Tanglewood TW155-ST and Tanglewood TW73

It used to be easy: There were entry-level, budget acoustic guitars that played and sounded cheap. For a couple hundred bucks you could buy a guitar that sported a plywood top, cheap tuners, an ugly, thick finish, painted fretboard, and action high enough to dry laundry on. If you wanted an upgrade instrument—one with a solid top, sealed tuners, and improved playability, looks, and sound—that would cost more. Much more.

Well, things have changed. In recent years, the quality of entry- and mid-level guitars has improved dramatically. What would have previously been a prohibitively expensive instrument can now be purchased for next to nothin’. The folks at Tanglewood have read the writing on the wall and like so many other manufacturers, are producing guitars overseas that deliver impressive quality without breaking the bank. Tanglewood’s TW155-ST and TW73 offer cool features, tone, and playability, along with very cool price points.

Tanglewood TW155-ST

The TW155-ST ($599 retail/$449 street) is a super-jumbo acoustic/electric from Tanglewood’s mid-level Premiere Series. It has a big, but graceful look, with the outline of the pickguard echoing the smooth, rounded cutaway. The solid spruce top goes nicely with the rich mahogany back and sides, and the spruce neck binding ties the woods together in an elegant, organic fashion. The binding around the top and soundhole is very clean, and the abalone position markers look great. The chrome Grover tuners look smart and work perfectly. There are a couple of funky cosmetic issues that detract a bit from the 155’s good looks, including some uneven staining on the neck, and what appears to be a burn mark where the neck meets the body. Likewise, there are two drip marks on the satin-finished top. Not a huge deal, but still. To their credit, Tanglewood is aware of these issues and has already taken steps to correct them.

The TW155 cranks out a full, balanced sound. It’s not quite as loud as I expected, given its super-jumbo body, but it sounds very musical with no woofy low or low-mid frequencies that can afflict some jumbos. It doesn’t compress with hard strumming and stays sweet and ringy. Fingerpicked parts have good definition and project well.

The 155 definitely scores high marks from a playability standpoint, with its comfy, one-piece neck and low, buzz-free action. Any electric player could pick up this guitar and start burning away with no culture shock whatsoever. Bravo!

The 155 sports a B-Band pickup and A3.2 preamp—a great addition. The guitar’s amplified tones are very sweet with no squashing or quacking. The onboard EQ—with bass, mid, treble, and presence controls—is extremely flexible with perfectly chosen center frequencies and tons of range. It was easy to dial in “normal” tones but I also dug some of the left-of-center sounds with exaggerated lows or highs, which were unusual but still very usable.

This Tanglewood would be a cool choice for players who want a fast-playing, lead-friendly acoustic with great electronics in a cool-looking, jumbo-sized package. A couple of cosmetic issues aside, this is a lot of acoustic for the money.

Tanglewood TW73 Parlour
The TW73 ($749 retail/$599 street) is a small-bodied parlour-style guitar that represents Tanglewood’s high-end Sundance Pro Series. The folks at Tanglewood have put more into this instrument and in all of the right places: solid Canadian cedar top; solid African mahogany back; Grover tuners; and mother-of-pearl inlays in the headstock, fretboard, and rosette. This guitar exudes style and mature elegance.

The first things I noticed when picking up the TW73 were its light weight, shallow neck, and nicely finished frets. There is no scarf joint—where the headstock attaches to the neck—on Tanglewood guitars and the volute at the back of the headstock adds an element of class as well as structural integrity to the instrument. The action is low enough for comfortable playability sans fret buzz, intonation is good, and the Elixir strings that ship with the guitar sound and feel great. One very subjective remark: On this style of guitar, I generally prefer a slightly wider neck and string spacing to accommodate fingerstyle techniques.

Despite its diminutive size, this guitar sounds very big. Smacking an open chord, low notes sound full, and high notes sparkle with excellent string-to-string definition. The guitar is small, so at first I wanted to treat it with a delicate touch. But aggressive strumming pays big sonic dividends with a musically rich combination of note content and percussive attack.

I decided to put the TW73 to the test by seeing how well it would record. I laid down tracks with a single AKG C1000S condenser mic pointed at the fretboard’s 12th fret. Double tracking and then hard panning strummed chords instantly provided a beautifully full and rich rhythmic sheen with no boominess, rattles, or other artifacts. Single-note melodic overdubs had clarity with body and earthy character. This guitar records very well, and while I did compress the single-note track a little, I didn’t need to monkey around too much with EQ or other effects. This instrument is fairly even at every register.

Delicate chord-melody passages, fingerstyle arpeggios, flatpicked single-note soloing, percussive slapping and strumming, harmonics—all these techniques just leap out of this surprisingly versatile guitar. Overall, the TW73 is really enjoyable to play and listen to. This little guitar would be a great choice for intermediate players or seasoned pros looking for a cool-sounding alternative to the standard dreadnought fare.