Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW | GOT A UKULELE - Learn Ukulele, beginners tips and reviews

10 Jul 2016

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Another first for a brand on the Got A Ukulele reviews pages, this time from globally known Cordoba with their 20TM-CE Tenor ukulele.


Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele


Cordoba is at its heart a guitar brand, but one with a reasonable line of ukuleles. They are also a brand I see talked about considerably on US shores, but less so in the UK. Whilst they are available in the UK, they do seem to be more widely available outside it. Either way, I think you will probably recognise the name.

The 20TM-CE is a standard shaped tenor ukulele, benefiting from a solid top, together with a pickup and a cutaway on the body. It's relatively plain looking (me like!), but first inspections suggest it's been well put together. I see a bit of confusion around regarding where the Cordoba ukuleles are made. Well, they are actaully a US company, and whilst some of their higher end guitars are made in Spain (true to that very Spanish sounding name), I believe that most, if not all of their ukuleles are made in China. This one certainly is. Let's look a little more closely.

So as I say, fairly standard shape for a tenor - a double bout, with a flat base and a cutaway as you would expect it to look. The solid top is made from mahogany and is in two pieces. The grain is uniform and unremarkable - but actually pretty normal for mahogany and no complaints here.

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele body


The top joins two piece mahogany laminate sides and a completely flat laminate mahogany back which appears to be made of one piece of laminate. It's all joined together neatly, and the satin finish is nicely applied with no bubbles, bare patches, pooling or dribbles. A nice instrument to hold actually. In fact, it's nice to look at and has a warm orange glow to it.

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele back


Back to the top, we have a rosewood tie bar bridge with some rather nice herringbone wooden marquetry decoration. The saddle is specified as 'composite' for which that may mean 'plastic', but I think it's actually a type of NuBone. Either way it is flat and un-compensated.

Around the sound hole we have a repeat of that herringbone marquetry for the rosette, which I do rather like. It's nicely applied and adds a classy look to that otherwise plain top.

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele bridge


And aside from that marquetry, it is indeed plain as it is without any edge binding on the top or back where they meet the sides. No complaints from me on that score though. In fact, I think it might spoil it.

Cut into the side of the instrument is the control panel for the active pickup system with volume and tone controls. Regular readers of mine will know that I am not a fan of these as I think they simply add unnecessary wiring gubbins (that's a technical term doncha know...)  to the ukulele that can be totally avoided with a passive pickup. In fact this one runs on a heavy 9v battery, so even more weight. I just don't like them. As you know..

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele pickup controls


Output for the pickup is via a jack socket offeset on the base of the instrument. I know some people prefer their jack sockets off set this way for ease of access, but I always worry that the socket is not being held by anything substantial (ie not in the tail block). I suppose being laminate, this should be stronger, but let's put it this way - I would not want to be plugged in and see someone trip on my cable - I've seen that happen and I've seen the jack socket rip a hole in the side of the ukulele!

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele jack socket


A look inside shows off a very neat and tidy build. No glue drips, notched kerfing and delicate bracing. It does however show off the mass of wiring from that heavy pickup!

Up to the neck, this too is mahogany and finished in satin. It seems to be made from lots of pieces. Five in fact, with three stacked at the heel and a joint at the headstock. That just seems over the top to me! It's got a nice feel to it though and a pretty shallow profile so easy for most hands to hold.

Topping it is a rosewood fingerboard which has some stripe to it, but is nice and even and in good condition. The edges are coloured black to hide the fret ends and we have 18 nickel silver frets in total with 14 to the body join. They are all dressed nicely, roundly crowned and not overly jumbo.

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele fingerboard


Fret position markers face outward in mother of pearl dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces and thankfully these are repeated on the side for the player. All fairly standard really.

Past the composite nut, we have an unfaced mahogany headstock with the Cordoba logo in gold screen print. The headstock shape is thankfully not a three pointed crown, but more reminiscent of the Kanile'a / Islander headstock style. Classy.

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele headstock


Flipping it over and we have unbranded open geared tuners. These are a quite a let down actually as I have seen much better tuners on instruments far cheaper than this one. Whilst they turn just fine, they remind me of the sort you will see on Makala instruments and those pearly white square buttons are simply too big for a ukulele and look cheap.  A shame that.

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele tuners


Finishing the deal are Aquila Nylgut strings and for that you will be able to pick one of these up for about £180 or about $200 if you shop around. Price wise, that kind of puts it in the right ballpark I would say. Yes I have seen similar specs for less money but equally I have seen lower specs for more money. It's kind of priced equivalent to similar models (ie, solid top instruments) from Kala and Ohana, so I am not shaken by the price.

All in all, as I say it seems to be nicely put together. The wood grains are even, and the finish is good. It's a nice thing to look at and touch, and I am drawn to the minimal bling and small details like the herringbone marquetry.

