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This article was originally published in issue #27
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Tanglewood is a well known name on the acoustic scene, offering everything from starter guitars, up to the high-end, top spec professional instruments and everything in between. Founded in London in 1988, the company builds its guitars in the Far East and has achieved a commanding position in many European markets simply by using the time-honoured formula of offering excellent quality products for not very much money. Recently, Tanglewoods have begun to appear in the USA and Canada, so guitarists there are soon going to be finding out why there's been so much buzz about this brand.
The company's brand new Premier SE series features solid double 'A' grade Englemann Spruce tops and comes in a variety of different side and back timbers to give each model a unique sound - and there's quite a range to choose from. All of them come loaded with an on board B-band Crescent 1 pre-amp, powered by a 9 Volt battery. There's even a very handsome hard case included in your purchase price.
The model we were sent to review was, deep breath now, the TPE SFCE DS, a model name that doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue. I have owned several Tanglewoods in the past and have loved them, so I had a personal interest to see how the Premier SE (long model number) stacked up to my fond and hopefully not rose-tinted memory.
As I mentioned, this model has a solid AA Englemann spruce top, finished in natural satin, giving it a classy, classic look. The back and sides on this model are dao. Dao? The real name for dao wood is Dracontomelon dao. This is a native species in parts of Asia and its good looking appearance has led to its use in high quality veneers. Though it isn't actually related to it, dao bears a resemblance to walnut. Which is all well and good - but how does it sound?
In practice, the combination of dao with a high quality spruce top was a pleasing combination, giving an overall warm tone with a great mid-range. The bottom end was a little lacking if you are used to a bigger bodied guitar but that is what you'd expect from a Super Folk size with a large cutaway. However, despite its size, considerable volume and dynamic range was achievable on this instrument, depending on where you picked/strummed. The mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard and bridge were the perfect match to enhance the richness of sound.
Open die-cast tuners did a great job of keeping everything in tune, and they are adjustable should they start to become loose over time. The actual tuners where a little small for my liking, but that's just a personal taste issue. The neck is a very comfortable shape and actually felt more like an electric guitar profile. The action was fantastic, leading to easy playability but with no issues of fret-buzz or dead spots, this guitar really has been set-up very well indeed. The large cutaway made higher fret access much easier than on many other acoustics. So far as an acoustic guitar everything is adding up to being a fantastic instrument, great tone and playability, but we mustn't forget that this is an electro-acoustic, and this has been the Achilles heel of many a fine acoustic in the past. So how does the Premier SE perform once plugged in?
At first glance you would be forgiven for not realising that it's an electro-acoustic at all as there are no controls on show. The B-Band Crescent EQ is, in fact, installed neatly inside the sound hole, offering control over Volume, Bass, Treble and a Phase button. The controls all worked well, and it's cool having everything out of sight. On the other hand, this idea of concealing everything is starting to crop-up increasingly, but I'm still not entirely convinced of its practical use. When playing live, I'm constantly adjusting not my EQ so much but certainly my volume, and with this set-up it's just not practical to do whilst playing, as you have to get a finger in the sound hole. This is my only gripe with this B-Band set-up. I like the fact it's all tucked away, and adjustment when not playing is straight forward, but for consistent “tweakers” it may cause an issue. Soundwise, though, I'm happy to report there were no quibbles. We plugged straight into our PA system with the speakers quite close by, not once did I have any feedback problems, even when I rolled the bass right up. The Phase button is a nice addition too. The overall tone, feel and response from the guitar was still there when plugged in.
This particular model Premier SE is a fine looking and excellent playing guitar. The tones available from it give the impression of a far more expensive instrument, as does the playability and set-up. A quick tune-up straight out of the box and it was ready to go. Thanks to the EQ system the smooth lines and overall looks aren’t hindered by an ugly array of knobs stuck to the top, but this does also have a drawback as mentioned above. The guitar maintained its high quality sound when plugged in, and would be equally at home unplugged entertaining some mates at a barbecue, or plugged in entertaining a few thousand at a live venue. All that and you get a very handsome case thrown in, too - and all at a very good price. I'm happy to report that my soft spot for Tanglewood Guitars continues to get softer!