tenor_ukeChristmas 2012 was fast approaching, it was in November that I had really made up my mind to buy a tenor ukulele. I just didn’t know which brand to buy. I tried a great many ukuleles, of many brands, sizes, prices – my god, they can be expensive! - and levels of quality. I received much advice, both helpful and ill-informed, from honest but ukulele-ignorant guitar specialists to the “just buy the thing” type of vendor.

I played ‘em all.  I played ‘em all again, and again. Eventually I found one which just felt right: it seemed to ‘belong’ to me, even before I had seriously considered it as a viable contender.

I bought the Tanglewood Union Series TU4 Tenor.

Even with the so-called horrible black strings, which I had to constantly retune in the store (note: always carry your own electronic uke tuner – it impresses the hell out of in-store musos), it sounded and played better than every other uke of any size, and of any price, that I trialled in many stores.

And the sound!

The tone is sweet and true, the action just right for me. I played a few favourite ‘twingles’ and strums and I noted the store personnel looking up from their own playing to see what instrument was sounding so melodiously. I know this to be true as one came over to me to examine the instrument. He looked at it as if he’d never actually heard a ukulele being played properly before nor make anything but an ineffectual strum. We chatted a bit and he told me its price.

The store price was $160, very cheap for a tenor uke. The nearest competitor was $240, and its tone was dead, it was not even a real contender.

The TU4′s overall size is a little smaller than most other tenor ukes but its neck length is the same. I could stretch my fingers to cover from first to sixth frets with clear sounding on each fretted string.

The vendor also informed me that it came with a hard case.

I was hooked. I knew I had some Christmas money coming (I prefer to receive money for Christmas so I can buy exactly what I want) so I deferred payment but put the instrument on hold for two weeks.

Searching online for similar deals and comparable prices – you can bargain sometimes and get lower prices, I found an extraordinary deal and went back to the shop armed with cash (always better to pay in cash – you might get a discount) and print outs from various online offers.

I showed all the deals except one, my trump card, and the manager, standing beside my sales assistant, agreed to meet the best price I could show him. My trump card was duly laid on the counter, $120 offered by the online version of very store I was standing in.

Needless to say the deal was made and I had obtained my longed for tenor ukulele.

The facts that its full price was at least AU$100 cheaper than its nearest comparable (sound quality/ease of play) uke, that I received a $40 discount and that it came with a hard-case are icing on the cake – with candles.

The PROs:
1. It is very light (see CONs), however, it has a very solid construction.
2. Easy to finger – I have large hands.
3. A sweet, clear tone.
4. Very inexpensive.
5. Includes a hard case.

uke_in_case tenor_uke_case

 

The CONs:
1. It’s amazingly light for a tenor uke, 469g, you feel you might crush it if you clasp it too tightly. I also own an Eleuke Peanut MP3 solid body soprano 557g and a KeAloha UK40 soprano 410g. **see pic below** The lightness was disconcerting and made me feel something may have been left out of the construction. However on investigating other Tanglewood products -guitars etc – I found the lightness is normal.
my_3_ukes

2. Tanglewood Ukes seems to have a negative reputation. Almost all the musician salesmen I approached turned their noses up when I mentioned the Tanglewood range, as though it were a substandard instrument.
3. Black strings. I haven’t replaced mine yet but I will fairly soon. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with them exactly, but there’s something not quite ‘right’ about them either – the feel is just not there.

I have played and learnt on this uke more than any other. It suits me. My uke playing skills improved massively with this ukulele. I love playing it.

I am now on the lookout for a baritone, a concert, and a bass uke to complete my initial collection – although I may hold off on the bass uke, and I am not considering a banjolele.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at Carnegie Hall – NYTimes.com.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in Lego via...

I bought this uke from my local music store as I need a ‘silent’ uke to practise at night without disturbing others in my close neighbourhood. Mine came with a gig bag, mp3 input lead, and a shoulder strap – which is invaluable.

I have a few negative issues with the package; there are no instructions included, and no markings on the body to tell you which 1/8 inch jack is for the input and which for the headphones (headphones is closest to the neck), nor where the 1/4 inch jack for the amp is (it’s in the Chrome Holding strap button at butt of instrument), nor which knob is for volume and which for tone, and lastly, how to attach the shoulder strap. However, these are minor issues and have nothing to do with the joy of playing this incredible and flexible instrument.

The tone is full and sweet. The action just right, especially for someone who is new to ukes and familiar with classical guitars (nylon strings). The spacing of the strings is just slightly wider than on my standard (and very cheap) acoustic uke – again helping me transition from a nylon string guitar.

The non-amplified sound is adequate to play as a solo background instrument for local vocals, but quiet enough to not be heard in the next room if doors are closed. When amplified it can raise the roof in a community hall. I use mine with a variety of Vox Amplug amplifiers attached to a Vox mini amp. Currently using the AC30, but it rocks with the Classic Rock amplug, and has a distictive and compelling tone through the Bass amplug – all with the amplug gain turned low.

Unlike other reviewers’ comments, I find the peanut stays in tune much longer and with less adjustment required than other ukes, both electric and acoustic.

I am a beginner with uke playing, but I found my confidence increased by being able to play ‘silently’, that is, not having my mistakes overheard. I do learn by making mistakes, I just don’t want the world knowing when, where, and what mistakes I am making.

The uke has the standard re-entrant tuning (gCEA) but can be re strung for the low G tuning (GCEA) just by changing the fourth string. It takes on the tone of a tenor uke rather than the soprano it is (keep the tone knob way down for this effect).

There are other electric/solid body ‘silent’ ukes available, such as the Risa models and other Eleuke models, however, they are all much more expensive than the Peanut, up to 4 times the price, they are usually longer (except the Risa), and may not have a built in amp, earphone jack, or mp3 input (I haven’t used the mp3 feature yet so I don’t know how ‘special’ that feature really is).

So my recommendation is: if you are an absolute beginner buy a good, cheap uke first, to get to know whether you like playing the uke. I don’t recommend buying this just because it’s ‘different’. Upgrade to this one if you’ve found you really like uke playing and have a bit of cash lying around. Do buy it if you want confidence to advance at your own pace or wish to jam with other, louder, instruments – it really wails when playing heavy rock/metal, seriously try it!



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