I'm always pleased to feature a musical instrument brand I have known for some time on the ukulele reviews page, but haven't had chance to before. This week that honour goes to Tanglewood guitars and a model from their new range of 'Tiare' instruments, the TWT13E Electro Concert Ukulele.
Tanglewood guitars are a British based instrument company that will probably be well known to many in the guitar world for making some pretty decent good value guitars. On the ukulele front I have seen them pop up here and there, but never really had chance to feature one until now. This 'Tiare' model (a Tiare incidentally is a Polynesian flower) is part of quite a large range of other Tiare ukuleles they have recently released and probably sits towards the upper end of those. That isn't to say it's a high end instrument as such as all the Tiare ukuleles have laminate bodies and are priced keenly. That range starts out with some very much 'entry level' models and goes up to encompass a range of more exotic woods, scales and electric options at higher prices. They've clearly generated some interest too as they are carried by one of my ukulele specialist stores of choice in the UK - Eagle Music - that is very encouraging. This one has a different wood option than some of the other lower priced models and as you can see also adds a pickup and a cutaway. Let's take a closer look.
The TWT13E is a standard concert scaled instrument with a typical double bout shape made of all laminate figured pacific walnut. I like the fatter lower bout and whilst there isn't normally much to say about a cutway, I rather like the simple sloping shoulder of the line on this one. The laminate pieces look to be in good order too and the book matching on the two piece top and two piece slightly arched back is done very well. The sides are also in two pieces and the whole thing feels put together pretty well. The grain patterns on the back are really pretty, swirly and match up well, and I think it's a real shame that figuring doesn't appear on the top.
Looking at the sound hole edge the top is pretty thin for a laminate which bodes well. There is no binding or other edge decoration and in fact the only other decoration is the engraved markings around the sound hole which are nicely done and not too gaudy. The whole body is finished in a satin coat which appears to be nicely done too. I'm really not finding any flaws here.
Bridge wise, it's a tie bar style and Tanglewood describe this as 'natural wood' which sounds odd. A bit of digging around tells me it's actually composite poplar, a choice borne out of the CITES regulations restricting rosewood which we are going to see less and less of now. I have no gripe with that, it looks nice enough, and think they should be happy to state what it actually is. Most people now know about CITES or they will do soon, so rosewood alternatives for bridges and fingerboards are really what is to be expected now. The saddle is white plastic and uncompensated.
Elsewhere on the body you will spy the off centre jack socket on the base and the control system on the side. I don't personally like off centre jacks as I prefer them drilled into the tail block for strength if the cable gets snagged - I have in fact seen a hole ripped in the side of a ukulele with an off centre jack. The onboard preamp is their own branded system with tone and volume controls and an inbuilt tuner set in a control mounting in the side of the ukulele. Again, you know that I much prefer passive systems that bypass all the unnecessary weight and extra cabling these systems bring to the party, but I guess for beginners it's a good 'plug and play' option. I just wish they made a TWT13 without the pickup I suppose. (Or just make it passive..)
The neck is made of three pieces of Okoume wood and is topped with a fingerboard of the same 'natural wood' (composite poplar) and is in nice condition. We get 18 frets with 14 to the body and they are dressed reasonably well. By that I mean that they are not sharp, but it's awful close! Position markers are provided in dot form facing out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th (double) 15th and 17th and side markers are sadly absent. The profile of the neck is as expected with a rounded C shape typical of the far east, and the nut is a pleasing enough 35mm.
Beyond the plastic nut is a crown shaped headstock with the Tanglewood logo etched in the face which look nice if a little simple. I quite like it for that though.
Tuning is provided by unbranded open chrome gears with nice small buttons and they work ok , though yes, of course, I would have preferred rear facing pegs! There is a bit of play in these which irritates me but at least they are not the huge plastic button variety.
Finishing it off are a set of Aquila Nylgut strings and a decent quality padded gig bag and that all comes in at an RRP of £159. Let's have a play.
The decent construction described above transfers to the feel of the instrument in the hands. It's not overly heavy, even with that pickup system, it's balanced and feels well built and reliable. The setup on this was just about where I would want it, so no complaints there either.
To play it has a good amount of punch and volume and the sustain is reasonably good. This certainly isn't a ukulele where you will feel lost in a group. What immediately stood out to me was how bright and chimey the tone is which whilst very pleasing did kind of make me long for a bit more bass or a greater breadth to the sound. It's very much a laminate tone, but does have a character to it - albeit a very bright one.
Still, it's a nice ukulele to strum with that brighter tone creating something of a jangle to the sound which I always like, and naturally it's very bright and sweet when fingerpicked too. I suppose what I am saying is that on the tone stakes, it has a 'tone of its own'. It's not bad in any sense, rather it will only suit you if you like the brighter sharper sounds. If you want a warm sounding concert this might not be the one for you.
My only other question mark on this is the pricing. At nearly £160 for a laminate eletro acoustic, I am wondering whether that is a touch high. When you bear in mind that at just over £100 you can get the Laka VUC50EA I recently reviewed, I wonder whether £160 for this is just a bit too much. Sure, the Tanglewood has a more exotic wood than the Laka, a more fully featured pickup, a nice gig bag and better tuners, but then the Laka gives you a solid top... Maybe I am doing this a disservice as that headline price is of course RRP and I wonder if you will be able to grab these for a touch less.
Still, I've liked playing this one, think it's very well put together and attractive too. Certainly a pleasant surprise for this new brand to the reviews page. Worth a look i'd say.
Good overall build quality
Good gig bag
Nice volume and sustain
Tone might be overly bright for some
No side fret markers
Would prefer a passive pickup
Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 8 out 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.3 out of 10
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© Barry Maz
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