Washburn G-10V and G-20V
French, Japanese, Dave B takes them all on
In the past few years Washburn have proved to be one of the leading American designed and Japanese made guitar companies worldwide. In the UK they've been in the shadow of Ibanez and Aria and have sometimes veered from the straight and narrow by placing fashion before anything else. Certainly fashionable trends are very important to Washburn — when the market was Strat-copy crazy they gave us the Force series; when wooden Steinbergers were popular they gave us the above average Bantams. Then of course came the Wonderbar, Washburn's answer to the wang-bar wars, not forgetting that along the way a new colour scheme does wonders for a flagging range.
The two instruments on review here combine everything that the modern guitarist needs (in the popular sense): Strat-like, flashy, black and not forgetting that all important wang-bar. (Did you know that you can't buy a Japanese made Fender Strat nowadays without a trem?) But they also offer quality; it's no false sales pitch that everyone wants a G-20 (add me to the list). Washburn may have also set a first with the use of a phenolic resin fingerboard on a Japanese production guitar available in the UK for a reasonable price.
The British guitar maker who sneered at these guitars on the Washburn stand at this year's BMF would be well advised to take a closer look; not every guitar made in Japan fits the "Jap-Crap" comment.
The G-10 follows the design of the Strat quite closely but it's far from a copy. The Ash body, for example, whilst being of similar overall size has longer horns and a more rounded lower end. The contouring is in the usual places but is typically (for a Japanese guitar) severe and unflowing.
A piece of slab cut Maple is used for the neck which is vastly different from a typical Fender-type. The only similar aspect is the four bolt neck-to-body attachment. Despite the 25.5" scale length the neck feels quite Gibsonesque due to the width and shallow flat curve profile. It is finished in a satin lacquer which also contributes to the unusual initial feel.
Rosewood is used for the two octave fingerboard and has what appears to be black stain on the face — at least the sides of the board are brown — I guess brown is an untrendy colour in the East. Still, the board has a nice and clean fret job although with Holmes' magnifying glass I can see some file marks on the ends, quite an elementary oversight don't you think Watson? Position markers are kept to a thankful minimum with small pearl-like dots on the face (strangely not indicating the twin octave) and smaller ones on the side of the board.
Of course Washburn's design dept can be a bit OTT at times — take a look at the headstock! Seen that some place before? Of course you have... on those Stage guitars that Washburn have been plying the Heavy Metal boys with for many years. The tubby Explorer-type head doesn't look too bad, me thinks, and is certainly distinctive.
Design wise it's a bit of a hybrid but one that comes out with high marks for looks and construction; certainly the finish — a deep red opaque (probably called Pig's Bladder if I know Washburn) is well polished and exceedingly groovy!
You can't miss the wang bar on this axe. It's the jolly old Washburn 'Wonderbar' with as many features and functions as Concorde's cockpit. I've already done a review on this tremolo unit, but its many features include (deep breath) — individual saddles with full adjustment, pitch drop adjustment for each string, no visible springs (it works on an internally sprung cam roller and is therefore flat mounting), fine tuners positioned laterally to the side strings so the whole unit doesn't de-tune when you make adjustments, tension adjustment for the arm and the same unit can be used for left or right-handed players. (Phew)! When set-up, the Wonderbar performs wonderfully with quite a stiff tension and a sensible overall pitch drop (again adjustable).
At the nut end of the neck we have the locking nut position over the truss-rod access plate. The unit has individual clamps activated by a small Allen-keyed bolt. Certainly not in the quick-release category, the locking nut does, however, do its job. It is a necessity on this guitar anyway, due to the sharp angle of the string break behind the nut caused by the headstock design. Without a locking nut the string would fall out of the nut with the slightest wang of the wang bar. The black plastic looking nut (graphite) is well cut with a nice first fret action, although problems with strings sticking etc in this nut are irrelevant.
Machine-heads, too, are becoming more and more redundant, although the mini M6 types fitted here worked fine for the one time I used them. They are a bit close together which makes initial tuning a bit fiddly (and might make certain string winders redundant too) but, as I say, you don't need to use them very often.
The G-10 follows the Strat principle with three pickups fitted. However, to fall in line with modern trends we have a 'Custom' humbucker in bridge position and two single coils in middle and neck position. The humbucker is a conventional looking, all enclosed unit with a matt black finish mounted in the usual ring with adjustments for height and tilt. The single coil units are mounted directly onto the body without any surrounds and still adjustable for height, rather like the neck pickup on a Telecaster. These have matt black covers and all feature a Washburn logo. It seems that all the units are standard sizes which would mean that replacing them with other makes is possible.
The control configuration is interesting and quite straightforward too. A master volume doubles as a push/pull coil-tap for the bridge pickup while the master tone has no dual function. To the side of these controls are three mini toggles each with a two way function — on and off. These, of course, correspond with each pickup meaning that you have a fair few options not to mention all off, which can be a bit embarrassing if you forget which is on or off. The jack-socket is mounted on the side of the guitar nicely out of the way.
