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.