From the November 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY PETE MADSEN
Despite being distributed in 60 countries and receiving the “All-time best-selling acoustic guitars in the UK” award by the Music Industry Awards, Tanglewood brand isn’t a household name in the US. But that may change now that the UK-based brand of guitars made in Indonesia and China are being distributed here in the States by a company with a far-reaching network of dealers.
Korg recently picked up the brand, which has a line of instruments ranging from jumbos to grand auditoriums, and smaller parlor-sized guitars, with myriad features and exotics wood choices like amara, spalted mango, and koa. We picked out two new guitars, from two different lines—the parlor-sized TWJP and the orchestra-sized TW2 ASE.
The TWJP is part of the Java line, which evolved from Tanglewood’s popular ukulele line built in Indonesia. They were so impressed with the quality of the ukes that they commissioned a series of guitars from the same factory.
The TWJP is visually striking. The amara and spalted mango back creates an arresting contrast that almost looks like light mahogany and dark cocobolo. And the narrow-grained cedar top has a honey-hued tint that is a lovely counterpart. The only eye-catching drawback was a bit of underspray where the top meets the mahogany binding. The slotted headstock and open-geared tuners give it a vintage vibe. There are no fret markers on the actual fretboard and the dot markers on the top of the neck are small and hard to see, which can make navigation a little tricky.
The Java has crisp and snappy sounds that respond best to a lighter picking attack. This surprised me, since most cedar-topped guitars I’ve played have a more subtle treble voice. Perhaps this is where the amara-mango combination comes in. A heavy pick-attack sounded a little jarring on the light-gauge strings, so I abandoned my thumbpick and played au natural.
As a fingerpicking style of guitar, the TWJP’s neck profile bucked convention. For my hands, the Tanglewood’s 1.69-inch-wide nut felt a little cramped. By contrast, the parlor-sized guitars of the last century had wider nuts and big, chunky necks, which is a plus for some and a turn-off for others who may like a slimmer neck, like the Tanglewood.
I tried some Django-styled strumming and picking on “Minor Swing” and “Oh, Lady Be Good” and found that the sound and easy action provided a sweet backdrop for this style of playing.
The TWJP didn’t have a big boom or respond to a heavy attack, but if your playing leans toward a more delicate touch, you should be able to coax some sweet sounds out of it.
The Winterleaf series is manufactured in China, and the TW2 ASE sports an orchestra-sized body with back, sides, and top all made from solid mahogany. The satin finish and lack of binding add to the TW2’s unobtrusive look. Closed-gear tuners are the only slightly modern touch.
The TW2 is definitely a player’s guitar. The satin-finish neck felt especially silky and smooth on my test guitar. I was able to navigate the fretboard easily as the guitar was set up with low action and light-gauge strings. I strummed my way through some original tunes with Beatles-esque overtones and was pleased with the warmth and mid-treble sparkle. There is a nice, earthy balance between treble and bass that makes this guitar a good fit for traditional folk and blues.
I fingerpicked through a few early blues tunes, including Blind Blake’s “Diddie Wah Diddie” and “Chump Man Blues.” The TW2 creates some nice grit that makes pre-war blues come alive. Fingerpicking in open D (D A D F# A D) was also quite lovely. It’s worth mentioning, however, that just like the parlor I tested, the narrow 1.69-inch-wide nut and narrow string spacing at the bridge made the TW2 feel a little cramped for fingerpicking.
The TW2 is also equipped with B-Band M450T pickup system, with the controls mounted on the side, facing up toward the player. The B-Band has three separate faders for bass, mid, treble, and presence, as well as volume dial and onboard tuner. I plugged the TW2 into a Fishman Loudbox Mini and was able to get a decent sound with little fuss. The chromatic tuner worked well and seemed a bit more accurate than most onboard tuners I have tried.
Tanglewood offers some new and interesting features, such as spalted mango and amara woods, at affordable prices. If you’re shopping with a budget in mind and looking for a guitar that might really suit smaller hands, I recommend taking a look at the TW2 ASE and TWJP.
Tanglewood Java TWJP
Body Parlor-size body with solid cedar top; amara sides with amara and spalted mango back, mahogany binding; sonokeling bridge with compensated plastic saddle, natural gloss finish
Neck 25.6″-scale nato neck, sonokeling fingerboard, mahogany binding; 1.69”-wide plastic nut; nickel open-back tuners
Other Plastic bridge pins and compensated saddle; D’Addario EXP16 coated phosphor bronze light-gauge strings (.012–.053); single strap button
Made in Indonesia
Price $476.99 (MSRP)/$399 (street)
Tanglewood Winterleaf TW2 ASE
Body Orchestra size with solid mahogany top, back, and sides; rosewood bridge with compensated NuBone saddle, natural satin finish
Neck 25.6″-scale mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard, 1.69″-wide NuBone nut, open-geared chrome tuners; dot inlays
Electronics B-Band M450T undersaddle pickup and preamp with three-band EQ and presence controls, plus onboard chromatic tuner
Other D’Addario EXP11 coated 80/20 bronze light-gauge strings (.012–.053)
Made in China
Price $603.99 (MSRP)/$499 (street)
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.