Tanglewood TRD-VS-E Review

AG 222 June 2011

Posted by Jason Borisoff

Founded in England in 1991, Tanglewood Guitars has become a leading guitar brand in England and Australia, with growing markets in China, Russia, and India. Now, through the Montreal-based distributor Musiquip, Tanglewood guitars are available in North America. With more than 100 models available in virtually every traditional tonewood configuration and body size, as well as mandolins, banjos, and acoustic basses, the Tanglewood line has something to offer any guitarist. The TRD VS E, the model we received for review, is part of Tanglewood’s Rosewood Reserve line, which features solid Sitka spruce tops and Indian rosewood backs and sides in a variety of body sizes, including 12-string and left-handed models.

Gibson Style and Vibe

The TRD VS E adds an onboard B-Band T35 preamp and undersaddle pickup to Tanglewood’s base-model slope-shoulder TRD VS. In addition to its solid Sitka spruce top and laminate Indian rosewood back and sides, the guitar has a one-piece mahogany neck, maple and herringbone body binding, and a bone nut and saddle. The gold Kluson-style tuners with butterbean keys and Indian rosewood soundhole rosette finish off a very well appointed instrument.

As I inspected the guitar, I was immediately struck by the immaculately applied sunburst finish. You can also see that the maple and herringbone binding that borders the body is perfectly laid, as is the binding along the neck and headstock. The mother-of-pearl inlay on the sharp, angular headstock is beautiful, the solid Sitka spruce top is tight and even-grained, and the Indian rosewood veneer on the back and sides looks great. While I can appreciate the subtle nod to tradition with the vintage-style tuners, the textured, boxy gear housings are a little gaudy for my taste.

Comfortable Feel and Action

I’m more accustomed to standard dreadnoughts, but since the TRD VS E’s 4 5/8-inch deep body at the lower bout is slightly thinner than my D-18’s, the Tanglewood is a better fit for my smaller frame. It’s very comfortable to hold, and my picking hand didn’t have to strain in the least to reach the strings. The neck profile is neither too slim nor too chunky, and I could tell that a lot of time went into making this guitar play great right out of the box. The neck, combined with the guitar’s big round frets, allowed me to use a lot of slides between frets, and I found myself easily pulling off licks that I typically struggle to execute on other guitars. The low action only becomes an issue when trying to belt out bluegrass leads, but this is easily adjustable with a setup if you prefer higher action.

Dry and Woody Tone

The TRD VS E guitar sounds every bit as good as it plays. It has a wonderfully dry, woody tone, with the growly, but not boomy, bass you expect from a rosewood guitar, with sufficient top-end sparkle for rhythm playing. For single-note leads, the strings speak with a full-bodied, bell-like roundness that cuts very well. And as long as I didn’t pick too aggressively, it sounded right at home with bluegrass leads and flatpicked fiddle tunes. It also sounds great accompanying solo folk singing. Strumming and singing some Bob Dylan tunes, I really enjoyed the instrument’s full-bodied tone and dynamic response. And on a pass through Tony Rice’s version of “Church Street Blues,” the TRD VS E provided enough resonance to fill out the tune without obscuring the intricate cross-picking.

To check out the TRD VS E’s B-Band electronics, I brought it along to a few open mics, and it sounded great plugged in to the PA, with none of the usual “plunky” sound I tend to associate with undersaddle pickups. The tone controls of the B-Band T35 are easily manipulated into producing a good sound, and I never once had a problem with feedback. To push the volume envelope a bit, I strummed and sang with a folk-rock group, but found, even with it plugged in, that the instrument didn’t have enough punch to poke through the electric instruments and drums, getting lost somewhere in low-mid no-man’s-land. The onboard tuner is quite accurate, and the battery compartment on the lower bout, which slides out when you need to change batteries, is pretty slick, too.

J-45 Style on a Budget

It’s rare to find an instrument in this price range that has had such attention to setup, finish, and binding. And the TRD VS E is more than a looker; the big, versatile tone lends itself to a variety of genres and playing styles, and the onboard electronics offer great-sounding amplification in most playing situations. It would be a great choice for players looking for a quality departure from the standard Martin-style dreadnought vibe, but who don’t want to spring for a vintage Gibson J-45.

SPECS:

Slope-shoulder 14-fret dreadnought body. Solid Sitka spruce top. Laminate Indian rosewood back and sides. Scalloped X-bracing. One-piece mahogany neck. Indian rosewood fingerboard. 25.59-inch scale length. 111/16-inch nut width. 21/16-inch string spacing at saddle. Polyurethane gloss finish. Vintage-style gold tuners with butterbean keys. D’Addario EXP11 80/20 bronze light-gauge strings. B-Band T35 preamp and undersaddle pickup. Made in China.

PRICE: $629 list/$479 street.

MAKER: Tanglewood Guitar Co.: (866) 832-8679;tanglewoodguitars.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar June 2011

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