Lovers of pristine new instruments, please look away. Nineboys has really excelled itself with this pre-war parlour-style electro that looks, in its Black Wear finish, completely knackered.
It ranks among the oddest specimens we've ever reviewed, arriving in its unfinished plywood 'crate' case with plastic-shrouded rope handles and a single wing-nut fastener. If that's not enough, it has one of the chunkiest necks we've encountered, a deep 23.7mm at the 1st fret and a whopping 28mm by the 8th.
The Suffolk-based maker has clearly been on the ol' Moonshine. Its take on the stringed instrument is decidedly non-mainstream, and aimed at the Seasick Steves of this world: roots music tools for gnarly bottleneck blues. But they're also made in the UK and highly affordable.
Nineboys' new brand, Tonk Bros, takes its name from a Chicago-based musical instrument distributor that started out in the early- 1900s. By 1939, Tonk Bros claimed to be the "world's largest exclusive wholesalers of musical merchandise", with a catalogue that included Washburn, National and Weissenborn, not to mention tenor guitars, mandolins, banjos and ukuleles.
While this parlour might be modelled on those pre-war small-body steel strings, it employs an unusual internal construction - a key to its lowly price. Made exclusively of sustainable birch ply, along with a multi-laminate bolt-on neck, the bracings and linings are CNC machined - effectively a one-piece 'frame' for the top's X-bracing and linings, and another piece for the back.
You might remember Chris Griffiths' guitars: they used a similar 'frame' construction, although their frame was moulded from plastic. More conventional is the small Martin-like headstock and fancy-ish looking rosewood bridge with additional-piece outer 'feet'. We also get an adjustable truss rod - though with a neck this big that seems rather over-engineered.
Innovative it may be, but it seems a bit over-built, and consequently is quite quiet compared to a small-body guitar such as Taylor's GS-Mini.
That said, the sound has a nice midrange push and slightly tight bass with crisp highs - a typical 'blues' sound that's not a million miles away from an old-style laminated acoustic archtop. A slightly broader nut width wouldn't go a miss, although the bridge spacing is good and it's very stable.
We rarely touched the tuners, and intonation is extremely good thanks to accurate fretting and a compensated bridge saddle. There's sufficient upper-position 'air' for slide, though lower positions need a nut riser.
Plugged in, the passive under-saddle pickup, with no onboard controls, produces a usable, slightly piezo-ish, but not overly 'processed' electro sound into a small PA. With a little dirt and gain thrown in, it works plugged into a Fender combo, too.
Clearly not for everyone, you really have to 'get' the Nineboys ethos: it's all about character. That said, anyone who can produce a UK acoustic at this price should be applauded, and if you want to play roots blues, it's well aimed.