The war to capture the hearts and minds of the budget guitar buyer seems to have shifted. Makers aren't now so concerned about hitting a mind-bogglingly low price - these days, they're all trying to offer the best guitar possible at the various price levels.
A few years ago this battle was all about finish and build quality, and cheap guitars really started to look, feel and play better. However, not all of them sounded great. Often this could be fixed with a pickup and pots upgrade, but spending that extra cash was a bit of a pain. Now, in 2009, delivering the best sound for the pound is the new territory to claim - and there are two new Tanglewoods that sound dangerously good. Here's the first...TSB-57 Signature '57
The '57 name tells you even before you open the case that this is going to be a riff on a maple-necked
theme, but there are enough little changes - a five-way switch, subtle contour tweaks - to keep this guitar clear of total clone territory. Still, the important vintage elements are here: pressed rather than cast bridge saddles, Kluson
-style tuners, staggered-polepiece pickups. The arctic white basswood body is on the heavy side and neck is pretty chubby, but the feel is definitely ‘vintage'. In fact, this guitar feels more like a mid-'70s Strat than a '50s one despite having a V-profile neck, which is actually very nice once you get used to the generous proportions. The frets are well dressed, the fingerboard edges are smooth, and fret tangs have been nicely filed. The guitar plays in tune all the way up and the acoustic sound is rich and resonant.
Maple 'boards can make a guitar feel super-twangy and bright
, and many prefer them for funky rhythm and country. This one-piece neck even has some nice figuring in the maple. The vibrato's three springs clamp the baseplate hard to the body, allowing only forward bends; we'd keep it that way. Sounds
This guitar really has something. The Entwistle AS57 pickups
(Alan Entwistle being the brains behind Tanglewood's design) sound like great vintage single coils. The bridge clean tone is bright and clear without boxiness, and as you step up through the five-way selector you find all the well-known voices from quacky, phasey tones to the mellow, louder brogue of the neck unit. The richness of the bass is quite unexpected.
Hitting the distortion is a bit spooky, because this guitar sounds better and more responsive than many I have played at three or four times the price. The continuity of tone and the sustain are both excellent, so your playing feels really joined-up. Also, the tone controls actually work, taking you away from the soupy-mids roll-off of many cheap guitars towards some subtle, useable changes.
Build and finish-wise these Tanglewoods are well enough made to hold their heads up with the competition, and they sound like proper guitars. If you're looking for a fine starter guitar, an upgrade off the bottom rung or even a spare as a stage backup, it's hard to see where you could go wrong. Look a few over before you buy and request a set-up if necessary, but these are loads of fun, and the sounds are definitely there.