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This article was originally published in issue #43
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Washburn has taken a long, hard look at the booming lower cost acoustic guitar market and decided to take on everyone in a bang for buck contest that leaves only one winner - the buyer. We looked at two of its latest ranges, the Woodline and Heritage series in GI 41 and were so impressed we've come back for more - this time nearer the top end of the range.
A couple of issues ago I looked at two new models from the two new series recently launched by veteran US guitar maker Washburn. These are the Woodline and Heritage series, all solid topped and pretty clearly the result of having looked at what everyone else was offering in this hotly contested area of the market - the affordable acoustic - and trying to go one better. The two less expensive models I looked at before (the HD10S and WLD10S) were impressive instruments - especially at the prices, so this time we opted to go to the top of the range (hence the increase from model numbers 10 to models 20!) to see what spending just a bit more would get you. As I always say, be sure to check out the video to see and hear them for yourself.
This model comes from the Woodline 20 Series that claims to offer the perfect balance of 'affordability, elegance, sound and stability'. Featuring 'cured, select solid soundboards with scalloped-X bracing, NuBone nut and saddle', on paper this should produce one of the best sounding instruments in this price range. It's certainly an impressive guitar that looks way above its ticket price, and as you would expect from Washburn, the fit and finish throughout is top notch. The Orchestra size made it a very comfortable guitar to hold and you don’t find yourself craning your neck over the vast body to see where your fingers are.
The solid spruce top offered bright highs with a mid range heavy voice, the rosewood back and sides bringing some warmth and depth back into the tonal spectrum. The satin mahogany neck with two way truss rod adorned with a rosewood fingerboard gave yet more bottom end making the overall sound, resonance and dynamic range of this guitar very pleasing. Despite it being an Orchestra size and with a cutaway, there was still plenty of acoustic volume, albeit with somewhat limited attack. It's a guitar that responds to how you play making it very versatile for many different styles. Die-cast tuners with Ebonite buttons are fitted to the classy looking headstock, which were solid and held everything in tune. The neck was a very comfortable shape, feeling much like a standard electric neck.
Our sample was set up really well, with a low enough action to make barre chords and lead playing a breeze but not so low as to cause fret buzz or intonation issues. You can buy one of these models as a pure acoustic or fitted with a Fishman 301T pre-amp system, which includes a built-in tuner, EQ and phase control. The pickup worked well, as you expect from Fishman. It managed to keep the dreaded acoustic feedback away despite being used close to PA speakers with a little, but not too much, bottom end lost keeping its inherent tone intact.
The WLO20-SCE is a very good, reasonably priced acoustic that offers great playability, looks and finish. It falls slap bang in the middle of a very competitive area so it needs to stand out and it does. In absolute terms, it may lack some off the richer complex tones that you would get from a more expensive guitar or a more advanced pickup and pre-amp, but remember the 'law of diminishing returns', which tells us that as you go up a price range you have to pay more and more to get smaller and smaller improvements. This Washburn strikes a sensible balance, as a good sounding fun to play acoustic you will be hard pushed to find bettered in this price bracket.
Washburn's HJ40SCE is a jumbo sized acoustic with a cutaway so you can get to the dusty end of the board. There are a few things that make this jumbo stand out from others on the market including, 'cathedral peaked advanced scalloped-X bracing' and what Washburns claims is an environmentally friendly UV cured finish that it says will deliver superior tone and will improve with age. Only time will tell on that front, but the guitar does look very cool and is finished well as you might hope for from this reliable and highly experienced maker. Enhancing the look of this guitar is the stunning flame maple that is used for its back and sides - this really does look ace! On top of the figured back and sides is a solid Sitka spruce top which is a nice addition at this price range. This combination of wood does make the guitar's tone quite focused towards the high end, but that doesn't mean it sounds at all tinny as that big body is moving quite a lot of air.
The satin mahogany neck with two way truss rod and rosewood fingerboard bring back some of the lows and mids making it a pleasing tonal platform all round. As you might expect from a jumbo it produces big acoustic volume but that's not to say it's 'in your face' as it does also yield plenty of dynamic range depending on how/where you play it.
As we've come to expect from the Washburns we've seen, the set up was spot on, making chords or lead lines a joy to play, the cutaway clearly helping with upper fret access, although as with most acoustics, there is still that mighty neck joint to get past. The gold plated die cast tuners looked good and kept everything in tune, assisted by, no doubt, the Nubone nut and rosewood bridge.
Again, we opted to review the electro version, which comes with a Fishman 501T pre-amp, the bigger brother of the one on the WL20SCE. Alongside the built in tuner you now also get a three band EQ as well as a brilliance control to help natural acoustic tone, plus a phase and notch control to deal with any feedback issues. It's hard to say if this is a “better” pre-amp than the 301 as it's on a different guitar, but it worked well and acoustic tone wasn’t affected negatively when plugged in. It's worth considering that having a middle control will give you more tonal options, too.
Much like the WL20SCE the HJ40SCE is a great guitar in this price range. Clearly you get more but it's also more expensive. The main decision I think will come down to size. Some people just can't get on with the jumbo sized acoustics, and to be honest with today's advances in build quality, wood etc. they are not always necessary. The Orchestra sized Woodline won’t give you the same acoustic volume or punch, but it is more comfortable to hold and play. The choice is yours, and whichever you decide on, you won’t be disappointed because at this price range they are both top notch acoustic guitars.