We love cedar tops – and now Tanglewood has a pair of guitars with just that, plus some spectacular pieces of tree for backs and sides, and all at a very good price. Review by Rick Batey.
The new Java series from UK-based company Tanglewood comprises a set of four guitars – well, two really, but with an electro option on each – with some tempting timber. Solid cedar, known for its easy-speaking tone, is used for the tops – that makes a pleasant change from sitka spruce. The backs and sides are laminated with rosewood on the inside, but it’s what’s on the outside that stands out: dark, stripey, almost ebony-like amara wood for the sides and the outer sections of the backs, and spalted mango for the backs’ central sections – a golden, flamey, almost koa-like timber with characterful dark disease lines. It’s one heck of a look, giving much of the aura of a super-high-end instrument.
The TWJF E is an 000-sized guitar with a full 650mm/25.5″ scale length. It’s your classic, slim, comfortable 000, then, and our first impressions are that it’s very neat, very glossy all over, and slightly heavy. The warm-hued cedar top is extremely even-grained and set off by mahogany edge binding (coachlined on both top and sides with a black/white line) with a dead simple soundhole rosette. Around the back, the mango is delineated from the amara with more coachlined mahogany. The bridge – Tanglewood’s familiar slightly ‘winged’ design – is sonokeling rosewood, with cream bridge pins and a compensated nut made of PPS plastic… most likely much the same material as Tusq. Truss rod access is through the soundhole.
The neck is nato, with a stacked heel, mahogany binding and a sonokeling fingerboard. It’s decorated with a pearl peghead logo and 12th fret emblem, an amara headstock facing and a mango heelcap. There’s a 43mm-wide PPS nut, 20 neatly-installed narrow-gauge frets, and a set of chrome Waverley-alike open-back tuners (the B tuner is noticeably notchy). The set-up is nice, from nut to neck relief, and though the neck set doesn’t give a massive amount of saddle it’s certainly adequate.
The TWJF sounds very nice. It’s bright yet smooth, together and controlled, with a firm but not boomy bottom end and bouncy mids, while the smooth tuning and excellent intonation make it a pleasure to play everywhere on the neck. Cedar has a reputation as an open-sounding topwood from the get-go and this one is quite lively, but with a real richness underneath it all. Being the ‘E’ model this guitar has a Fishman Sonitone system with soundhole-mounted Vol and Tone controls. String balance is very even, and the tone control is handy for rolling off piezo-y highs. Aside from the inconvenience of having a battery bag taped to the bass-side rim quite a long way inside, the electro side hard to fault.
In terms of timber and general build the parlour-sized TWJP is exactly the same as the 000; finished in gloss all over, with a pseudo three-piece back of amara and spalted mango, amara-faced rims, an impressively close-grained cedar top, a nato neck with a sonokeling fingerboard, mahogany binding… and the same bridge and open tuners and, inside, the same spruce X-bracing.
The differences? Size, obviously: at 334mm or a shade over 13” across the lower bout and with a 12th fret neck to body join, it’s a real sofa picker. It’s also a whole lot lighter, though our non-electro review model accounts for a few ounces of that. The headstock – which is noticeably deep – is slotted this time, while the scale length is shorter at 626mm, or round about 24.75″. Nut and bridge dimensions are the same, the neck profile a touch deeper and clubbier, and this guitar does feel a touch less spacious to move around. Also, the more acute break-angle over the nut makes the tuning a touch more sticky than on the TWJF. Fretting, action and intonation is just as good as on the sister model.
Summoning richness from a small guitar is no easy feat. There’s no way you’ll get a guitar that sounds like a Collings Baby or a Santa Cruz Firefly without spending that kind of money and our first impression was that the TWJP rises to the challenge with a bit less aplomb than its 000-sized sister. Initially it was zingy, loud and eager but with a boxiness, a bluesy edge slightly at odds with the sumptuous-looking woods. After an hour or so of playing it did begin to open up, with good sustain and more warmth coming through. You can’t beat physics, but it’s a likeable little guitar.
‘How much did THAT cost?’ is a question you’ll definitely hear when playing one of these exotic-looking Tanglewood Javas. But they’re not all big hat, no cattle. Build quality is fine, solid cedar tops give you playing satisfaction right out of the box, and the 000 especially is, we reckon, a very nice guitar by any standards.