All-mahogany guitars are ten a penny these days, but where does the new Tanglewood Sundance Delta fit into what’s become a fiercely competitive market? Acoustic has the answers…
Words by Guy Little Images by Richard Ecclestone
There have been lots of glowing Tanglewood reviews in recent issues of Acoustic offering great value for money in a crowded marketplace, but the Sundance Delta is one with a fight on its hands. It’s not only competing in a competitive sub-£500 marketplace, but it’s doing so in what has almost become a sub niche of the acoustic guitar world: all-mahogany guitars. In doing so, the Tanglewood puts itself up against rivals from some of the biggest manufacturers on the planet such as Martin and Taylor – and not to mention the likes of Sigma and Faith, both latterly offering all-mahogany guitars for around the £500 mark. Better get the boxing gloves out then, eh?
The Sundance Delta range has three models within it: the orchestra we have for review here (TW40 O D), a slope-shouldered dreadnought, and a parlour – so right away, if an orchestra-sized or “folk-sized” guitar isn’t your thing, they’ll have you covered with one of the others.
This is another guitar designed in the UK and manufactured in China – something we see a lot now – and manufacturers are keen to keep away from “guitar shaped object” tags because of its factory origin. The Tanglewood TW40 O D’s body size is based on the classic Martin OM guitars of the 30s and 40s and immediately feels welcome on your knee – it’s a familiar size, with familiar tonewoods, and hopefully that familiar Tanglewood value for money. Let’s find out…
At this price, the back and sides are unquestionably laminated mahogany (and that shouldn’t really matter these days anyway), but the top is all-solid mahogany and it seems to be a nice piece, indeed. It shows a lot of the wood’s figuring and is finished with a simple soundhole rosette design matching that of the top’s binding: fine black and white ABS. It looks elegant set off against the grain of the mahogany. The gloss finish is applied perfectly, too, without so much as any unevenness on the top, back or the sides. No build up at the heel either – good signs from stuff coming from China, then. That attention to detail is also evident in the playability of the TW40, which is about as good as you’ll find on any acoustic guitar in a similar price range. The neck is the usual comfortable but widish D shape we’re used to on a lot of Tanglewood guitars and each fret on the rosewood fingerboard is perfectly seated and dressed. The D’Addario 12-54 gauge strings are set at a medium action making the guitar comfortable to play, yet absolutely buzz- and rattle-free. A rosewood bridge marks the end of the string length with an ABS ivory compensated saddle in its midst and six white string pins just behind.
As this guitar has a solid mahogany top and not a laminated one, the actual sound and response of this guitar will improve over time. Laminate tops tend not to change or mature in tone, whereas solid tops will get better as the years – or even months – pass. It does have laminated back and sides to keep the price down, but don’t let that worry you – some of the world’s finest jazz guitars often use laminate woods and the extra strength they offer can be useful. In fact, sometimes the use of laminate for the back and sides can tighten up the tone. If all-mahogany guitars have a weakness, it tends to be that they can sound somewhat soft, but this Tanglewood doesn’t fall prey to that. This guitar is loud and punchy – I’ve got a hunch that the laminate is doing that. The guitar can sound a little brash when played with a pick, but we’d expect that side of its character to mellow out a bit as that solid top matures.
The projection when picking or strumming is great and drop down into alternate tunings like drop D and open G, and the tonal properties stick – there’s even definition without losing any of the midrange or muddying of bass notes. It’s not loud by dreadnought standards, but by orchestra guitar standards, it packs a punch. It can be tamed with some delicate fingerstyle noodling, but it will certainly cut through when you need it to overtake the mandolins or banjos. The sound is clear, defined, and expressive – don’t be fooled into thinking all-‘hog guitars are only warm or mellow (sure, some are, but get out and try before you buy!).
One thing’s clear with Tanglewood: they are good guitars because they deliver all the essentials of what constitutes a dependable, easy-playing and good-sounding workhorse instrument. They’re well-made and reward your playing, yet at the same time are ones that you don’t need to feel too precious about knocking or taking down to the pub for the open mic. It’s not going to win in a tonal shoot out with a Martin – but not much would.
Details such as the second strap button and the gloss finish top add to the guitar’s workhorse appeal. While there’s a second strap button at the heel (alluding to live performance), there’s no pickup here. Perhaps that’s something we could see from Tanglewood at a later date, but should you need to put one in yourself, it wouldn’t be too much of a fuss.
So, the rivals – can it stand up to them? On tonal virtues alone, then yes. It does sound as good as some others in a similar price range. But can it stand up to them as a complete package? Not so much. Tanglewood would need a case and pickup included for that. That’s not to say it isn’t a good guitar, because it is, but if you’ve got around £400 – £500 to spend, you could see yourself with all-solid, all-‘hog, case, pickup and all – so be sure that you’ve looked at everything on offer. Some cheaper Tanglewood models come with a case, so I’m unsure why they wouldn’t offer one here when all of their rivals do. If that were the case – and you can excuse the pun – then this guitar would be up there as a great value for money package. It’s also just a very good guitar – it doesn’t have any big character to shout about. It struggles to get away from the “guitar shaped box” aspect mentioned earlier – it’s a good one, sure – but the guitar needs its own character to stand out. A Martin 000-15M has that all-’hog character and when you play it you just know it’s a Martin – but, having said that, it costs a grand (unless you search eBay and find one for around £600). There is so much competition in this price range – and that makes it difficult to assertain where to place value for money when you can get other guitars with a case and pickup for around the same amount of cash. What this Tanglewood is, though, is a well-made, dependable guitar for an amateur player on a budget. Aside from anything else, this guitar will look cooler the more road-worn it becomes – so if this guitar is for you, gig it and give it that character it deserves.
Tanglewood Sundance Delta Historic
Need to Know
Model: Sundance Delta Historic TW40 O D
Retail Price: £400
Body Size: Orchestra
Made In: China
Top: Solid mahogany
Back and Sides: Mahogany
Tuners: Enclosed chrome
Nut Width: 44.5mm
Scale Length: 650mm
Onboard Electronics: No
Strings Fitted: D’Addario 12-53
Gig Bag/Case Included: No
Acoustic test results
Pros: Good looks, solid top for under £500, and a great reputation behind the brand.
Cons: No case, pickup or “character” to shout about.
Overall: A well-made guitar from a reputable brand with a history of delivering great value-for-money acoustics – but do check out what else you can get at this particular price point first.
Sound Quality: 4
Build Quality: 4
Value for Money: 3