Washburn N4

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Washburn N4
WashburnN4Relic.jpg
Washburn N4 vintage
Manufacturer Washburn
Period 1990–present
Construction
Body type Solid
Neck joint Stephen's Extended Cutaway (enhanced bolt-on)
Scale 25.5"
Woods
Body Alder, Padauk, Swamp Ash (common); Korina, Mahogany, Maple (limited series)
Neck Maple (most), Padauk (rare)
Fretboard Ebony (most), Padauk (rare)
Hardware
Bridge Kahler (early), Floyd Rose Licensed or Original (most)
Pickup(s) Seymour Duncan SH1N (neck)
Bill Lawrence USA L500 (bridge)
Colors available
Natural oil finish

The Washburn N4 is an electric guitar model, developed in collaboration between Nuno Bettencourt, Washburn and the Seattle-based luthier Stephen Davies. Since its introduction in mid-late 1990, it became Nuno Bettencourt's main guitar and it is marketed by Washburn as Nuno Bettencourt's signature model. The N4 is the flagship of the Washburn N-series which, as of 2008, includes the N1, N2, N3, N4, N5, N6, N7 (a 7-string model, introduced in 2011) and N8 (N8 being an "N4 times 2" since it is a double neck guitar).

N4 features a distinctive superstrat form-factor, two humbucking pickups, floating tremolo system and enhanced bolt-on neck joint named Stephen's Extended Cutaway, a patented design[1] that allows easier player's access to higher frets.

Since 1990, there have been numerous versions of this model using various woods and hardware parts.

Features[edit]

Body[edit]

Typical models have been made using Alder, Padauk (also known as Paduak or Padouk; Pterocarpus) and Swamp Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Korina (Terminalia superba), Mahogany, Sapele or Maple woods also have been used for some limited series.

While all regular N4s have an oil finish, only a few limited-editions (Korina, Sunburst and other limited edition models) have featured lacquered bodies.

Neck[edit]

All N4s have Maple necks (the N4 Vintage having Birdseye Maple). The only exception to this rule being Padauk models which feature Padauk necks, and Sapele models which feature Sapele necks.

The neck has 22 jumbo frets and dot inlays, with the exception of the N4E-MNM Mourning Widows model and the XX model, which have Mourning Widows logo-shaped inlays. That logo reproduces a tattoo Nuno Bettencourt has on his left arm.

Fingerboard[edit]

Mourning Widows (Nuno Bettencourt Logo based on the letters N B) inlays of the N4E-MNM

With the exception of the very rare all-padauk models (which have a padauk fingerboard), all N4s have Ebony fingerboards. Recent special editions, as well as the derived N5/N6 models have maple fingerboards. Some other derivative such as the N2, N3 and N24 have rosewood boards to reduce costs

Neck Joint[edit]

Close view of the Stephen's Extended Cutaway

N4's neck is bolt-on and uses a special mounting system called the Stephen's Extended Cutaway, which was invented by Seattle luthier Stephen Davies and then licensed by Washburn. It features a 5-bolt curved join allowing the player to access the higher frets while maintaining proper and comfortable hand position, due to its 'heel-less' design.

Pickups[edit]

All N4s come with a Seymour Duncan SH1N (also called the '59) neck pickup & a Bill Lawrence L500 bridge pickup. As stated on Bill Lawrence's website, Washburn orders pickups from both him, (Wilde Pickups), and the "Bill Lawrence USA" company owned by Jzchak Wajcman. Depending on whether a "Bill Lawrence USA" logo appears on the bridge pickup, there is only one other way to decipher the origin of the pickup's manufacturer; if the spaces of the pickup's chrome case have been filled with epoxy resin. This would allude to a Bill Lawrence USA pickup over a Wilde L500, which forgoes using epoxy in their design. Although similar in appearance, there is great controversy over which pickup company is truly genuine in sound to the original pickups Nuno used.

Nuno's main alder N4 uses an old L500XL Bill Lawrence USA pickup that was made before Bill Lawrence, Anglocised from Will Stich in the early '60s, left the company. As stated by Bill Lawrence himself, Nuno thought he was using an L500 but was actually using what is now known as the L500XL, famously used by both him and Dimebag Darrell.

Controls[edit]

All N4s have a 3-way pickup selector located on the lower horn as well as a single volume pot. Few models also feature a tone control (i.e. the Washburn sunburst as well as the Mourning Widows model).

Tremolo[edit]

While the very first N4s had a Kahler tremolo, standard Washburn N4s feature a Washburn tremolo made by Schaller Guitarenparts (Schaller) in Germany. However "Vintage/Relic" models as well as the "2.0 models" do have the Original Floyd Rose tremolo unit which is also used by Nuno himself.