A quick gander at the internal electronics reveals the lack of screening foil or paint and also that the humbucker, due to its two conductor and ground lead, is simply wired in full (humbucking) mode and single coil (no humbucking) mode as opposed to a series/parallel switching which retains the humbucking facility in both modes.
As it stands the wiring gives quite a few possibilities although some phase choices would be a nice addition for the more discerning (or should that by fussy?) guitarist.
As the look of the guitar indicates we have quite a Strat sounding guitar here. The bridge humbucker allows some extra punch in full coil mode although in single coil mode the output seems slightly less than the two single coil pickups. The overall tone doesn't seem to have that elusive sparkle of a vintage Fender yet the Washburn scores by sounding very modern. The pickups seem well adjusted, although I would screw the bass end down a bit to get a more even string to string response.
The action was set slightly high on this sample but there's plenty of room for adjustment on the Wonderbar. As far as hi-tech trems go, this one is certainly up there with the best in terms of performance, although it's stiffer than Kahler action and won't be to everyone's liking. The overall feel of the neck takes a little getting used to and again won't appeal to everyone because of its extra width, especially at the top of the neck.
As far as weight and balance are concerned I've no criticisms, it's quite a light guitar and extremely comfortable.
The switching takes a bit of getting used to with the on/off toggles and whilst giving all the Strat-type tones and more, I was left wondering if a five way Strat-type switch would not be more preferable to the general public despite the extra options offered with this set-up.
Essentially the 20 follows the same design as the 10 in shape and dimensions; the differences occur in the neck, pickup configuration and colour scheme. The neck, while being of the same shape and scale length, is glued to the body with a flat shaped heel which improves not only the structure and theoretical sustain, but also the access to the top of the fretboard.
The fretboard is the other main surprise on this guitar in that it's made from phenolic resin, similar to that used on the Steinberger instruments as well as quite a few others, although this is the first I've come across on a mid-priced Japanese production guitar. Apart from being a very dense, solid and waterproof material, phenolic plastic has high sustain characteristics which means that unlike Rosewood which soaks up a fair amount of the string vibration, phenolic resin reflects far more of the vibrations thus giving a superior sustain. Many makers believe that a phenolic resin board is as good as a totally synthetic neck like carbon graphite and resin in the same way that Les Paul believed that a ½" slab of Maple on the top of his guitars was as good as a solid Maple body. However, the other school of thought believes that the mixture of wood (which moves) and plastic (which doesn't) can lead to eventual problems of the board parting company with the neck. This same school also believes that ending a plastic fingerboard to wooden neck is a problem; screwing seems the only solution. However, Washburn seem to have produced a natural and synthetic mixture which looks and feels remarkably traditional. Of course, only time will tell if any of the above problems will occur, certainly refretting is not a problem although replacing the fingerboard should it become worn (which of course it shouldn't) would probably be prohibitively expensive.
The G-20 on review was finished in all-black lacquer complete with black chrome hardware and does look very macho or hi-tech, depending on which side of the fence your opinions lie.
The fret job on the 20 is of a slightly higher standard than the 10 and a wider gauge of wire has been used giving a faster feel to the board. Apart from this the hardware used is identical to that of the 10, the colour excepted.
Following the Rawk'n'Rawl ethos that simple is best, we have two humbuckers visually the same as the one on the 10, a master volume and tone both with single/double coil options via a push/pull facility. The volume takes care of the neck pickup while the tone provides the switching for the bridge pickup. A three-position mini toggle selector is situated on the base of the lower horn and while I have no qualms about the positioning of the switch I'm not convinced about the longevity of a mini toggle in this role. The knobs fitted are of the knurled and domed metal type which suit the smart appearance of the guitar.
Loud. Gutsy. That's my first impressions. Certainly these Custom humbuckers do the job and regular Gibson-type users will love this one preferably through a Marshall. The pickups have a wide range of sounds despite the standard control configuration and although I suspect this guitar has been designed for the out and out Rockers it still has an excellent tone and a load of subtlety if needed. The sustain on the guitar is extremely good and it's also very fast to play. I definitely preferred the frets on this guitar — they give the instrument a feeling of class that I didn't get from the G-10. It really is quite a 'players' guitar, the twin octaves giving even more frets to solo over and the minimum controls don't allow any distractions. I found the overall sound to be quite bassy although there's plenty of top on the bridge pickup too. In the single coil modes the sound is very acceptable and with both pickups, some nice colours can be achieved.
The guitar is slightly heavier than the 10 and also pulls a bit on the neck, which is possibly something to do with the fingerboard. It's a strange thing to say, but this guitar feels really American from the sounds and the feel of the neck. For a powerhouse guitarist this Panther, as it's been nicknamed for obvious reasons, should be just the job. Have no doubts, this is definitely a pro's machine with a sound to match.
The best yet that Washburn have released on the UK market I would say. Both instruments coming up with the goods that they have been threatening us with for quite a time. The price is a bit on the high side, so one would expect these instruments to do the job. Personally I think they should knock a £100 off the price...
RRP: £485 and £575
Review by Dave Burrluck
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!