The first thing that hit me though when picking it up to play it was the noticeable weight to it in the body. In fact, it's way off balance at the 12th with the body trying to pull downwards. As I have said before in my reviews, I'd take a body heavy instrument over a neck heavy instrument ANY day of the week - but ideally I want them balanced. The balance is better if I remove that heavy 9v battery, but it's still not right. Sorry to go on - but I really DON'T like these pre-packaged pickups, and certainly not when they are adding weight to the body.

Putting that aside, it has a nice feeling neck and the out of the box setup for me was just about right. No complaints at the nut, and although I would take the saddle down a little, it is still within acceptable limits. All that means it's nice on the fingers and the intonation is close to perfect across the neck.

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele cutaway


The sound is actually very pleasing to my ears, and sweeter than I would have expected for the price. Sustain is reasonably good and it doesn't sound too muddy or confused at all - really rather clear. It does however sacrifice a bit of punch and volume for that and I do wonder how much of that is also down to the heavy gear in the body.

Strummed though it's perfectly passable although I do wonder if it would get a little lost in a mass jam type scenario. I've actually enjoyed it the most played fingerpicked as the notes do seem to jump out of it when you want to. It does create some bell like notes that you dont often get at this price. Not massively complex, but pleasing all the same. In fact there is much I like about this one.

But it has still frustrated me too. A nicely made ukulele that I think looks great, but I wonder if it could have had  little more 'pure ukulele' if it wasn't so body heavy. I know, I know - beginners will love the idea of a pickup as standard, and this will certainly 'get them going' with their first forays into plugging in. But I think I would really rather see this one without the pickup at all and would probably still recommend it at the same money. And that's the point here. You may be thinking - 'well then the pickup is just a bonus'?... Well I would agree, but only if it didn't affect the core ukulele in any way, but when it's adding this weight I can't help thinking it's  an unwanted addition for me. It just kind of exemplifies why I prefer straight acoustics and fitting my own pickup..

Cordoba 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele label


In fact - they do make one without the pickup - the 20TM (albeit without a cutaway) - I'd recommend that one myself! I'll take a pass on the gubbins!

Check out the video review below!

Thanks to Cordoba for the loan - https://www.cordobaguitars.com

And if you are interested:




UKULELE PROS

Nicely put together and finished
Understated looks with small accents of bling
Nice picked sound
Fair price

UKULELE CONS

Poor quality tuners, with overly large buttons
Very body heavy
Unncessary 'gubbins' pickup with heavy battery
Slightly lower volume than I would like
Offset jack

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.1 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




9 comments :

  1. my first Uke is a Cordoba 15CM with very similar mahogany laminate - it even has that "orangey glow". Same tuners, which stink - the tuner on the "G" string started slipping almost immediately. As a noob uker I didn't know what to do until I saw your video on replacing tuners with Grover 4 frictions, which I did immediately and without issue (except for the little screw holes where the machine plates formerly screwed in). I was also inspired by one of your other videos to lower the action at the saddle and this completely transformed the sound - it now has a much rounder, sweet tone I love. Also, added a passive pickup with a jack and strap button in the tailblock, also simple to do and with no issue. Thanks to your advice I turned it into a nice uke I pick up all the time. Thanks Baz!

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  2. The straight 20TM isn't a bad instrument. The ones I've played at guitar center I couldn't find anything wrong with them. They aren't overbuilt like most at guitar center and generally resonate better. Of course there are better ukuleles but if someone wanted to buy one and they had to get one at guitar center and it was there in store....

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  3. Thanks Brian and that is what I hoped to hear about the straight up 20TM model

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  4. You're not lying about those tuners! My 15CM is a fun little guy that I enjoy very much, but the 4th tuner damn near sticks in place. When you turn it it's a "tick, tick, tick". I've even taken it off, cleaned it and oiled it, and it STILL does it.

    After reading this review I think Cordoba Ukes are like the Alfa Romeos of ukuleles. No one is going to argue that they are the best made and handling thing ever, but there's just SOMETHING about them that convinces you this thing is good.

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  5. I'm glad to see you finally reviewed a Cordoba. I have no interest in a pickup, so the ones I tried felt balanced enough. I really liked them when I was shopping for a tenor and the 23T barely lost out to my Islander SA-4-T. Still sort of wish I got the Cordoba though. I was only testing them, so didn't form a strong opinion on the tuners. I'll keep that in mind if I ever decide I "need" one. A lot of their tenors have a 38mm nut, which I really liked as well. Not sure about the 20TM though.

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  6. Hi Barry, what's it like plugged in?

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  7. It's ok I guess Ian - typical piezo sound from the pickup which works as it should.

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  8. This is the uke that I have and it has done wonders, I've gigged out with it and recorded with it and everything, it continues to do great...currently researching for another uke, just for change in the sound and maybe even the upgraded quality but love the Cordoba Tenor...good uke!

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