The humble ukulele’s popularity has been on the rise over the last few years, not least because these instruments are easy to carry around and plenty of fun to play.
The quartet of ukes we’ve received for testing – the TU-1CE, the TU-3, the TU-3E and the TU-5 – are all part of Tanglewood’s mahogany-bodied Union-series.
All Union-series ukuleles have mahogany necks with glued-on neck heels and headstocks.
The fingerboards have been crafted from rosewood.
Tanglewood’s geared, open tuners work very well.
Ukuleles come with one of several different bridge designs, depending on the manufacturer.
Tanglewood has chosen the most practical ukulele bridge, which anchors the knotted string ends in little slots cut into the top of the bridge.
All Union-series ukuleles have a sound box made from laminated mahogany.
The instruments have received a clear satin finish.
Tanglewood’s TU-1CE (current price in Finland 116 €) is a soprano ukulele with a deep cutaway. It comes with a pickup and preamp installed.
The soprano is the smallest of the common four ukulele sizes. The TU-1CE has a scale of only 34.5 cm.
The workmanship on this Tanglewood (built in the Far East) is very good in relation to its low price. Look at that clean neck joint!
The TU-1CE sports 16 small frets, as well as dot position markers.
This soprano comes factory-equipped with top quality Aquila Nylgut strings.
The Tanglewood’s preamplifier is powered by a button cell and offers controls for volume and tone, as well as a chromatic tuner.
The Tanglewood TU-3 (119 €) is a concert-sized uke. A stylish hardcase is included in the price.
A Concert-ukulele is the next bigger size to a soprano.
This model has a 37.5 cm scale.
This TU-3 has an exceptionally nicely grained body…
…with a highly figured back.
The TU-3’s electroacoustic version – the Tanglewood TU-3E (129 €) – comes equipped with the same preamp model we’ve already seen on the TU-1CE.
The TU-3E’s fingerboard offers you 18 small frets.
The simple rosette found on all Union-series ukuleles complements the organic, woody look of the instruments very well.
The output jack is situated on the lower rim.
Just like the two Union concert-ukuleles, Tanglewood’s baritone uke, the TU-5-ukulelessa (149 €), also comes in its sturdy case.
The baritone is the largest traditional ukulele size, with the TU-5’s scale length measuring 51.2 cm.
The TU-5is equipped with 20 small frets. Our test sample came with a set of black nylon strings tuned to High-g-tuning (d4-g3-h3-e4), meaning that the fourth string is one octave above a regular guitar string.
This is what the TU-1CE sounds like when recorded with a condenser microphone:
The built-in piezo system results in a very decent direct sound:
This clips mixes the microphone with the piezo output:
I recorded the concert-sized Tanglewoodin TU-3 with an AKG C3000 and a Shure SM57:
Acoustically, the piezo-equipped TU-3E sounds virtually indentical to the all-acoustic TU-3:
Sadly, our test sample displayed some sort of trouble with its under-saddle transducer (probably an uneven bridge slot), which rendered the pickup sound rather useless, because the middle pair of strings was much louder than the two outermost strings:
Here’s a mix of the TU-3E’s electric and acoustic signals:
I recorded Tanglewood’s TU-5 baritone uke using an AKG C3000 condenser microphone and Shure’s dynamic model SM57:
Tanglewood’s Union-series ukes are well-made, lightweight instruments with a very down-to-earth charm.
Regardless of their low price tags these ukes are decent musical instruments, not toys!
I must say I enjoyed Tanglewood’s fat neck profiles a lot. These are neck a grown-up man can hold on to!
Judging by the fine performance of the TU-1CE’s pickup system, I’m willing to believe that the TU-3E’s underwhelming pickup sound is just a one-off oversight in quality control.
Still, the whole picture is really very positive, both in terms of workmanship and sound. The inclusion on classy-looking hard cases in the price of the three ”bigger” models on test makes these Tanglewoods even more enticing. In my view, Tanglewood’s Union-series ukuleles are a great, and affordable, way to get to know the Hawaiian cousin of the guitar.
Tanglewood Union-sarja ukuleles
Finnish distributor: Musamaailma
TU-1CE – 116 €
TU-3 – 119 €
TU-3E – 129 €
TU-5 – 149 €
Pros (all models):
+ satin finish
+ Aquila-strings (except for TU-5)
+ case included (not with TU-1CE)
+ TU-1CE: good-sounding piezo system
– TU-3E: piezo system’s performance in review sample
– TU-5: spongy feel of factory-installed strings