An electro-acoustic plus case for £350? David Mead has the details…
We’ve seen plenty of instruments from Tanglewood in recent years, offering great value for money in the seriously overcrowded budget to mid-price guitar market. This particular model is part of the company’s Nashville range and goes under the name of “TN5 SFCE” and I understand this translates to Tanglewood Nashville Five Super Folk Cutaway Electric, which I guess tells its own story. With a retail price of £350, the TN5 falls squarely into the entry level and so it will be interesting to see if Tanglewood has worked their magic once again…
This is another instance where an instrument has essentially been designed in the UK and built in China. As usual, I’m a little mystified by the designation “super folk” because it looks more like what a lot of companies refer to as “small jumbo” to me. In any case, the upper bout checks in at 290mm with the lower totalling 380mm and a waist of 240mm. Body depth starts at 90mm towards the neck and 100mm at the end pin. So now you know!
Beginning our tour with the guitar’s top, it’s spruce, but Tanglewood’s spec doesn’t tell me which exact type. However, it looks like a nice piece of timber with a good amount of feathering – or medullary rays if you prefer – in evidence on its surface. If you wanted me to guess, I’d say that it looks more Engelmann than Sitka, but I’ve been assured by the highest authorities that only a lab test would tell us for sure.
While we’re here, to my eyes the amber gloss finish might be a little too orange coloured to give an authentic impression of an instrument that has been around the block a few times, it could probably do with being pulled back a tad to let nature have a go at doing the job herself.
The back and sides are African mahogany and, at this price, definitely not solid, but that shouldn’t necessarily be a factor these days. The body is bound with black and white ABS and the teardrop shaped mock tortoiseshell completes the Nashville look nicely.
On to the neck now and it’s a three-piece mahogany affair with a separate heel and a well crafted scarf joint that begins just below the headstock which itself is festooned with sealed back dark nickel tuners.
Flipping the TN5 back over, the front of the headstock has the Tanglewood logo running down its centre on a strip of what looks like maple. There’s an ABS ivory nut at the top of the fingerboard which looks like it has been cut nicely – certainly the action at the first fret looks just about right. Moving on, the fretboard is rosewood with small pearloid position markers in all the appropriate places and a casual fondle of both edges of the fretboard revealed no rough fret ends.
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.
So everything about the TN5 looks fit for purpose, despite my reservations about the colour of the top, and so the next job is to put it through its paces and hear what it has to say for itself.
The TN5’s neck profile is a shallow but widish D which ought to sit well with both fingerstylists and bold strummers alike. A few exploratory chords revealed quite a lot of volume and a sprightly array of bass and treble, the latter sounding particularly young and perhaps a little glassy at the same time. This is a common enough thing with factory fresh spruce tops and I would expect that maturity and use will calm things down quite a lot. Virtually every luthier I’ve ever spoken to says that time is one of the most important factors where tone is concerned, but the guitar needs to be played a lot, too. Both processes work together to loosen up and season the tonewood to help it give off its best a little further down the line. So it’s unwise to either praise or damn an instrument overmuch based on its youthful voice.
The TN5 comes equipped with Tanglewood’s TEQ-3BT onboard electronics. The preamp comprises a tuner with a thumbwheel for volume and push rotaries for treble, mids and bass and the jack socket and battery holder stowed away on the edge of the guitar’s lower bout. When engaged, the tuner mutes the guitar’s output which means that tuning can be carried out in front of an audience without any fuss at all. The screen is bright green and would be easily readable in any low light situation. The rotaries are neatly tucked away flush with the guitar’s body until you need them when a simple push makes each pop up in turn. Great news for choosing your tone settings and forgetting about them.
Once amplified, the TN5 lights up the room. Even with the preamp controls set flat, the guitar sounded very able indeed. A little tweaking soon brought about a sound that I would be happy to use live – a tiny boost to the bass and a smidge more midrange and I was happy. Thus finely tuned I went from fingerstyle to plectrum work with no need to adjust things which is just what you need when you’re on stage and focussing on playing.
It’s always difficult to apply the correct and fair criteria when sitting in judgement of an acoustic guitar. For instance, it would be grossly unfair to have a £7k instrument sitting alongside one that costs appreciably less and base your opinions on how they both fare in a tonal shoot-out. But look at the situation here; the TN5 is a nicely built cutaway electro-acoustic with a decent pickup and a very nice voice that will doubtless improve over the years – all for £349, including a hard case. Considering that, Tanglewood is due a hearty pat on the back for bringing yet another instrument to the marketplace that offers considerable quality at an amazing price.
Need To Know
Model: TN5 SFCE
Retail Price: £349.95
Body Size: Super Folk
Made In: China
Back and Sides: African mahogany
Tuners: Enclosed black nickel
Nut Width: 43mm
Scale Length: 650mm
Onboard Electronics: Tanglewood TEQ-3BT
Strings Fitted: .012 – .053
Gig Bag/Case Included: Fitted hard case
Acoustic test results
Pros: Good quality sounds from an instrument in the entry level price bracket
Cons: Maybe tone down the amber top a bit?
Overall: Tanglewood do it again with another instrument in their range that ticks all the boxes!