This review was submitted by Guitar Jar contributor: Andy Nash
I bought this guitar a few months ago to satisfy my need for a reasonably priced (<£300) nylon string electro-acoustic with a cutaway body for use at solo function gigs. My setup is simply a guitar, Boss RC-20 Loopstation and a Hiwatt busking amplifier and in terms of material I play a range of jazz and classical finger picking style with lots of lead work in and around the high-end fret area.
…the Walden looks a neater, classier, more refined instrument than its peers and in terms of live performance does the job without hassle…
Solid spruce top, Rosewood fingerboard, Venetian cutaway and Fishman Classic 4 Pre-amp (also available with Fishman Aero+). For more details, visit: http://www.waldenguitars.com/N550CE.html.
Despite not being a ‘trained’ classical guitarist and with minimal knowledge as to detailed specifications of these types of guitars (I’m primarily at home on an electric), I needed something of sufficient quality in terms of playability, sound (primarily the internal pre-amp) and durability to cope with lots of indoor and outdoor function work. I didn’t need a top of the range classical, but rather something that was able to accommodate my style as a jazz/blues lead player (some plectrum work, some finger) with the soft tone of nylon strings.
The two-inch nut, is so far as I am led to believe, roughly standard width for classical models and the neck doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all, in fact the build quality for a guitar at such a modest price is very good. The tuners, frets, jack input, bridge area and joints seem solid enough. The action is set quite nicely (mid to low), and happily accommodates someone making the transition from steel to nylon strings like myself.
The pre-amp uses a 9v battery which can be a little fiddly to replace but overall this guitar seems well built and hardy enough for a busy schedule of gigs – mine didn’t come with a hard case however so be sure to check this out in the price (Hiscox classical standard hard case fits perfectly!).
I think the appearance deserves an extra mention, as it looks a far smarter instrument than competitors I have found in this price range. I particularly like the mysterious lack of logo on the headstock (I get a lot of people asking who makes this fantastic sounding guitar!) and the body coated with satin nitrocellulose lacquer has a lovely golden sheen.
The cutaway is sleek enough and accommodates comfort up to 15th fret whilst making access to 16, 17 and even 18 far from an impossibility. As previously mentioned, the action is fairly low and the factory set-up is sufficient for harmonics ring out nicely enough for an instrument available for less than £300.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that this is where the guitar does lose a few points, despite getting such positive feedback from my audiences up to now. Don’t get me wrong – it sounds far from bad – however this guitar can sound a little hollow and treble-heavy without some careful treatment with EQ and the benefits of reverb. As a John Martyn fan I do like to give the strings a good snap and whilst it handles some fairly harsh treatment it predictably can sound a little artificial at times despite some experimentation with the four frequency controls on offer.
Acoustically, this guitar is fairly quiet but I’ll be fair – amplified the Fishman generally does a pretty good job – with absolutely no background hiss and hum whatsoever (bonus points earned here!).
Mic’ed up it’s much the same – you’ll likely need to add some bottom-end –I found that my small diaphragm condenser worked well over my left shoulder/12th fret area when teamed up with a larger diaphragm a couple of feet or so from the sound hole. You’ll need a decent pre-amp though as it’s not the loudest guitar acoustically, and I would certainly recommend some heavier gauge strings that offer more in the mid to low frequencies.
I did a fair bit of shopping around before buying this guitar and am really pleased I made the choice to go for the Walden. It looks a neater, classier, more refined instrument than its peers and in terms of live performance does the job without hassle, although I may think twice about choosing a different instrument for high-class studio recordings due to its tendency to sound a touch treble-heavy.
American designed guitars made in China, the N550CE is actually one of Walden’s more ‘cheap and cheerful’ models, so on this evidence I could certainly be tempted to plump for an instrument in the higher echelons of their price range in future. I also wonder whether replacing the internal pre-amp could be a possibility and am currently in the process of trying out different valve pre-amps/reverbs within my live set-up to add some depth and warmth to the sound (suggestions welcome, please comment below!).
Overall, I would recommend this piece of kit to anybody looking to buy a reasonably good quality, amplified nylon string guitar. While it’s obviously not comparable to the finer pieces designed for ‘proper’ classical musicians, it’s modestly priced enough to fulfil the role of a beginner’s instrument as well as being a very capable, solid and reliable companion for the large majority of working ‘classical’ acoustic guitarists.