I’m a classical guitarist and was tasked with teaching a college level ukulele class. I felt uncomfortable on my old Pono tenor ukulele: the tiny broomstick-like neck cramped my fingers, it was too small to hold with good posture and felt like a couple strings were missing!
I really wanted a Pepe Romero Jr. Guilele but it's too pricey for teaching a ukulele class. So I bought a Cordoba Mini SM-CE instead. It’s billed as a travel guitar with body size and scale identical to a baritone ukulele, but tuned a 4th above guitar pitch like a tenor ukulele. And it has six strings! I think of the Mini as a slimmed down requinto, i.e., a 1/2 sized classical guitar tuned up a 4th (A D G C E A).
New Little Friend | Cordoba Mini SM-CE
I’m 5’8” with medium hands and could immediately doodle like a madman and play classical solos on the Mini. It felt cramped initially but after a month or so I adjusted and could jump from Mini to full sized classical guitar without missing a note.
The most challenging aspect of this instrument is holding it! Slouching to curl around the Mini is hard on the back and neck. The Mini too small for use with a footstool or Dynarette cushion. Suction cup attached guitar support like a Tenor TPGS+ or A-Frame doesn't work either: not enough room for the suction cups and the satin finish is not suction cup friendly.
Finally, I attached a strap and it all came together: upright posture and Mini up where I need it! The only gotcha with a strap is the Mini lacks strap buttons. Fortunately, the Mini has a hardwood wood block centered on the rear, perfect for installing a button. I used a Brown Real Vintage Leather Ukulele Mandolin Strap, a thin leather strap perfect for a wee instrument. Although I'm mainly a "sitting" classical guitarist, the strap was comfortable once I found the right height and neck angle. Plus, I enjoy standing and walking around while playing!
The Mini is small, comely and, for the money, well made: good fit and finish, cheap but smooth tuning heads, good string balance and intonation, bone nut and saddle, well polished frets but a couple slightly messy glue joints. The polyurethane satin finish is well applied although I'd prefer a glossy finish (suction cups stick).
The solid cedar top on my instrument exhibited a consistently straight and tight grain. The back and sides—spalted maple—has exceptionally beautiful figure in Cordoba's product images but mine is exceptionally plain!
Cordoba Mini SM-CE | Spalted maple back (ply) | Photo courtesy Cordoba
Action and Playability
Most travel guitars have a narrow curved fingerboard radius and are awkward for classical guitar technique (difficult to bar and finger pick). The Mini fingerboard is flat like a standard requinto or classical guitar so classical guitarists will feel right at home on it quickly.
Although the specs claim a 48mm nut, my dual calipers measured them a bit shy of that mark at 47mm. My Mini R is 50mm at the nut and a wee bit more comfy for my left hand (plus a little wider at the bridge).
String action setup was 5/32” at the 12th fret on the 6th string and 4/32” on the treble side. Exactly how I like to set up my full sized classical guitars. However, it feels high on such a tiny instrument, especially since Aquila Nylgut strings are high tension compared to full sized classical strings. I pulled the saddle and lowered it to 4/32" on the bass side at the 12th fret and 3/32 on the treble. Much better!
The Aquila Nylgut bass strings were passable but the first and second string trebles were irritatingly bright, metallic and stiff. So I replaced them with smooth nylon classical guitar strings (D’Addario .0275 and .0285). I had to transfer the ball ends from the Aquila strings so the D’Addarios would lock under the bridge pins. Wish it used standard ties like a classical guitar or uke.
With the nylon trebles, the Mini spoke with a sweet resonance voice, responded okay to vibrato and exhibited excellent string balance. Basically a round timbre somewhere between a classical guitar and a ukulele tone. The acoustic volume is surprisingly loud: bests my old Pono tenor but falls short of a Cordoba 32T-CE (all solid) tenor ukulele. It's a tad brighter than my Cordoba Mini R but about the same volume and projection.
Here's an audio track of the Mini played acoustically. It's an improvisation (video coming soon) but I tried to demonstrate the full range of the instrument. Recorded with a Tascam DR-60 MKII and Neumann KM-184 mics (2x). No reverb, noise reduction or other sound processing used.
Plugged in to a Trace Acoustic Cube amp, it sounded good tonally although output is weak compared to my Takamine electric-acoustic pickups.
I’m pleased with the Mini but there are a few minor gotchas:
Aquila Nylgut strings are horrid so change them.
I prefer a standard bridge with tied strings like a classical guitar or ukulele. Pins add extra steps to string changes and force one to attach balls on requinto and classical guitar string sets.
No strap button so I had to install one. The Mini is too small to hold like a normal guitar and the strap allows a better playing position.
The preamp needs a built-in tuner.
The gig bag is passable but has thin padding and a thin strap. Luckily, any baritone ukulele gig bag or case fits the Mini perfectly.
All in all a cute as pie, well made and nice sounding instrument for $340 USD. And, yes, surprisingly fun to play and just the ticket for a guitar picker looking teach a ukulele class or travel the world!