Another first for a brand on the Got A Ukulele reviews pages, this time from globally known Cordoba musical instruments and their 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.
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.
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.
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..
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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 PROSNicely put together and finished
Understated looks with small accents of bling
Nice picked sound
UKULELE CONSPoor quality tuners, with overly large buttons
Very body heavy
Unncessary 'gubbins' pickup with heavy battery
Slightly lower volume than I would like
UKULELE SCORESLooks - 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
© Barry Maz