Buzz Feiten Tuning System[edit]

In the mid-nineties, Washburn added the Buzz Feiten as a standard feature of the N4. The system, invented by Buzz Feiten drastically improves the guitar tuning accuracy over the fretboard, by using a modification in the guitar's setup (The guitar's nut is moved slightly forward and appropriate intonation formulas are used during intonation setup).

Series Rundown[edit]

  • N1: Vintage style non locking tremolo, Washburn own brand pickups, standard 4 bolt neck plate
  • N2: L500 Bill Lawrence bridge pickup, Washburn own brand neck pickup, standard 4 bolt neck, rosewood fretboard
  • N3: Direct mounted Washburn pickups, Stephen's Extended Cutaway
  • N4: Standard model
  • N5: SSS pickup configuration, Stephen's Extended Cutaway, 5 way blade switch, volume + tone knob, maple fretboard
  • N6: Exactly the same as the N5 but with L500 Bill Lawrence bridge humbucker
  • N7: Exactly the same as the N4 but with a 7th string and a Duncan distortion bridge pickup
  • N8: A double neck version of the N4
  • N24: N3 reissue

Model names[edit]

N4s are referenced using a letter code that indicate the woods that were used:

The first letter indicates the fingerboard wood (E for Ebony, most of the time). Remaining letters represent an acronym for the wood and the finish.

Examples:

  • N4E-SA: Ebony fingerboard with Swamp Ash body
  • N4P-PNM: Padauk fingerboard, with 'Padauk Natural Matte' body.
  • N4E-MNM: Ebony fingerboard, with 'Mahogany Natural Matte' body.

Serial numbers[edit]

N4s all have a serial number on the back of the headstock using the following form:

  • 2 digits for the year
  • 2 digits for the month
  • at least 3 digits for the actual serial number.

For instance, a 9512nnn would be the nnnth N4 produced in December 1995.

Very early N4s have a different serial number system: 3 or 4 digits for the guitar's number followed by the production year's last two digits.

Evolution[edit]

Early models-Davies/Lahoya N4s[edit]

Differences on the back cavities
Differences on the output jack

All early models were made of Alder, using a Maple neck and an Ebony fingerboard.

Early N4s have a Kahler tremolo, a very big volume-control back cavity, a rounded-rectangle shaped pickup selector cavity, a sloped Stephen's Extended Cutaway front side, a barrel jack, and a thinner neck.

Washburn models have the Washburn/Schaller tremolo unit, smaller volume-control cavity, a rounded-triangle pickup selector cavity, a 90-degrees 'Stephen's Extended Cutaway' front side, a standard 1/4" jack, and a thicker neck.

Differences on the Stephen's Extended Cutaway

From a recent testimony by Terry Atkins, who was in charge of the early Washburn N4 production, some of these early N4s were not (entirely) made by Stephen Davies : Starting from July '91, some bodies were also produced in Lahoya (California), while necks were produced in a cabinet factory in Chicago. Those parts were then sent to either Washburn or Stephen Davies for assembly. A rough estimation based on the preceding production pace has been made stating that N4s which serial numbers are over 060091 may not have been entirely made by Stephen Davies.

Padauk[edit]

In early 1993, Washburn released a new version of the N4 made from Padauk that was used by Nuno Bettencourt during the tour following Extreme's third album III sides to every story and during the next album (Waiting for the punchline) recording. Padauk, as a wood, is extremely dense and heavy (according to users) providing a deeper/darker tone than that of Alder, while still conserving good high end frequencies. Those models are considered as extremely valuable since they have the reputation of being exceptionally good sounding.

Swamp ash[edit]

Washburn guitars also produced a swamp ash version of the N4. Since swamp ash is known for its aggressive and trebly sound, that N4 has a very distinctive tone.

Also, since Washburn stopped producing Padauk N4s, they started producing 'Padouk stained swamp ash models' which can easily be recognized because of the typical swamp ash porous veins showing up behind the stain. Those models, of course, sound exactly like the non stained N4E-SA.

Limited editions[edit]

Since 1990, Washburn produced a few limited editions of the N4.

  • Black N4 by Davies : In 1991 only 6 black N4's have been made by Stephen Davies and his team.[2]
  • Korinas (limba wood) : Body made of Korina wood, maple neck, all signed by Nuno Bettencourt and numbered on the back of the head.

Washburn N4 Korina

  • Mourning Widows : One piece Mahoganny body, maple neck, the Mourning Widow logo was used to design the neck inlays.

This model came with two control pots : 1 volume + 1 tone, each of them being a push/pull pot allowing to coil-split each pickup independently. Washburn made 100 of them, all signed by Nuno Bettencourt and numbered on the back of the head. Those N4s were reserved for the Japan market.

