I couldn’t help myself the last week and I splurged and bought a Cordoba acoustic-electric tenor ukulele, the 20TM-CE. After playing it at two gigs this last weekend and rehearsals in between, I’d like to offer my initial opinions.
Like I mentioned, this is Cordoba’s 20TM-CE model, an all mahogany uke reasonably priced around $200. It is advertised as being handmade, and definitely appears well made: all the joints are smoothly fitted and polished. There is not a poor joining to be found anywhere. The neck fits well onto the body, with the seam between the heel and the back of the body nearly indistinguishable by feel. The fretboard is smooth and fast — there are no sharp fret edges anywhere to hang up your fingers. In short, this is a sturdy instrument. It does not feel flimsy or poorly built in any way. Plus, it’s got a beautiful light/dark wood inlay around the soundhole and across the tie-bar on the bridge.
Surprise of all surprises, however: upon close inspection, it appears this little Cordoba has been made with a SOLID top! Wow! If mine eyes are not mistaken, the top of this lovely little uke is indeed a solid piece of mahogany. Which, for those of you not in the know, is a very good thing. Solid tops sound better with age, whereas laminates sound exactly the same twenty or thirty years down the road as they did when you bought them (great, if you buy a good quality laminate, poor if you buy one that sounds lackluster). And this little Cordoba is rocking the solid mahogany: it is leagues above my old Lanikai LU-21 series tenor in terms of sound and resonance. I strung it today with a low wound G string (my preferred ukulele tuning) and it really hums. Rich like an alto voice, but not dark in any way. This is still an ukulele, and it keeps the sprightly sound in the treble end.
Speaking of strings and sound, this instrument comes from the factory with Aquilas (again, my preferred type of nylon string, and the new ukulele industry standard). The intonation is about as “on” as you can get with a fretted stringed instrument. The action is just right, too. Many ukuleles come with high actions (the distance the strings sit above the frets) — many of them sky-high — but this one appears to have been fine tuned from the factory. It plays like a much more expensive instrument.
If I could pick on anything, it would be the electronic pickup. It’s a fairly standard under-saddle “active” setup (requiring a 9v battery) with bass, treble, and volume controls. Very reliable and nothing too exciting. The drawback is that on a poor amplification system, it makes the ukulele sound very thin and “plinky.” On a better PA system, you can get an amplified sound very similar to the actual sound of the instrument, which is fine if you own said better system… but if you’re dealing with whatever your venue hands you, it can definitely be a mixed bag. The amazing part of it is, this Cordoba loses none of its resonance to the unit and associated cords inside the body. Typically, the rule of thumb is that if you wire an instrument for amplification, you are going to lose much of the natural resonance of the body cavity — and the smaller the instrument, the worse this loss becomes. Not so with this little uke. Somehow, it maintains its rounded sound despite the loss of space!
It is very obvious that Cordoba is committed to excellence. They’ve been a top name in nylon-strung and classical guitars for ages, only recently adding ukuleles to their line of products. Their experience with nylon strung guitars really shows in this “miniature:” the 20TM-CE is a polished work of art from its hand-inlayed soundhole and bridge to the resonance it carries. The only drawback is the less than state of the art electronic system. I give it a firm 4 and 1/2 stars because it is well worth the money.