Tanglewood TW130SMCE Review

This all-mahogany fingerpicker comes attractively decked out with a slotted head, a cutaway, simple decoration and a B-Band system with soundhole control.

Cutaway orchestra-size electro acoustic. Made in China
Price: £369.95
Contact: Tanglewood 0113 2872991 www.tanglewoodguitars.co.uk

In the world of steel-string acoustic guitars, slotted headstocks are about as old-school as it gets. They’re a vestige of the European tradition of guitar making that pioneers of American guitar manufacturing such as CF Martin and the Larson brothers carried with them to the new world.

Slotheads are typically associated with smaller body sizes and necks that join at the 12th fret, but the Tanglewood TW130SMCE has an orchestra-size body with a 14th fret join and a cutaway for access all the way up to the 20th fret. Combining vintage and new features in this way can often result in guitars that look oddly out of proportion, but the TW130SMCE slots into Tanglewood’s Premier Historic Series just fine.

The next most striking feature is that the TW130SMCE is all one colour – and that’s because it’s all one type of wood. To be strictly accurate rosewood has been used for the fingerboard, bridge and peghead overlay, but otherwise the overriding theme is mahogany of the African variety. The back is fairly plain, but better-looking timber has been used for the sides and the best stuff has been reserved for the top.

The sides are laminated but the top and back are solid, and that’s easy enough to determine thanks to the absence of binding. In fact the only decorative flourish on the whole body is the herringbone rosette. Even the body finish is satin of the open-pore variety, but the austere vibe suits the updated depression era aesthetic just fine. Unlike the body, the neck has a smooth satin feel and grain filler was clearly used before the finish was applied.

The rounded headstock slots and the open-gear butterbean tuners provide an interesting counterpoint to the contemporary B-Band Crescent pickup system. At a first glance you may even miss the stealthy little control unit, because the controls are tucked away inside the soundhole; just curl your fingers around the edge to adjust volume, treble and bass. There’s also a phase switch and a battery status light. A sealable battery pouch is attached to the neck block, and the pickup itself is an undersaddle piezo.

Nubone is the material used for the nut and compensated saddle. In case you’re wondering, Nubone is nether bone nor particularly new. It’s a lightweight but extremely rigid product Graph Tech describe as a derivation of the more widely-known Tusq. It has been especially formulated, they say, to mimic the sonic qualities of traditional high quality bone while providing vastly superior consistency for large-scale instrument manufacturers.

Peering through the soundhole, it’s evident that the TW130SMCE has been made with a lot of care. The braces are smooth, all the joins and tucks are neatly done, and there’s no glue squeeze out to be seen. Our review example arrived with a medium-low action and there is plenty of scope for adjustment both upwards and downwards. Our only gripe would be the sharp edges of the nut, but a few minutes of careful filing or sanding would remedy that in no time.

Guitar companies like Martin started making plain, no-frills all-mahogany acoustics during the Great Depression. How fitting, then, that mahogany guitars appear to be enjoying something of a revival during yet another calamitous economic downturn. Not all of these mahogany-topped guitars are affordable for cash-strapped musicians, but this Tanglewood certainly is.

The first thing we noticed was the way the whole body vibrates against your chest when the low strings are played. You can actually feel the wood moving, and whether you’re assessing an acoustic or electric, this is always a sure sign that you have a live one in your hands. The TW130SMCE has a very characterful and enjoyable tone that’s pretty far removed from the ubiquitous spruce sound. The bass is relatively deep and well-focused but the upper treble harmonics do not swamp the fundamental frequencies. This guitar certainly has enough brightness and complexity but it really expresses itself through the directness of its midrange.

While both lively and resonant, the TW130SMCE does have a slightly rough and clangy quality. This may not be to everybody’s taste but we certainly like it and it lends itself very well to rootsy picking of the blues and country varieties. It makes for an effortlessly convincing bottleneck tone, too. Having said that, we feel that a set of phosphor bronze strings might help the TW130SMCE to produce an even richer, smoother and more complex tone than the factory-fitted 80/20 coated bronze strings. We’d be quite keen to try a set of round core strings too, simply to ramp the rootsiness up to the max.

The control layout is well thought-out. The phase switch is located dead centre, which gives you a reference point, then the volume control is to the right, and the treble and bass controls to the left. Once you get used to it, adjustments are quick and easy.

For such a lively instrument the TW130SMCE is remarkably feedback-resistant. Perhaps we’re imagining things, but undersaddle piezos are either getting better or manufacturers have finally figured out that the onboard circuitry should filter out the harsher high frequency content for you. Either way, the TW130SMCE system’s starting point is pretty good and you can use the controls for fine-tuning your tone rather than damage limitation.

Guitars in this price range with a solid mahogany back as well as a solid mahogany top are hard to come by, and that extra bit of tone timber does make for a very engaging and enjoyable acoustic tone. When you factor in the cutaway and a very useable pickup system, what’s not to like?