  • Various finishes : These fall into 2 categories: the Washburn ones (which feature various limited-run finishes such as White & Black Stains, solid-colour lacquers, sunbursts & sparkles). These guitars all feature different woods depending on the finish (Swamp Ash for the stained models, Alder for the solid coloured ones & either Alder, Maple/Mahogany or Solid Maple for the Sunbursts). Then there are the 1992 'Transitional' models, these were all made of Alder & could be found in various bursts & (to a lesser extent) acid rain finishes. In addition to this, there were also the 1-of-a-kind Iridescent models that are very rare indeed.
  • Padauk re-edition models : in the early 2000s Washburn started producing new Padauk models. These tend to be lighter in weight than the original-run Padauk N4's, and also tend to be lighter in colour too (orange to red, as opposed to the red to purple colours of the original run).

Two theories exist for that obvious change in production : quick-grown wood (therefore not giving the time for the wood to age naturally and achieve the full density that Padauk would naturally acquire over time) or a change in the wood species (African padauk for the first models, Indian padauk for the later ones). Another reason for the difference in color is the oxidation of the reddish pigments in padouk wood by UV light over time. All padouk darkens with age from a red/orange to a deep purplish brown, and the time between runs likely contributes to the differentiation in color.

Washburn '06 Paddy on the left, '93 padouk on the right

These models don't feature in Washburn's catalogue, as they are only ever produced in limited supply.

  • Asian production : While all N4s have been produced in the U.S.A., Specific N4s have been produced in Japan for the Japanese market exclusively (also known as Made in Japan "MIJ" N4s).

Even though these models feature all the characteristics of early N4s, they lack of any visible serial number and do not have the 'Made in USA' written on the back of the head. A red serial number is printed on the hidden part of the Stephen's Extended Cutaway.

Since MIJ N4s are made from an early blueprint, they resemble Nuno's own guitar in many details.

There is also controversy as a number of N4s were made in Asia during the mid-nineties.[3] Washburn tried to pass these guitars off as though they were built in the USA custom shop and therefore do feature the 'Made in the USA' tag line on the cutaway & the serial number on the back of the headstock. Washburn consequently faced legal action & had to close down Washburn Europe as a result of the heavy fines that they were dealt.

Serial number on a Japanese N4 (not a year)

  • Special N3-like custom production : There's been a special custom run inspired by Nuno's 1990 N3 model.

N3 inspired custom model

  • the 2.0 (Davies-spec) : Mid 2009, Washburn created a new model, using Nuno's main Davies N4 as a model. They moulded Nuno'N4 neck to reproduce its profile exactly. They added a curved Stephen's extended cutaway, and changed the output jack to a barrel one. They also increased the tremolo back routing to give more headspace to the tremolo to be used. These 2.0 specifications will be used on the XX-Anniversary and some other Davies Reissue models.
  • the 8 Specials : Built with one-piece padauk bodies, 8 guitars were done as a test run for the 2.0 specification...

N4 2.0 Special N4 2.0 Special Cutaway

  • the XX Anniversary model : This is the deluxe anniversary limited run (100 pieces). Using the 2.0 model specification, with a black limba (Korina) body, a flame Koa top, Mourning Widow inlays, deluxe hard case.

N4-XX

  • Various Maple tops on Mahogany bodies: Body made out of Mahogany, with a top layer of Flame Maple or Quilted Maple. Neck made out of Birdseye Maple with either a Birdseye Maple or Ebony fingerboard. These were custom built, sometimes one-of-a kind, mostly in 2009, continued in 2010.

N4-Flame Maple

  • Sapele: Body and neck both made out of Sapele wood with Ebony fingerboard. There were roughly 15 or so made. Sapele is close to Mahogany in tone. These were produced in 2009.

Current editions[edit]

2009 Washburn Catalogue includes only 3 versions :

  • SA : The classic Swamp Ash model.
  • Vintage (Also known as Relic) : a reproduction (more or less) of Nuno's 'Number One' N4. It is made of alder, has artificially aged body and hardware, an N4 holographic sticker on it, and an Original Floyd Rose tremolo.
  • Lefty Vintage : In 2008, Washburn introduced the left-handed version of the N4 for the first time. It is now been featured in Washburn's 2009 catalog. Some lefty padauk were also made.

References[edit]

  1. ^ US patent 4856403, Davies, "Stringed musical instrument" 
  2. ^ R. Weikum (responsible for painting guitars for Stephen Davies): "I only painted one batch of six N4 bodies in a high gloss black polyurethane"
  3. ^ "Senior Special Agent Ronald J. Tye "The Million Dollar T-Man"". 

External links[edit]