Walden CG4041-CERT Review

AG 227 November 2011 Cover

Posted by Danny Carnahan

Founded in 1996, Walden Guitars is known for designing and building high-quality instruments at affordable prices. Walden’s chief designer, Jonathan Lee, was a former partner at the now-defunct CFox Guitars, and several of that high-end shop’s ideas have found their way into Walden designs. Lee’s latest achievement is the Madera line, which was introduced in 2010 and is built solely with responsibly forested, nonendangered woods. To keep things affordable, Walden builds guitars in China. To keep the quality top-notch, Walden builds exclusively in the factory it owns. And to keep things responsible, Walden is a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Chain-of-Custody holder, tracking materials from forest to guitarist and guaranteeing that only sustainable and legal woods are used on the Madera line. The all-mahogany CG4041-CERT grand auditorium we received for review is one of two new additions to the eight-model Madera line.

It’s no secret that many traditional woods used in instrument making are being logged illegally and that some species are facing extinction. Fortunately, a few makers such as Walden have found business partners in Central and South America and Asia who share a common desire to keep fine instrument-worthy wood viable and available into the future. Working with FSC, these companies use responsibly grown and logged woods, avoiding endangered woods such as ebony and finding alternatives such as katalox (also known as Mexican royal ebony) and establishing a chain of custody from forest to finishing workshop that ensures that their instruments are built from certified FSC-pure sustainable tonewoods.

Clean and Tasteful Mahogany Body

Eco-friendly qualities aside, the Madera CG4041 is a cleanly built guitar, stained a deep and even red and adorned with tasteful, unfussy binding and pickguard. There’s no unnecessary flash, though details from the scalloping of the bridge to the cut of the peghead to the black-buttoned tuning machines create a unified look befitting a much more expensive instrument. The Central American mahogany of the top, back, and sides is subtly beautiful, with the kind of straight, tight, even grain I’d expect to find on a fine violin. Like the other models in Walden’s Madera and SupraNatura lines, the soundboard is supported by prewar-style scalloped X-bracing, and the neck and body are coated with a high-gloss polyester/polyurethane finish. The workmanship inside and out is without obvious flaw, which speaks volumes for the high level of technical expertise present in Walden’s Chinese workshop. All in all, the Madera is a very inviting instrument.

Comfortable and Smooth Wide Neck

The grand auditorium size of the CG4041 nestles comfortably on the lap, and the smooth feel of the frets and fingerboard tended to lure me into experimenting higher up the neck than I often do, which I found quite appealing. The width of the neck, at 13/4 inches, is slightly wider than I usually play, but it quickly began to feel solid and comfortable (I’ll admit I pay a price for using my thumb to fret the bass notes of barre chords). The depth of the gently rounded neck filled my palm nicely and felt comfortable up to the seventh fret and beyond. If you favor a skinnier neck, you might try Walden’s Madera CD4041-CERT dreadnought, which is 1/16 inch narrower at the nut.

Bright, Clear, and Warm Tones

The CG4041 sang out with exceptionally bright overtones and a clear attack—a vibrantly alive sound that made me want to linger on notes just to listen to them ring and decay. This clarity could be heard from the open strings right up the fingerboard, pretty evenly across the top five strings. To provide a low bed for all this clarity, the low E would have had to really bloom, but it didn’t. Rather, it helped sustain the overall clarity of the rest of the instrument. My enjoyment of the clarity and sustain of the mid to high range on this guitar is due in part to the subtle warmth underlying the highs, a result no doubt of the all-Central American mahogany body. The attack is never aggressive or harsh. And I imagine that, given the quality of wood used in its construction, it will only improve with age.

When I played it with a flatpick and really dug in for volume, the Madera responded with clean and buzz-free notes, though sheer muscle didn’t add any gravitas to the lower end. Of course, this lack of boomy bass is one of the virtues the grand auditorium size can claim over the dreadnought. When playing in an ensemble with a bass, it could be just the ticket for tonal balance without a muddy low end.

Fingerpicking was an immediate joy, whether playing delicately or accompanying my singing at normal performance levels. This is a fine folkie’s instrument, suited equally to picked chordal acompaniment and single-note soloing. Tuning down to dropped D seemed to improve the overall resonance of the midrange (notably in the key of A), though it didn’t noticeably change the balance of the low end.

To see if some styles might sound better than others on the Madera, I let the guitar take me every which way stylistically. I played a little Irish traditional, some favorite licks copped from John Renbourn, a bit of Malagasy fingerpicking, Django Reinhardt–style jazz, a Tim O’Brien song, Travis picking, Martin Carthy back-snap faux frailing, Grateful Dead songs, country, original indulgences, and on into the depths of my musical walk-in closet. In the end, everything sounded clean and fresh and the fun of playing the Madera was sustained as the instrument grew more familiar in my hands.

Responsible and Affordable Clarity

I would happily hand a Walden Madera CG4041 to a beginning guitarist or recommend it to a seasoned professional. For the beginner, it provides instant gratification and clarity of tone for a reasonable price. For the professional, the possibilities of sustain and overtone power will be intriguing and worthwhile, along with the added bonus of knowing that you’re supporting the effort to create more eco-logically friendly and sustainable forests while you play your guitar.

SPECS: Grand auditorium body size. Solid Central American mahogany top, back, and sides. Solid Central American mahogany neck with graphite reinforcement and two-way adjustable truss rod. South American katalox fingerboard and bridge. Bone saddle and nut. Gold closed-back tuners with black buttons. 25.6-inch scale. 13/4-inch nut width. 21/4-inch string spacing at saddle. Polyester/polyurethane high-gloss finish. D’Addario EXP light-gauge strings. Made in China. Left-handed version available by special order.

PRICE: $1,699 list/$1,190 street.

MAKER: Walden Guitars: (888) 925-3369; waldenguitars.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar November 2011

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