Washburn Falcon & D29S Acoustic
Washburns for tomorrow — Top guitars in triumphant return? 54
For some reason best known to themselves, previous distributors of Washburn guitars, Roland U.K., dropped this prestigious line of American-designed, Japanese-made instruments last year. As a result of this, Washburn have been without a U.K. distributor for some while now, until the Frankfurt Trade Fair in fact, when a new company, called Washburn U.K. sprang into existence to market these instruments. During their absence from the. U. K., a lot has been happening to Washburn's guitars and basses (not to mention their excellent mandolins and banjos).
We borrowed the two sole samples currently in the U.K. of a pair of the new instruments — the Falcon with the newly developed Washburn vibrato system and a mid-priced acoustic (always one of this maker's strengths) a D29.
The first model to come out of its Washburn case was the rather expensive Falcon model. I say expensive but this is, of course, a relative term. The new Falcon is very much a top-flight guitar, looking good enough to suit a professional player. I know that Washburns are made in Japan but there has often seemed to me something intangibly different about them which has separated them from the average run-of-the-mill 'Yakiwhatnot 10,000' or similar. Could it be the fact that they are reputedly designed in the U.S.A. — could it be that the designers are (even subconsciously) aware of the name Washburn's heritage as one of the more venerable makers on the market? Either way, this Washburn oozes professional quality from the moment you pick it up and hold it. No, that price isn't extravagant, this is more in the top-flight Yamaha or Aria class. The bound body of this flat topped guitar is of flame maple, an attractive wood (to understate the case) reminiscent of some of the best guitars around. The neck is glued in place (nice to see, as it's an expensive option compared with bolt-on types and betokens a decent amount of care having been taken with the guitar) and this sports a very nice quality of ebony for the fingerboard. The neck itself is well inlaid with good quality nickel silver frets which fasten onto silky-smooth machines of the best Japanese quality (which means about the best you can get these days).
The bridge design on the Washburn is a nicely solid affair of brass, with the strings locking through the body. The saddles are micro-adjustable individually for height (good to see this feature) and are set for intonation adjustment via the usual spring-loaded screws. Washburn's new tremolo device is a simple affair. Basically it comprises a rocking bridge unit which is fastened to three springs. It's a lot simpler than the Fender Stratocaster's design but seems to work very well in use. Fortunately, Washburn, in seeking to come up with their own tremolo system, haven't looked at nut locks and other weird and wonderful ideas, but have actually simplified the whole principle.
The Washburn's pickup gear comprises a pair of humbuckers with two volumes and two tones plus the obligatory pickup selector placed in a very sensible position, just below the treble pickup. The twin volume pots (vaguely modelled on the old Gibson type) also have a 'pull' function, which cancels one of the twin coils and gives you a single coil pickup sound.
The Falcon is a very nice guitar to play — no, that's not enough — it's a delight! Whilst nowhere near as heavy as, say, a Les Paul or SG2000 it still has remarkably good sustain and the intonation on our sample was perfectly set, the guitar being fitted with a nice low action and good strings. The fingerboard on this guitar is virtually dead flat, just the faintest of cambers (barely detectable) balancing an extremely comfortable neck and really good quality fretting for lightning fast licks and smooth string bends.
Soundwise the Washburn pickups do their job very well indeed. Maybe, by some absolute standards, they (or the guitar — it's hard to define whether the sound of a guitar is attributable to the pickups or the instrument's materials and construction) give the Washburn slightly less warmth (marginally less warmth) than a top-flight old-time Gibson or similar but still they sing and the guitar sustains magnificently, lending it to long, drawn-out notes as well as vibrant power chords and sharp, attacking squeaky-clean single coil Fender-like sounds.
This is every inch a fine guitar and, for me, re-affirms the real worth of this brand. Try it — that's all I can say.
Acoustics are also one of Washburn's noted areas of success, partly, possibly, because the top man at Washburn U.S.A. is something of a luthier himself, at least, that's what I have been told.
When I first tried it, I was under the misapprehension that the recommended asking price of this model was around the £300 mark. In fact it's only selling for a suggested £229 inc. VAT. and, as I didn't lose my dinner at the thought of shelling-out 300 hard earned pounds for it, that gives you some idea of how it looks and plays.
The body of the D29 is a successful compromise of money versus sense. The top appears to be solid spruce but the back and sides are laminated mahogany. If laminates have to be used (and possibly at this sort of price they do) then it is obviously better for a guitar to feature a laminated back and sides as opposed to a laminated top.
Overall construction of the D29 was very good indeed, a typical Washburn quality of guitar, with excellent machine heads, a fine neck profile, a staggered plastic bridge-piece (for intonation) and a generally very playable action and feel with its unbound rosewood fingerboard. In fact this is certainly one of the better acoustic necks I've tried in recent months, an opinion shared by a far better acoustic guitarist than I, to whom I showed this model.
Soundwise the sample D29 was very bright and forward but equally well balanced between the top and bottom strings. I have to say that the Washburn, while it had some character of its own, was really too new to have settled-in enough to have a real personality and I would be reluctant to speculate (bearing in mind the use of laminates in the body section) quite how it would develop with time. Nonetheless, I have a gut feeling (that I'll admit it's hard to justify scientifically) that this guitar will end-up moving away from the new acoustic guitar brilliance of tone towards something more mature and rewarding with time — something which is true of all the better quality acoustics.
Either way, the D29 is a lovely guitar to play.
WASHBURN Falcon Vibrato (RRP £385 inc.VAT)
WASHBURN D29S Acoustic (RRP £229 inc.VAT)
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Review by Gary Cooper
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