|Deceptive advertising - Good sound|
Many more images of this model of guitar are available with web searches on Washburn WG25S and Washburn WG26S
Hardy Menagh 12/8/12 updated: 1/20/14
Many of the comments in this review will apply to all Washburn guitars currently advertized as having a solid Spruce top and Rosewood sides and back.
In the early 1980s, I designed and built a Dreadnaught guitar with a German Spruce top and Indian Rosewood back and sides. It was the second of the only two large-body acoustic guitars I ever made. I sold the first one, a very basic Spruce and Mahogany Dreadnaught. I loaned the second one to a friend, a few years after I built it. He subsequently died, it legally became part of his estate and I never saw it again.
Lately, I had been missing the sound of that guitar. I have two smaller acoustics, a parlor style that I built and a high-mileage O-series Martin that I bought used, when I was in college. Neither of these have the depth of tone or the volume of a larger-bodied guitar.
Due to arthritis in my thumbs, building another guitar would be impossible. Due to my budget, buying a full-size Martin or Gibson guitar, even used, is off the table as well.
The only other option for getting a new guitar on a budget is to buy one of the inexpensive Chinese import brands.
Choosing an Import Guitar
Buying a guitar online, sight unseen, is iffy at best. Guitars are made primarily from wood, which is not a uniform material. Workmanship and quality control among Chinese factories are also not uniform things. If you can find a walk-in music store that carries these brands, having the opportunity to examine and play the instrument will probably be worth the extra cost, although some are charging close to full MSRP.
After looking at several positive but not expert reviews, I decided on the Washburn brand which originally had a fine American heritage but now is just another import brand.
I found a deal on a 2011 Washburn WG25S Tahoe Deluxe Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar. It was listed in the ads and on the Washburn site as having a solid Sitka Spruce top and Rosewood sides and back. There was a clue to the deception in this phrasing. Do you see it?
The guitar was on sale for US$180. As a former musical instrument builder, I knew that price was only a tiny bit more than the cost of the wood in a good Rosewood back and side set from a luthier supply house. I wondered how in the world they could sell a complete assembled Spruce and Rosewood guitar for that price. The answer is, of course they can't.
Simon Didn't Say "Solid"
I ordered the Washburn. When it arrived I took it out of the box, unwrapped it and carefully examined it.
As I supposed, the Spruce top was not the finest grade. The variable width grain didn't come close to progressing evenly from narrow at the center to wider at the outside edges. The grain was straight with no major deviations or blemishes and the top was solid Spruce, as advertised. If I had hand picked it, for the price, it would have been acceptable.
The back and sides appeared to be very nice Indian Rosewood outwardly and the gloss finish nicely enhanced the appearance of the wood. Wow!
I looked in the soundhole. Something wasn't right. I looked at the back and in the soundhole again. Not only didn't the grain inside match the outside but it wasn't even similar wood. I had been sold a plywood guitar!
I wasn't really surprised at not getting a Rosewood guitar for this price but the advertising of these Washburn guitars is clearly deceptive and I'd love to see someone take the company to task for it. I had passed up a nice-looking Chinese Johnson-branded copy of a Martin D-28 because, in some of the ads at least, they had truthfully described the sides and back as "laminated".*
Once the initial reality-check had subsided, I sat down with the guitar and a pick and played a few of my own compositions. The annoyance of the Rosewood veneer, peeled away and I found myself really enjoying the sound of the guitar. The tone was even, with good deep but clear bass that didn't swamp the treble. Just a little more pick pressure on the strings, really brought the volume up and I was surrounded by rich satisfying live acoustic sound.
The action seemed about right for moderate picking but the strings were occasionally buzzing on the frets. The fretboard was dead straight so I used the included allen wrench to back the truss rod nut off by 1/2 turn. That was enough relief to fix the problem on all but two of the frets which weren't fully seated. Having experience with guitar building and repair, I fixed this problem too. If you don't have the experience, you should not try to seat lifted frets. If your guitar is under warranty, have the company fix it. If it isn't, find a reputable luthier. Just trying to pound the frets in with a hammer can make the problem worse and possibly damage your guitar enough to make repairing it cost ineffective. Lifted frets are not something you should find on a new instrument.
The only other disagreeable situation I found was fret ends that had been beveled too far into the binding on the small "e" side of the fretboard. This doesn't affect the playing but is sloppy, heavy-handed workmanship, not to mention visually-unappealing.
Your experience with a Washburn guitar may differ from mine.
The WG25S is an attractive, nicely finished guitar with cleanly inlaid Abalone.
The sound quality is surprisingly good, considering the laminated sides and back. The Spruce top, although not visually premium grade, is obviously good tone wood.
It comes equipped with smooth-working clones of Grover machines.
The guitar body, fretboard and head are all bound with Maple wood binding, not celluloid or plastic.
There is a lifetime warranty on materials and workmanship. You must, however, pay shipping costs to and from the company. Problems not due to factory defects are not covered. Update 1/20/2014: When I changed the strings for the first time, one of the tuners just clicked as I turned the knob and would not wind the string. Washburn didn't have a match for the bad tuner but quickly sent a complete, slightly different set to me at no cost.
The back and sides are Rosewood veneer (outside layer only) on plywood. Although not acknowledged as a good sound wood, you can rationalize that laminated wood is much less likely to split due to changes in temperature and humidity or rough handling.
The guitar I received required some adjusting and other work to make it playable.
Although the visible back bracing is nicely shaped, the not-so-visible soundboard braces are left square and may consequently be heavier than needed.
See the Soft Frets update below.
The spruce reinforcement strip in the center inside of the back has the grain running with the joint instead of across it. If the back is two pieces joined together, this is useless as a reinforcement. If there is a center ply that runs all the way across the back, then the grain orientation of the strip is less important and it's mostly for show. The back bracing is notched to go over the strip which makes the strip quick and easy to install but is poor construction.
The Washburn WG25S is a good sounding, albiet economically-constructed, guitar if you don't mind the deceptive marketing and you're able to correct the problems it may have. If not, you may be better off buying a good quality used refurbished guitar from a reputable walk-in shop or saving for a good quality new instrument.
Will it last? As I've pointed out, there are some shortcuts in the construction but I don't think there's anything that would lead to premature failure. I'm in my mid 50s and I'm guessing it'll last as long as I need it to. If you're younger, it's anybody's guess.
Update 1/20/2014 - Soft Frets
The Washburn hasn't been played as regularly as some of the other guitars I own. Nevertheless, in the short time I've had it, two of the higher-usage frets were showing abnormal wear and causing buzzing on the adjacent frets. I leveled and dressed the frets once and when the wear quickly reemerged, I decided to do a refret with some good-quality wire.
If you had to pay a professional luthier for this service, it would add substantially to the cost of the guitar but given that it's basically not a horrible instrument, it might still be worth it. Frankly though, if I had to pay a luthier to do the work I've done on this guitar, I'd seriously consider biting the bullet, buying a used Martin and putting the money into having it professionally set up.
Would another Chinese brand guitar have soft frets as well? It wouldn't surprise me.
* The Johnson JD-07 is also not acknowledged by the company to have Rosewood veneer on laminated sides and back. Some retailers have decided on their own, to take an honest approach and disclose the truth about the merchandise they sell. Those retailers deserve your support.
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