Baden Guitars was founded by T.J. Baden in 2006. A former vice president of sales and marketing at Taylor, Baden and partner Errol Antzis, a former investment banker and a guitar lover, enlisted European luthiers Andreas Pichler and Ulrich Tueffel and together they set about to redefine the acoustic guitar.
The first thing you need to know about Baden guitars is that they are made in Vietnam, and while this information might trigger alarm bells for some shoppers who prefer their instruments to be US-made, it’s important to point out that Baden guitars are no production-line-stamped, automated, cheap little axes made in a facility that builds guitars for half a dozen other brands too. Nope, these instruments are all completely hand-built, overseen by six French luthiers.
The first and most striking thing about the Baden D-Style is its shape. It’s a dreadnaught, Jim, but not as we know it. The curves have been flattened out and the outline is given a slightly boxy vibe, almost like certain vintage Danelectro electric guitar designs. The next thing you notice is the subdued approach to ornamentation: no elaborate inlays, overwrought rosettes or extravagant abalone binding here. The Baden design philosophy is one of minimalism. In fact even the Baden logo on the headstock is simply cut into the wood, rather than inlaid or painted. The one concession to style-over-substance in this regard is a tiny triangular wedge driven into a little circular cutout at the fretboard end of the sound hole. The D-Style’s back and sides are mahogany, and the top is Stika spruce, while the The binding, bridge, fretboard, heel cap and headstock overlay are rosewood. The fretboard is free of any kind of position markers, with only subtle side dots to help you find your way.
Electronics on the review model are a Fishman Matrix Infinity system with simple volume and tone controls, unobtrusively tucked away inside the sound hole. However, Baden has recently started using Fishman’s more pimped-out Aura range, which adds acoustic imaging to the piezo signal for added realism. Unplugged the D-Style is a very bright-sounding guitar, with lots of loud yet tight bass and a throaty, zingy high end. The tone is ideal for players who need to be loud and proud in the mix, especially in country or roots styles. If your music requires some heavily-picked rhythmic chugging on the low strings, the D-Style keeps up with every note, while chord stabs ring out brightly and clearly. It’s also a good fingerpicker due to the clarity and note separation. The action as set up at the factory is quite low at the nut end of the fretboard, gradually rising as you travel along the neck. This makes it more at-home for open-position chords right out of the box, but any music store or luthier worth their salt can adjust the action to a more barre chord-friendly height with ease. Plugged in, the Fishman does a good job of translating the guitar’s natural tone, but it’s a shame I couldn’t get my hands on the Fishman Aura version.
The D-Style is a bold, unique take on the traditional dreadnaught design, and it’s an ideal choice for those looking for something a little unique while still sounding like a dreadnaught should. Baden is attempting something quite innovative in what can be a quite conservative market segment, and their guitars are well worth checking out.