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Washburn guitars began making hand-crafted instruments in 1883 in Chicago, IL. as a division of stringed instrument maker Lyon & Healy. Lyon & Healy had made pianos and harps since 1864, with Washburn (guitars, mandolins, banjos, and zithers) becoming their premier line. Washburn was strongly influenced by the influx of southern Delta Blues musicians to the area in the 1920s due mostly to the fact that the factory was located just a few blocks from the Maxwell Street corridor- well known for its burgeoning blues scene. Many of the musicians worked in the factory making Washburn guitars by hand and this helped Washburn gain a foothold in the local blues community. This synergy resulted in the Chicago Blues sound and would also heavily influence the sound of rock and roll.
The name "Washburn" originates from the middle name of George Washburn Lyon, one of the founders of Lyon & Healy.
- Early Washburn brand string instruments
Washburn Banjorine (1892)
Washburn parlor guitar (1894) and "New Model" (1896) by Lyon & Healy
Washburn bowl back mandolin (1897–99, center)
In 1912 Washburn introduced the Lakeside Jumbo guitar which is considered the first dreadnought sized guitar. It bridged the gap between smaller bodied parlor guitars of the late 19th and early 20th century and modern day dreadnought and jumbo acoustic guitars. Washburn currently offers a reissue of that model as the LSJ749.
In the ‘80s, Washburn introduced the Festival Series of Acoustic/Electric guitars. They were thinner than standard acoustic guitars, thereby reducing the susceptibility to feedback that previous acoustic/electric designs were notorious for. The addition of patented sound slots further reduced the possibility of feedback and the guitars quickly became the go-to stage acoustic for artists such as Jimmy Page, George Harrison and Bob Dylan. In the early ‘90s when MTV introduced their Unplugged series, hardly a show went by without seeing a Festival Series guitar. The design also lent itself well to acoustic basses and it wasn’t long before nearly every bassist of the era had to have one.
Washburn makes electric guitars, acoustic guitars, electric basses, acoustic basses, banjos, mandolins, travel guitars, and amplifiers. The company also makes accessories including guitar cases, clothing, and other parts like tuners, pick ups, and straps. Washburn is mostly known for its electric guitars and acoustic guitars.
Washburn is currently located in Buffalo Grove, a suburb of Chicago, IL. This is the location of their USA Custom Shop and center of operations.
Currently, Washburn produces some 300 different models of guitars, basses, mandolins, and banjos. 2013 marked the company’s 130th anniversary.
Guitars, Past and Present
- Anarchy Graphic Series – guitars featuring the anarchy symbol. (Discontinued)
- Bantam Series (Discontinued)
- Chicago Series (Discontinued)
- Disney by Washburn (Discontinued)
- George Washburn Series / Stephens Extended Cutaway (Rare) - EC26 (Atlantis), made in U.S.A. / EC29 (Challenger I), made in Japan / EC36 (Challenger II), made in Japan . (Discontinued)
- HB Series - (hollow body guitars)
- Heavy Metal Series-Guitars (Discontinued)
- Idol Series
- James Malone Series - James Malone (Arsis) signature (Discontinued)
- Jazz Series (Discontinued)
- Maverick Series (Discontinued)
- Mercury Series (Discontinued)
- Maya Series (Discontinued)
- N Series – Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) signatures
- Parallaxe Series - New metal/shred-oriented series for 2013, and Washburn's introduction of 8-string guitars
- Paul Stanley Series - designed with the co-founder of KISS
- Rocker Series (Discontinued)
- RX Series
- Scott Ian Series - Scott Ian (Anthrax) signatures (Discontinued)
- Shadow Series (Discontinued)
- Signature Series [Washburn has so many dedicated artists, with their own signature guitars that it would not be practical to list them all]
- Stage Series (Discontinued)
- Stage Series [Reissue] (Discontinued)
- Stealth, 333/Floyd Rose, 332/Stop Bar and Culprit designs made for Dimebag Darrell of Pantera and Damageplan (Discontinued)
- Travel Series
- Wing Series (Discontinued)
- X Series (Discontinued)
- XM Series
- RB Series (Discontinued)
- XB Series (Discontinued)
- MB Series (Discontinued)
- Taurus Series
- Apprentice Series
- Augusta Series
- Acoustic/Electric – acoustic guitars that can be plugged into amplifiers
- Classical Series
- Comfort & Comfort Deluxe Series
- Cumberland & Cumberland Deluxe Series
- Disney by Washburn (Discontinued)
- Southwestern Series (Discontinued)
- Festival Series
- Folk Style
- Forrest Lee Jr. Bender
- Harvest Series
- Heritage Series
- Lakeside Jumbo Series
- Parlor Series
- Paul Stanley Series (Discontinued)
- Tahoe & Tahoe Deluxe Series
- Timber Ridge Series
- Travel Acoustic Series – small guitars.
- Vintage Series
Voice Contour Control
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Many Washburn guitars equipped with humbuckers have a feature called Voice Contour Control (VCC), which is currently available only on Washburn. VCC is similar to coil splitting, in that it changes the tone of a humbucking pick-up to that of a single coil, but it does it by turning the tone knob. In doing so the musician can get every sound from the humbucker to the P-90 to the single coil and all points in between, all without the hum normally associated with single coils. In other words, it gives the player the option of a warm/thick humbucker sound, or a thinner single coil sound at the twist of a knob. With VCC at 10 on the guitar knob, you get a fuller, thicker sound characteristic of humbucking pickups.
