REVIEW: Baden A-Style Ovangkol

I first reviewed a Baden A-Style a little while ago (click here for that review). In case you missed it, here’s the short version of the company’s history: 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. The guitars are completely hand crafted in Vietnam in a workshop overseen by six French luthiers. These aren’t production-line guitars cranked out by robots, so get that idea outta yer head right now, buster!

Unlike the first A-Style I reviewed, which had a rosewood back and sides on a cedar top, this one has an Ovangkol back and sides with a cedar top. Related to Bubinga, this tonewood has much of the same depth as rosewood but with sharper high end and more immediate projection. The hand-carved mahogany neck has a soft D profile which makes it a little beefy but still comfortable enough to reach difficult chord voicings without cramping up your hand. The review model had a slight buzz on the open high E string due to some overenthusiastic cutting – not ideal on a guitar sent out for review, but any store worth their salt should fix this for you before letting you walk out the door with it. Electronics are a simple Fishman Matrix Infinity system with volume and tone controls and switchable voicing – it can be kinda fiddly to reach the voicing switch but otherwise it’s an elegantly understated system.

Interestingly, Baden appears to have refined the distinctive minimalist triangular chip between the soundhole and fretboard. Whereas before it was wedged in the and mostly free-floating, on this guitar it’s carefully inset with wood all around it. The bridge is also subtly redesigned so the string pegs follow the arc of the back of the bridge, rather than be placed in a straight line. The end of the fretboard has also been redesigned, and there is now subtle binding around the body and sound hole. The end result is a more ‘finished’ look than the previous models, which seemed to emphasise their hand-madedness.

Compared to the rosewood A-style, which wanted to be played as a delicate background fingerpicker, the Ovangkol model begs to be picked and strummed hard. Notes practically bounce off the body and scream through the soundhole before they get a chance to pick up any unusual resonances or frequency anomalies. The result is a surprisingly sharp, direct sound which is bright and cutting but not harsh. The dynamic range is quite high, and the top responds sensitively whether you’re picking softly, or laying in so hard that every chord hits a threshold and naturally compresses. This would be a great guitar for stage use in a rock band, an out-front instrument driving a modern country act, or a powerful accompaniment for a soloist who needs a guitar that displays as much character as their vocals.

The A-Style Ovangkol may not be everyone’s cup of tea visually, although the subtle redesigned elements go a long way towards making the unusual design more palatable for skeptics. It’s got power and playability, with lots of character. It may not be your grandad’s acoustic, but where was it ever written that acoustic guitars had to be as conservative as they have to be traditional?

LINK: Baden Guitars

Here’s a video I found from MacNichol Guitars explaining the A-Style Ovangkol. What I like most about this video is that the voiceover sounds like the very sonorous Harry Shearer.

REVIEW: Baden Guitars D-Style

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.

REVIEW: Baden Guitars A-Style

Baden guitars are as unique and innovative as they are sparse and minimal, Like the D-Style dreadnaught, the A-Style is free of the types of showy flash that seem to dominate much of the acoustic market. Former Taylor vice president of sales and marketing T.J. Baden and his small team of luthiers have a minimalist design philosophy which emphasises the sound and playability of the instrument over flashy tricks like abalone inlays or elaborate pickguard shapes. The guitars are completely handmade in Vietnam in a workshop overseen by six French luthiers, and the emphasis is on quality over quantity.

The A-Style has a rosewood back and sides with a solid cedar top. The fretwork is immaculate and there’s not a stray glue spot or tool mark to be found anywhere on the body. The body and fretboard are refreshingly free of inlay or rosette, with only a simple white wedge at the top of the soundhole. The headstock logo is cut straight into the wood – no showy inlays or fancy screened logo here. Electronics are a simple Fishman Matrix Infinity system with volume and tone controls and switchable voicing. But of course we must address the big white elephant in the room: that shape. Some will love it, some will hate it. Instead of a traditional cutaway, Baden has instead chosen to build the A-Style as if it’s two different guitars, with the body and neck meeting at the 14th fret on the bass side and the 18th fret on the treble side. If you cover half of the Baden photo with your hand, the A-Style either looks like a somewhat-regular concert-shaped guitar if you cover the treble side, or a truncated, unusual experiment if you cover the bass side. The design makes a lot of sense when you’re playing though, as there’s no cutaway whatsoever to get in your way.

The tone of the A-Style is very round and gentle. Unlike the D-Style, which is a bright and loud strummer, the A-Style prefers more delicate playing styles. It excels at fingerstyle melodies, where the restrained treble and soft bass blend every chord or arpeggio into a sound which is somehow bigger than the whole. It made my half-assed Tommy Emmanuel licks sound more integrated and assured. Strummed chords sound supportive and balanced, making this a good guitar to provide ‘accompaniment’-style playing for those who need a sonorous bed of supportive chords behind a vocalist or within a band. The Fishman preamp can add a little zing and sparkle for when you need a little more cut to stand out from a mix, but the A-Style’s natural tone is equally at home unobtrusively supporting a band or as a solo instrument. While some guitars blend each note in with the others to their detriment, on the A-Style this quality is a highlight, due to the very musical and pleasing frequencies created by the body shape and woods.

The A-Style is unusual, minimalist, perfectly built and expertly voiced. It may not be the first thing you think of when you’re looking for a new acoustic, but if you can get past the jarring look of the ‘cutaway’ or if, even better, you like the way it looks, the A-Style is a great choice for players from a wide range of genres and a huge variety of musical settings.


COOL ARTICLE ALERT: How to scallop guitar fretboards

The wonderful Mrs I Heart Guitar spotted this article on and shared it with me in Google Reader. Man, Google Reader’s so awesome but it doesn’t quite work properly on my office computer, so I don’t get to use it as much as I like… wait, focus Peter, back on track, there’s guitar stuff to talk about!

Ok, so the article on Make points to this article on which will take you through how to scallop a guitar neck. You’ll notice in the main picture that they’ve gone a little too deep and cut into their side inlay dots, but I think it looks kinda cool, and reminds me a bit of the little wedgie shapes adorning the soundholes of Baden acoustic guitars. If you want to avoid this happening, simply place a strip of tape along the edge of the neck juuuuuust covering the side dots, as a visual reminder to not file below the tape.