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This article was originally published in issue #31
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Washburn has been carving out a real niche for itself with specialised shred machines of doom, so much so that it has become one leaders among the chuggy-chuggy/widdly-widdly varieties of hard Rock and contemporary Metal (we think he means that as a compliment - Ed). With the 7-string guitar seeing something of a renaissance in the last few years, thanks to the seemingly endless wave of Djent bands hitting the scene, Washburn has decided it’s time to release a new extended range guitar to satisfy even the most discerning of modern Meshuggah clones.
The first thing that struck me upon unboxing the PXM27CE was how great the instrument looks. Washburn has gone with a sleek matte black finish and an overall stripped-back vibe, including no fretboard position markers on the face of the guitar (side dots ensure you can still see where you are!) and no pickup rings, really nailing the modern Metal aesthetic with a look that should appeal to anyone who desires a truly contemporary riff machine.
The guitar continued to impress as I checked over its features, including neck-through construction with a five ply maple/mahogany neck and alder wings. Although neck-through construction seems to have fallen out of favour amongst many of the new generation of Metal players, the old guard still stick with it firmly and a large majority of the world's most iconic Heavy Metal guitars are built in this way. The black chrome hardware was also top-notch, including a tune-o-matic bridge, Grover machine heads and the classic EMG 707 pickups in both neck and bridge positions.
Plugging in and inspecting the PXM27CE more closely, I discovered that the neck was not as I'd expected from reading the guitar’s description. Featuring 24 frets and an ebony fingerboard, the profile of the neck was wide and fat; whilst I wouldn’t describe it as obese by any means, this is definitely the muscle on the team of Metal neck profiles and not the sprinter. It might not be going to win the legato 100 meters for high-tech shredders but it’s definitely going to win the downpicked rhythm arm-wrestle for fans of real Metal aggression, and in my opinion Washburn has struck a great balance between ease of execution and overall sturdiness of construction here. I own several high-tech shredder guitars which play great in the studio but just don’t cut it live, where the adrenaline of a full-on Metal performance makes them feel disappointingly lightweight and fragile, and conversations with my contemporaries have revealed that many gigging Metal players also feel this way about super-thin neck profiles. Well done, Washburn!
In addition, most of the technically advanced players that I speak to find that they have moved away from thinner neck types as they’ve become more developed and feel that the profile has less impact on their abilities than other factors including set-up, scale length and cutaways. It’s this philosophy which wins through on this guitar, as the set-up was immaculate straight out of the box, the scale length is a comfortable 25.5 inches (there’s a current trend for baritone scale 7-strings, but that really seems unnecessary here), and the PXM Double Cutaway is absolutely superb!
The design, which obviously takes its cues from the Stephens Extended Cutaway that Washburn famously use on their classic Nuno Bettencourt line of guitars, combines brilliantly with the neck-through construction to perfectly illustrate why I believe this to really be the superior neck construction method; with no heel to speak of, the upper fret access is unbelievable and counterbalances the chunkiness of the neck to ensure that even the most ridiculous of Bill and Ted-style guitar gymnastics can be performed in comfort.
One final feature of the guitar that I particularly liked was the inclusion of the Buzz Feiten tuning system, cut into a graphite nut. This guitar modification improves the instrument's intonation and is a favourite of players on the LA session scene, so it’s great to see it included as a standard feature on this series of production guitars.
Overall, the only things I could really fault on this guitar were aesthetic details which are always a matter of opinion. To me, the headstock is a little bloated and I disliked the Parallaxe inlay on the 12th fret, which I think is a bit pointless - the guitar would have benefited from a blank fretboard. Both of these things are minor matters of taste however, as all in all I still feel that this is a killer looking guitar thanks to that uber-cool Carbon Black finish. The quality of construction and finish was also high, with immaculate fretwork and paint throughout.
Plugged in the Washburn proved to be an absolute beast, with a tight and focused low end that responded great to fast picking and huge, palm-muted chords alike. This is again a testament to the great EMG 707 pickups, which have been one of the top choices for Metal ERG players for well over a decade. The guitar features a volume and a tone knob, eschewing the Metal tradition of doing away with the tone control, to my absolute delight. The tone knob is an important control for smoothing clean tones on high output pickups, and its inclusion here vastly increases the PXM27CE’s versatility and practicality. On reflection it’s difficult to imagine a modern Metal scenario where this guitar wouldn’t be able to produce an appropriately huge tone.
The PXM27CE is a triumph then, as should be expected from a company with 130 years of guitar building experience. Although its price dictates that this is an instrument for serious players, its specs, construction and heritage combine to guarantee satisfaction for real-world gigging Metal musicians and anyone who’s serious about defending the faith with some low-end power.
While this guitar has all the basics covered, it’s Washburn’s inclusion of less standard specifications including the neck-through construction and Buzz Feiten tuning system that should ensure this guitar will avoid being left on the periphery of the current scene (if you’ll excuse the pun) and instead see plenty of real-world action on the frontline of the live metal underground.