A return to the Got A Ukulele reviews pages for a British musical instrument brand known to many people. This week we are looking at the Tiare TWT1 Soprano Ukulele from Tanglewood.
The Tiare series of instruments are a fairly new line for British brand Tanglewood comprising reasonably priced entry to intermediate level ukuleles. The first one I looked at was the 13 series ukulele which I quite liked and sat towards the top end of the range, but in the TWT1 we move to the more entry level price point.
What we have is a clean looking traditionally shaped soprano uke made out of all mahogany laminate. As I always say with mahogany, it's never going to be visually stunning, because it's quite a plain wood, but you would be surprised at how many brands manage to do it badly. Thats not the case here as this one clearly has a clean build with a nice satin finish showing of the grain. That grain pattern is also nicely orientated top to bottom and the whole thing looks simple but well made. Certainly not unattractive.
The top is made from a couple of pieces of laminate, as are the sides, but it's the back that gets interesting. It's arched, but not right across the back in a full sweep but rather has a pressed 'hump' in the middle that is very reminiscent of the back of Dobro guitars. Tanglewood say it's to help with sound projection, and I wouldn't disagree with that. What I really like about it though is how it looks and feels. With some arched backs you are left thinking 'is it or isn't it' because it's so subtle. Not here.
We have a standard looking tie bar bridge plate screwed in place and it's made from what Tanglewood call 'natural wood'. I'm reading that to mean 'unspecified wood that won't get caught by CITES, and isn't rosewood'. It looks like Walnut to me, but who knows. Either way it looks ok. Fitted into this is an uncompensated plastic saddle.
There is no edge binding, purfling or no other decoration on the body, save for a subtle engraved soundhole rosette which incorporates the T of the Tanglewood logo. That's nice.
Inside is only reasonably tidy with notched linings that show quite a lot of glue seepage. The top is braced, but there are no back braces, relying on the combination of laminate wood and the exaggerated back curve for strength.
For the neck we have a three piece affair with very obvious joints made of Okoume. Being a Chinese made ukulele, the profile is typically far eastern with more of a rounded profile than I would like together with a disappointing 34mm nut. This is topped with more 'natural wood' for the fingerboard but this stuff doesn't look like the bridge. It's dark like rosewood, but I think it is stained and it actually looks like thin laminate strips running from top to bottom. Still, it looks like it's in good condition. You get a generous 15 frets with 12 to the body joint and the ends have been hidden by some dark edging. Sadly, despite that edging the fret ends are still sharp and need work. We have dot inlays on the face at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th, but sadly nothing on the side. One day Baz... one day...
For the headstock they opt for a Martin-esque crown and the Tanglewood logo is engraved in the face. That logo is also repeated with a transfer on the back of the headstock too. I don't know why I like that, but I do.
Tuning is provided by unbranded chrome open gears which are a bit grindy and cheap. You can see the 'value' element by the die casting seam lines on the buttons which don't look great.
There is nothing else with it (ie no gig bag) but a set of Aquila strings, and these are retailing at £49 in the UK which is a price that is hard to argue with I guess. I will however probably be challenged more and more by the flood of Amazon only Chinese instruments which shows no sign of ending...
So it looks pretty well made and because of that it feels good and solid in the hands. Sadly it's a touch neck heavy which is something of a red line for me, particularly in a soprano. The setup is something of a mixed bag too with a saddle action that is too low for my liking (though it's not making it buzz), and a nut action that is too high (which IS throwing out the intonation on the lower frets as you will hear on the video - like all videos, the ukulele is recorded bang in tune at the nut - any odd notes you hear are the result of the setup). Of course - both of these can be easily adjusted and a decent dealer will do that for you.
Intonation issues aside, the TWT1 has a pleasing, typically soprano rhythmical sound that is very percussive and bouncy. The sound projection though, despite that arched back, is a little disappointing. Whilst it's not a quiet instrument it just feels like it could do more. I am fairly sure that low saddle action may not be helping in that regard as low strings can kill volume quite dramatically.
Sustain too seems a little limited, and whilst that no doubt helps the percussive nature, again I would have preferred a bit more. That really disappoints when it is played picked. There just isn't much chime.
All in all the tone is very laminate and a touch boxy, which left me feeling a bit flat. Maybe the intonation issues were clouding my judgement as there is nothing worse than hearing slight dischord when playing, but I think there are other sound issues here too. I've no doubt a good setup would improve it, but i'm not sure that is going to boost sustain though or make it sound any richer.
It's therefore hard to give this one a high recommendation, although the price is reasonable and it's certainly not a ukulele I would suggest you avoid altogether. A beginner would probably get on with this pretty well in fact, asssuming it was set up properly. But considering the vast amount of competition out there at this price point now, I think you can do better with your money.
Good solid build
Nice arched back
Simple but attractive looks
Sharp fret ends
No side markers
In need of setup
Cheap feeling tuners
Lacking sustain and volume
Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6.5 out of 10
Sound - 6.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.5 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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