Fueled by reader requests for an overview of currently available small-body guitars, Acoustic Guitar invited manufacturers to send us samples of their small-body instruments with list prices between $500 and $1,000. We ended up with 11 guitars that are surprisingly diverse in sound and feel, some inspired by vintage instruments and others with more modern body and neck shapes, materials, and appointments. In checking out these guitars, I was assisted by Pete Madsen, a San Francisco Bay Area fingerstyle blues guitarist, teacher, and frequent Acoustic Guitar contributor. Here’s our review of the Tanglewood TW-40-O-AN.
UK-based Tanglewood Guitars has enjoyed great success in the European market with its Asian-made line of guitars, which are now available in North America as well. The TW-40-O-AN we received for review may be the most accurate re-creation of a vintage Martin OM at a budget price that we’ve seen. Pretty much every dimension, from the body size and proportions to the wide neck with V-shaped profile to the string spacing at the saddle to the diamond volute in the back of the headstock, is spot on; with my eyes closed, I could have easily been fooled based on the guitar’s feel alone—it’s even lightweight! The two main differences between the TW-40-O-AN and the vintage design are its scale (slightly longer than standard, but virtually imperceptible) and its teardrop pickguard (rather than the smaller OM style). The guitar is basically a style-18 guitar, with simple appointments and mahogany back and sides. The instrument’s craftsmanship was clean, but the finish seemed a bit thick in some areas, such as around the neck/body joint. The mahogany used for the guitar’s back was cosmetically plain, and the spruce top had a lot of dark streaks in its tight grain. With its roomy string spacing and quick tonal response, the TW-40-O-AN is ideally suited for playing fingerstyle. It had a somewhat delicate and bright voice, but with enough warmth and dynamics to approximate vintage OM character. When played harder or strummed the tone became a bit compressed and lost complexity. But overall, Tanglewood has managed to bring more authentic OM performance to the table than most, especially when it comes to the guitar’s feel.
SPECS: Solid spruce top. Laminated mahogany back and sides. Two-piece mahogany neck with dovetail joint. Rosewood fingerboard and bridge. Scalloped X-bracing. 25.6-inch scale. 1 ¾-inch nut width. 2 5/16-inch string spacing at saddle. Chrome open-back tuning machines. Light-gauge Elixir strings. Made in China.
PRICE: $679 list/$499 street.
MAKER: Tanglewood Guitar Co.: (866) 832-8679; tanglewoodguitars.com.
See all 11 Affordable Small-Body Flattops.