Natura D550CE Review

By What Guitar?

Excerpts from a November 2003 review of Dreadnought Electro Acoustics. Note: At the time of the review, the old model number of D550TCP was still being used. Itis now the D550CE.

The D550TCP is the cutaway electro version of the basic D550T.... In styling, compared with the Faith, the Venetian cutaway has a more pronounced scoop, and maximum rim depth is the full dreadnought monty – 125mm. All Natura models feature a solid spruce top – either of unspecified variety, sitka or Englemann. Ours is one of the first, but it has clean regular graining and some quality-suggestive cross-silking here and there. The back and sides are laminated sapele mahogany, whose typical striped grain pattern arguably looks more eye-catching than the Faith's fairly bland Indonesian mahogany.

The instrument is smartly finished in a smooth, satin lacquer, which Walden claims is nitrocellulose. But there's little of that distinctive aroma you get, say, when unwrapping a new Gibson, and the finish (thankfully) doesn't feel soft or susceptible to dings as nitro can be. It's a fairly light-coat treatment that augurs well for acoustic response.

Gorgeous Body Cosmetics are pretty much standard issue for a dreadnought at this price level – like the concentric-ring rosette, multi-ply top binding with coachlining around the rims, a black centre strip down the back to emphasise the bookmatching, pearloid dot markers along a bound rosewood fingerboard, and a rosewood-faced peghead. It's all neatly done, and the only visual 'flaw' is a few dark, knot-resembling marks under the finish on the African mahogany neck. Inside, there are traces of wood swarf knocking around, but the actual assembly of the sturtting and kerfed linings is well sorted, and not a trace of excess glue to be seen.

In width, scale length and string spacing, the Walden's neck is similar to the Faith's. Differences in grip come from it being slightly deeper under lower positions and with a hint of V'ing there, and from the fingerboard having a flatter camber and carrying thinner-section frets. These are no criticisms – it's equally comfortable, simply one maker's approach against another. Action set-up is very good, and everything's dressed as it should be.

In its catalogue, Walden depicts the Natura as carrying a Fishman System 1 preamp, in the event the D550TCP comes loaded with a Classic 4, which I'd say is a wiser choice since the former gets by with two-band EQ, where the Classic provides bass, middle, treble and brilliance. (I have a System 1 on my Tacoma, and though sound quality is fine, I do sometimes miss not having a mid-band to toy with.) Releasing twin latches allows the control panel to be slid out for battery changes – not very smoothly, mind, but at least no torn nails!

SOUNDS
This Walden doesn't have quite the Faith's ballsy front-end snap, but it makes up for it with a warmer, more rounded tonality. Swapping from one instrument to the other brings the realisation that the Saturn's hint of dryness lies mainly in its midrange, whereas the Natura's is more fluid and sweet. Players will prefer one or the other depending on their tastes, technique and repertoire, but few will be able to say, for overall acoustic quality, that the Walden sacrifices much, if anything, by not having an all-solid-timber specification. The only oddity on our sample is a D string that rather rapidly started to lose its resilience, but a change of strings took care of that.

Powered up, the D550TCP performs well. The acoustic character is retained and the Classic 4 offers a much less complicated approach than the Shadow but still comes up tonal versatility aplenty.

A minor caveat: our sample's piezo balance was slightly low-strings forward (even after some guitar-tech tweaking), and boosting the bass band upped the gain of the A and E righter than just making the sound bassier. I could also add that the brilliance slider is a touch too subtle, but – give that some other modern preamps seem to want to dish out industrial amounts of high-end enhancement – thank heavens for that, I say...