Natura T550 Review

By Charles Saufley
Acoustic Guitar, August 2008

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Review of a compact travel guitar that's a blast to play —even when you're not out on the road.

For a lot of guitar players, travel guitars are a compromise by definition. But as smaller-bodied guitars return to vogue, some of the industry’s most respected builders are devoting more attention to the quality and sound of travel- and parlor-size instruments. Walden Guitars is now among the manufacturers aiming to improve the sonic possibilities of the travel-size guitar. And on many counts, the new T550 hits the mark.

Walden isn’t yet a household name among guitar consumers. The company began building instruments in 1996, primarily for the European and Canadian markets, and entered the US market for the first time several years later. But in that short time Walden carved out a respectable niche in the cluttered affordable-guitar market, built on a reputation for value, quality construction, and playability. And it’s on these fronts that the T550 delivers.

SMALL, SOLID, AND SUBDUED

Like other Waldens we’ve seen, the T550 conveys an understated air of quality right out of the case. The satin nitrocellulose finish is flawless and reveals a handsome straight- and even-grained spruce top that you’d expect to find on a more expensive guitar. The bookmatched laminate mahogany back, meanwhile, is quite striking in sunlight, revealing a deep grain pattern that radiates outward from the bass end of the body to achieve a subtle but cool sunrise effect. It also lends a sense that Walden is choosing its wood and materials with considerable care.

A peek around the interior revealed the same attention to fit and quality. Kerfing and bracing were both exceptionally clean. And details like the truss-rod access—which are often marred by the splintery by-products of drilling on similarly priced guitars—were spotlessly tidy. A small, tortoiseshell-colored pickguard, black and white rosette, and matching binding all contribute to a traditional, classy look, and only the slim, tapered headstock hints at any kind of contemporary design influence.

RESONANT AND CUTTING

By virtue of their diminutive dimensions, travel guitars can’t achieve the full-spectrum tone or volume of a full-size guitar. But those inherent limitations are part of what makes the T550’s projection, presence, and character so remarkable. The Walden can’t quite muster the sustain you’d get from a big-bodied, full-scale guitar, either. But the T550 makes the most of its 7/8-scale body and compensates with tones that are complex and versatile across several styles.

In standard tuning, country-blues fingerpicking sounded delightfully dry and funky, but still quite full bodied. Single-note picking on the third and fourth strings yielded tones that were a bit on the angular, boxy side, but the first and second strings rang with authority, and the faster decay of all the notes worked well for snappy, percussive strumming and flatpicking. Tuned down, the Walden is surprisingly bassy. And when I strummed some big, open drones in my favorite C tuning, the Walden’s dry, barky tonal tendencies gave way to a low end rich sustain that that belied the guitar’s small size and reinforced what a well-balanced guitar the T550 is.

The Walden’s neck feels very substantial. And while the thick profile made the neck feel largish compared to the small body, it enhanced the Walden’s overall sense of substance and quality, and more than likely contributed to the guitar’s tuning stability and sustain in lower open tunings.

THE WRAP

On more than a few occasions during my time with the Walden, I would reach for the T550 instead of a number of full-size guitars around my house and in the office. A lot of that has to do with the instrument’s unobtrusive size—it’s a really easy guitar to keep sitting next to the couch or your desk while you’re working, listening to records, or chatting. But it also speaks volumes about how good the Walden sounds and feels. With its rich palette of tones; substantial, high-quality feel; and responsiveness, the Walden makes a travel companion that would be a delight to spend time with in a hotel, around the campfire, or on the trail. It’s an ideal guitar for smaller players and students, and it’s easy to imagine recording situations where the Walden’s rich but not-so-boomy voice could come in handy. That versatility and more-than-satisfactory sonic qualities help the Walden stand apart from much of the affordable travel-guitar pack.