro-level instrument offered at an extremely fair price. But the best thing about the CD4040-CERT is that it shows without a doubt that building an eco-friendly quality guitar is possible in this market segment!
Finnish distributor: EM Nordic
A big thank you to DLX Music Helsinki for the loan of the test intsruments!
street price approx. 450 €
+ overall workmanship (see below)
+ acoustic sound
+ amplified sound
– kerfed linings a little rough in places
street price approx. 950 €
+ 100% FSC-certified