Notable Washburn innovations
Over the years, Washburn designed (patented and trademarked) several guitar construction features:
- Buzz Feiten Tuning System — a corrected temperation tuning formula, which uses a compensated nut and saddle to correct the inherent intonation problems of the Western tuning formula. This system comes standard on some USA made Washburn guitars and basses and is featured on select imported models.
- Voice Contour Control - a special coil structure that allows a blend between a humbucker mode and a single-coil mode on the same pickup.
Washburn uses the mechanism of endorsements, where:
- Manufacturer provides custom-shop instrument that suits the artist best, for free (or even paying artist).
- Artists promotes his or her usage of that instrument and advertises manufacturer company.
This process greatly promotes the whole industry. Beginning artists often try to copy the sound of their favorite artists and thus try to use the same equipment. Endorsements help both manufacturers and consumers: beginning artists get to know what kind of equipment their idol uses and can copy their sound easier, and companies raise sales.
Current Signature Product Lineup
- Nuno Bettencourt models are flagshipped by the American hand-made N4. The N4 guitar is a small reverse headstock super-strat which features the unique Stephen's Extended Cutaway neck joint for easy access to the higher frets. It also contains Bill Lawrence and Seymour Duncan pickups, and a Floyd Rose licensed tremolo. The production budget models of this guitar which are machine built in Korea are known as the N1 and N2 which feature standard bolt-on necks and lower grade pickups and tremolo systems. The N3 (discontinued) was also produced in Korea and sported the Stephen's Extended Cutaway but used lower grade pickups. Nuno has also endorsed several Washburn acoustic models. There is also the N7 7 string model and an acoustic/electric based on the Festival Series, the EA20SNB.
- Paul Stanley Current models as of 2014 are PS2014, PS2012, PS 12 and PS10. Previous models have been the PS600 and PS800 (extensively used while touring with KISS), as well as the "Preacher" PS7000/PS7200/PS9000/PS9200 (which he used during his 2006-2007 tour to promote his solo album Live to Win). Stanley's line also includes the PS9 and PS11E acoustic guitars that feature his image on the front and come bundled with a custom gig bag.
- Ola Englund Solar (2013/2014): Signature model announced by Washburn in 2013 for Swedish guitarist Ola Englund of Six Feet Under, Feared, and The Haunted. Specifications are currently unavailable.
- Stu Hamm - The Stu Hamm Series is the product of many long hours of Washburn working hand in hand with Stu to design the perfect bass. Sculpted to Hamm's exact specifications, these basses are the perfect blend of art & technology and the epitome of what a great bass can be.
- Warren Haynes - vocalist and guitarist in both Gov't Mule, The Allman Brothers and Warren Haynes Band, Warren is perhaps the hardest working musician in rock. He is known for his extremely tasty and heartfelt playing and is very particular about his tone. The Washburn WSD5249 acoustic guitar is based on the original Washburn Solo Deluxe from 1937, which is similar in size to the popular OM shaped guitars commonly found on the market today. We feature a premium Adirondack Spruce top with period-correct vintage sunburst finish. Hand-shaped scalloped Adirondack Spruce bracing masterfully joins the top and solid rosewood sides while the beautiful 2-piece back is split by a vintage-inspired '30s zipper-style inlaid herringbone stripe. The top is framed-out beautifully by 3-ply ivoroid binding and the sound hole is expertly bound and finished by a gorgeous ringed herringbone rosette.
Previous Signature Product lineup
- Dimebag Darrell ML body style Dimebag Signature series. Washburn's Dean ML-style Dime 333 and radical Gibson Explorer-like Dime Culprit models were the most popular. The Dime 333 had a Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo, the 332 model featured a stop-tail bridge.
The Culprit, with its sliced-up Explorer-style body, featured a Floyd Rose tremolo, a mirror pickguard and a pair of hot ceramic humbucking pickups with chrome cover.
- Steve Stevens Signature Model (1993) SS80 and SS100 models made at Washburn's Chicago custom shop. The SS40 was mass-produced in Korea. The SS80 was produced in black with gold hardware and a Schaller-licensed Floyd Rose tremolo, Seymour Duncan JB humbucking pickups. The SS100 featured black hardware and Frankenstein monster graphics.
- George Washburn / Stephens Extended Cutaway electric models were introduced in 1987 and designed entirely by Stephen Davies. They are high end instruments which showed the era of overpowered superstrats. The EC series had 3 models named Atlantis, the "Challenger" or "Spitfire". The EC 29 and EC 36 were the very first guitars to be MASS-produced which incorporated over 27 frets. The EC26 (Atlantis) had 26 frets, was made in the U.S.A. and it is a very rare model.
- Dan Donegan Signature Model/Maya Series (2003): A six string electric guitar series for Disturbed guitarist Dan Donegan and named after his daughter Maya. There are currently two models of this guitar: Maya Standard guitar (DD70) and Maya Pro guitar (DD75). Both use Seymour Duncan pickups.
- Bootsy Collins Space bass (2006): Signature model for Bootsy Collins. Features Fender Jazz Bass pickups.
- Hubert Pleijsier (2008). Washburn Prewar Instrument Styles. Anaheim Hills, CA: Hal Leonard. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-57424-227-0.
- History of Lyon & Healy - origin of Washburn name
- John Teagle, U.S. Music Corp. (1996). Washburn, Over One Hundred Years of Fine Stringed Instruments (1st ed.). New York: Amsco Publications. p. 73. ISBN 0-8256-1435-X.
- Washburn History
- Buzz Feiten Tuning System
- Stephen's Extended Cutaway-The Washburn Days
- Washburn Voics Contour Control (VCC)
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