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This article was originally published in issue #29
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Nuno Bettencourt is one of the most established and respected Rock guitarists in the world. His technical command of the instrument is the stuff of legends, he writes classic riffs and catchy choruses as easily as he breathes, he sings great and is annoyingly good looking. It’s therefore understandable why budding shredders the world over wish to play a guitar that he endorses, but there’s a problem; Nuno’s top-tier signature models cost a lot of money. Fortunately those considerate people at Washburn have stepped in and provided us mere mortals with a guitar affordable even for people whose bank balance hasn’t had the benefit of a chart-smashing hit single like ‘More Than Words’!
Straight out of the box the N2TattooK (to give it its full Washburn model tag) is instantly recognisable as a Nuno Bettencourt guitar, with the same body cut, control layout and distinguishing reverse headstock as many of the artists own instruments.
The neck is constructed from maple, with a rosewood fretboard featuring 22 frets and the Mourning Widow inlays that have featured on many of Nuno’s guitars. The fret job on our sample was sound, with smooth fret edges throughout and the locking nut and other hardware was immaculately installed. The neck profile is the same as the top-level models too, providing an extremely comfortable playing experience that should prove enjoyable for any modern Rock player.
Unfortunately the neck is bolted-on to the body using a traditional square heel joint, as opposed to the Stephens Extended Cutaway that is found on the rest of the N-series guitars. Although there’s nothing wrong with a square heel per se (millions of players use them and it’s the most common bolt-on heel in existence), the Stephens Extended Cutaway is such a signature of Nuno’s guitars both aesthetically and in terms of actual playing experience that it’s disappointing to have it left off here. Although Washburn are obviously trying to keep costs down on this entry model for the line, I can’t help but think I’d rather have had the Stephens Extended Cutaway than the Grover 18.1 ratio tuners if I were reducing hardware specs from the top models.
The body is a three-piece design constructed from mahogany, although it does feel a little lightweight. It’s left natural and covered in a matte lacquer though, which looks both very appealing and in-line with the rest of the N series.
The pickup choices are great. Whilst the Seymour Duncan ’59 in the neck position has been replaced with a 'Duncan Designed' pickup, it still sounds suitably full for high gain sounds and lead guitar playing, and the bridge pickup is a real Bill Lawrence USA L500 pickup. This fabled pickup has obtained something of a mythological status in Rock circles, as I said in my N4 review, and it’s easy to see why on plugging in. It is absolutely superb for high gain lead tones and Rock rhythm, with beautiful overtone accentuation that makes harmonics fly out of the guitar with ease.
In general it’s just great to see such a pro-quality piece of hardware included on a guitar in this price range. Clean tones were not as rich or full as on the more expensive guitars, but still perfectly usable. In any case, most buyers of this guitar won't be too bothered about clean sounds!
The control configuration will be familiar for Nuno fans, with one volume knob installed well out of the way of the picking hand and the three-way pickups selector on the lower horn for easy access and quick switches. Like many Rock players Nuno doesn’t bother with a tone knob, which I’ve personally never understood. Tone controls add so much versatility to a guitar. I’m clearly in the minority though as it’s a popular and enduring configuration used by some of the world’s biggest Rock players, so as with many elements of guitar construction it’s really a matter of personal preference and will probably attract as many guitarists as it irritates.
The N2Tattoo is fitted with the Korean-made Floyd Rose Special and the body is routed beneath the bridge to allow for plenty of up-pull. This raises an issue which we've commented on several times before in GI reviews of guitars from several top makers, by no means just Washburn. In our opinion, these bridges are inferior to the Original Floyd Rose systems found on the top-of-the-range guitars, due in part to the use of zinc alloy in their construction in place of steel and brass. Something about the weight differentiation means they feel different in the hand and are harder to set up and maintain pitch with, and the bar itself has a fair amount of give in it before it actually does anything to alter the pitch of a note. This isn't just my opinion - it's the consensus view of all the GI review team. Still, it does perform adequately and allows for plenty of squeals and motorbike-revving sound effects whilst holding tune reasonably well, so perhaps we're being too critical on a guitar in this price range.
So, what do we make of the N2 Tattoo? As you would expect for an instrument that sells for a fraction of the price of handmade US Nuno Bettencourt Washburns, the N2 Tattoo is a different experience but it contains enough of the features and specs of the top-level guitars to keep Nuno fans happy. It sounds authentic in high gain Rock scenarios, feels great in your hands thanks to the classic Bettencourt neck profile and importantly it does look the part! Matte lacquer is all the rage at the moment, as are natural finishes, and this guitar combines this with those killer Mourning Widow inlays to create an axe with an eye-catching modern aesthetic. There are a lot of options for aspiring Rock guitars in this price range, but the N2 Tattoo is certainly worth investigation from any rocker looking to get their funk out!