Friday, August 18, 2006

Tanglewood - Acoustic Guitars

Sixteen years ago Tanglewood Guitars began selling instruments in England and quickly earned a reputation for excellent value in the competitive midpriced guitar sweepstakes. The company also offers banjos, mandolins, basses, resonators, and PA gear, and at present Tanglewood is reportedly the best-selling acoustic-guitar brand in Europe. Happily, the Canadian company Musiquip recently started importing Tanglewoods to this side of the Atlantic so we can find out first-hand how they stack up in the under-$800 guitar bracket.

Tanglewood offers three guitar lines in North America: the entry-level Indiana series, the intermediate Premiere series, and the top-of-the-line, all-handmade Sundance Pro series. Our review guitar is the TW15-N-NS, a lower-priced Sundance Pro model. Like many guitars in its price range, it’s made in China.

There are more dreadnoughts built than any other body style, and at first glance the TW15-N-NS appears to be just another entry dropped into an already crowded marketplace. But a closer look shows that it was designed and built with unusual care for a guitar in its price range. The well-applied satin finish gives off an understated yet elegant glow, the visible joints are tight, and the tall frets are highly polished and evenly seated. The neck and body are bound in white celluloid, the diamond-shaped inlays in the Indian rosewood fretboard give off a subtle vintage vibe, and the Indian rosewood bridge features a compensated saddle for more accurate intonation.

Inside, the TW15-N-NS is as cleanly constructed as the exterior and, even when examining the underside of the top with a mirror, I couldn’t see any flaws or sloppy glue joints. Instead, I found nicely scalloped braces, a small rosewood bridge plate, and well-executed linings (the strips of small blocks that join the top to the sides). The top is solid spruce, with a uniform color and evenly spaced grain lines.

But does it sound as good as it looks? The answer is an unqualified “Yes!” The solid African mahogany back and sides, paired with the scalloped top bracing, produce shimmering trebles without a hint of sizzle, robust yet balanced mids, and deep, well-defined bass with none of the tubbiness that sometimes afflicts dreadnoughts in this price range. The TW15-N-NS has the clarity and definition to let you hear individual chord notes during soft picking patterns, yet it has enough headroom to withstand all but the most furious strumming.

The action on our test model was slightly high, but the guitar has a good neck angle and a tall saddle, so it should be no problem for a competent repair-person to set it up for your personal style. The mahogany neck is on the slim side, making it a good choice for electric-guitar players looking for an acoustic with a fast feel. Flatpickers, bluegrass and otherwise, should find that the sleek profile makes it easy for their fretting hands to move from string to string, although players used to a bulkier “vintage” shape might think the neck is a bit too slender. Also, some fingerpickers may find the 1 11/16-inch nut and 2 1/4-inch string spacing at the saddle a tad narrow.

Like most dreadnoughts, the Tanglewood TW15-N-NS sounds best when played somewhat aggressively, but it doesn’t wimp out when you back off. It’s well designed, impeccably crafted, and tastefully appointed. It’s hard to believe that, only a few years ago, a solid-wood guitar of this quality would have set you back at least $1,000. The TW15-N-NS is a fine choice for an ambitious beginner, a pro picker on a budget, or anyone who just appreciates getting a lot of bang, twang, and pleasurable plucks for their hard-earned bucks.


Post a Comment

<< Home