DREAM MACHINE: Washburn status bass
the washburn status bass: a designer label at a supermarket price
To the rescue of a thousand impoverished bass players comes the Washburn Series 1000: a four-string with a designer label and a supermarket price tag.
BASS: HOW HIGH can you go? So the headline screamed in PHAZE 1's phenomenal first issue. And it's as true now as it was then. There's still a pitifully small number of cheap (under £200) bass guitars in the shops. Secondhand, there are a few. New, there are hardly any.
However, once a bass player has got a first (fairly) big break, a whole bunch of fanciable four-strings suddenly becomes available at around the £500 mark. These are highly droolworthy instruments, and represent a tangible and truly worthwhile step up from the sub-£200 brigade. A recent arrival in this category is the Washburn Series 1000. As you may know, the Washburn name is already synonymous with solid, unpretentious guitars that are cheap to buy without being cheap to play: Far Eastern they may be, mediocre they are not. But what makes the Series 1000 so interesting is a second name on the body: Status. In fact, this instrument's full name is the Washburn Series 1000 by Status Design.
The "Status" bit refers, of course, to the company behind the classic Status bass. You haven't heard of the Status bass? Let me tell you a story, then.
The tale begins around about the turn of the '80s, when a session guitar player and custom guitar builder by the name of Rob Green took a long, hard look at the state of the bass market, and came to a striking conclusion. At the time, the main talking point in the four-string world was the Steinberger headless bass - a revolutionary design that dispensed with machineheads, was made almost entirely of carbon graphite, and looked like a Lego brick with a neck stuck into one end. The Steinberger was a massive hit, but Rob Green realised that not every bass player wanted a Lego brick shoved over their shoulder. Surely there was a gap in the market, reasoned Green, for an axe that combined the good points of the Steinberger headless design with traditional bass guitar aesthetics.
With this sentiment in mind, Green designed a one-piece carbon fibre mould for the neck and the centre section of the body, and built up layers of resin and woven fibre inside it. This provided a foundation of incredible strength - it needed no truss rod or any kind of reinforcement. Unlike wood, the composite material was not prone to warping when subjected to heat or humidity, and did not crack or split. To this "backbone", Green added his masterstroke: a wing of wood glued to either side of the centre section. This addition made the bass look more like a bass. And just as important, it made it feel more like a bass, restoring the weight and balance of a traditional bass guitar, while eliminating the dead spots and other evils of conventional designs, just as the Steinberger did. But unlike the Steinberger, the carbon fibre webbing on Green's guitar was not disguised in any way, and provided a striking iridescent contrast to the wood, under a transparent lacquer.
Rob Green then designed his own electronics to suit the construction of the instrument, along with his own fine-tuning system for the bridge tailpiece. The bass had a personality all its own, and immediately found a following even at an asking price of around £1,000. Green went into production with it almost straight away, calling his baby the Status, and using different varieties of exotic timber so that each guitar was distinctly different - something that couldn't be said of Steinbergers.
Today, the "real" Status is still produced in low volume, and many of the basses are actually built to order. The range has extended upwards, with the flagship Status 3000 now costing getting on for £1,500. Plank-spanking, strap-slapping heroes currently using a Status include Mark King of Level 42 (an early convert), John Edwards of Status Quo, and a host of pro session bassists.
Recently, though, Rob Green has turned his attention to extending his range downwards. Realising it wouldn't be long before the Far Eastern companies latched on to his design and began producing budget copies, he decided to pre-empt them by producing a copy himself. Hence the, um, Washburn Series 1000 by Status Design.
Green approached Washburn over a year ago with the idea of making as perfect a reproduction as possible, for half the price. Prototypes were first exhibited to the trade last year, and met with such success that they were soon in production.
Constructed according to the original Status blueprints, the Washburn differs in two respects - body materials being the first of these. For example, the one-piece neck and body centre section is made of maple, as opposed to the carbon graphite of the Status, and while the acoustic properties of each material are obviously very different, the Washburn's solid black finish offers all the visual appeal of the original.
The centre section is flanked, à la Status, by solid wooden sections - in this case maple - shaped in the familiar, angular and quite bulky Status style. Status basses feature phenolic (rugged plastic) fingerboards and this, coupled with the effect of the carbon graphite moulding, has become one of their greatest and most recognisable assets. The Washburn has what looks, feels and plays like the phenolic board. It's described as "carbonite" in the literature, which smacks of imitation rather than the real thing. The fingerboard houses 25 nickel silver frets, the first (or "zero") fret falling just below the dual-anchoring nut clamp - dual-anchoring because the bass is designed to accept normal as well as double-ball-end strings.
The second big difference between copy and original lies in the Series 1000's active circuitry. While the pickups are original Status UK issue, the active circuitry has been adapted to best suit a wooden, as opposed to graphite, moulded through neck.
On a more cosmetic note, the control knobs are standard Washburn issue - knurled and round, as opposed to the smooth, tapering Status kind. Their designation and arrangement is identical, however - the three pots operate "pan", "volume" and "treble" functions - and behind them sits the jack socket. Although the bridge bears the Status name, for reasons of cost and production quotas, the tuning system is Washburn's own. It works well though, operating smoothly and accurately.
The Washburn's rear layout is once again faithful to the original, with two plastic control and battery cavity plates, either side of the black centre section. The finish is simply superb. In fact, the whole construction is perfect - from the way the frets are seated to the contours and lacquer. In other words, you'd never know this bass didn't cost a grand.
As far as playability goes, carbon fibre fingerboards must be the most unforgiving variety ever invented: their sheer hardness is far from kind to those miscellaneous extras that slip into your playing when you least expect them. But as I mentioned above, irrespective of whether this material is authentic or not, its characteristics are pleasing, and feel just like a Status board. The neck contours are also identical, and as such the neck is very comfortable to play - excellent in both width and depth.
As with the Status 3000, the best variety of sounds is obtained by working the pan pot and treble control together. This gives a wide range of sounds, providing a nice mellow bottom end, and an especially rich choice of brighter sounds. So overall, the lack of a specific bass control is not the disadvantage you might presume it to be.
When I first plugged in a Status 3000, it seemed to be the perfect bass. Full stop. I'll admit I thoroughly enjoyed playing the Washburn, and would be hard-pushed to deny it's a fine instrument. But whether it's the all-time proof of the psychosomatic effect of the name on an instrument, or whether it simply underlines the quality and personality of a hand-built product, the Washburn doesn't quite strike me as possessing the charisma of the original. This shouldn't be taken as damning criticism, because the Series 1000 is only a step away from being everything a Status is - and that in itself is huge praise when you consider the price difference. It merely underlines the fact, I suppose, that there is still something to aim for once you've invested in the Washburn.
Not many amateur musicians can afford the instruments they see in their idols' hands. They generally have to opt for being the proud(ish) owners of some glorious imitation. The bass guitar market is flooded with imitations of great instruments, but no matter how good they are relative to their price, they will all always share the stigma of not bearing the name, or being subject to the same reassuring quality control. And when it comes to substantially reducing costs, the first things to be abandoned are those finishing touches.
So the mortal punter's ideal is a duplicate of that dream instrument for half the cost - and a duplicate is far removed from an imitation, because it bears the original name and should be subject to the original standards. With Rob Green being the brains behind the Washburn Series 1000, ensuring that the instrument's design and build quality do nothing to detract from the Status reputation, it must truly personify this glorious ideal.
WASHBURN SERIES 1000: £550 inc VAT
INFO: Washburn UK, (Contact Details)
Review by Penny Braybrooke
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