Washburn Pilsen Idol electric and D78SW acoustic

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Washburn Pilsen

Washburn Pilsen.

Most often when you see a Washburn guitar, it’s in the hands of artist endorsees (including Nuno Bettencourt, Dimebag Darrel Abbott, etc.). For whatever reason, though, the brand has traditionally had a relatively low profile in local music stores.

Washburn intends to change that with the PI70 Pilsen Idol. Billed as a “working musician’s guitar” and made in its custom shop just outside of Chicago, the Pilsen is named after a working-class Chicago neighborhood and the company says it “exemplifies the craftsmanship and work ethic [of] the employees in Washburn’s custom shop.” The Pilsen is the lowest-priced instrument made in the company’s custom shop.

Based on Washburn’s single-cutaway Idol guitar, the Pilsen has a 2″-thick body, carved maple top, and a set one-piece mahogany neck with a very smooth neck joint. The Pilsen is devoid of many of the amenities one might expect in a “custom shop” instrument, like fancy flame-maple top, an excessive fancy binding, or gold hardware. But it is loaded with the important goodies that make for great tone and playability, like Seymour Duncan pickups with coil taps, Tone Pros bridge and stop tail piece, Grover tuners, and the Buzz Feiten tuning system.

The lack of eye candy does not make the Pilsen an ugly duckling. Rather, the high-gloss black finish (also available in Ruby Red and Rootbeer) with a hint of metalflake, traditional carved top, cream-colored pickup rings, traditional control layout, and the beautiful contrasting-grain rosewood fretboard give the Pilsen a classic, elegant look that is very appealing. Small details aren’t overlooked, either; the control cavity features a fully shielded compartment that is neatly wired with full-sized pots and a Switchcraft three-way toggle. Though we were curious about whether the 2″ body of the Pilsen would be a beast, the model rolls out of the factory weighing an average 81/2 pounds. Our test model was 83/4 pounds. Close enough, and more than manageable.

Sitting down, the Pilson feels comfortable, and the contoured back and deep seamless neck joint make it a breeze to play, with excellent access all the way to the 22nd fret. The rounded neck profile may be a little chunky for smaller hands, but it’s very comfortable – and the 241/2″ scale length and flatter 12″ radius fretboard gave it a fast feel.

Acoustically, the guitar is very resonant with a nice ring on open strings – the set neck and Tone Pros hardware allow for excellent string-energy transfer. That resonance transfers well to the overdrive channel of our 50-watt Marshall running into a model 1960A 4×12″ cabinet producing a big, tight ballsy overdrive with complex overtones and very nice note separation. The mass of the body, in combination with the Duncan Custom Custom bridge pickup, give the tone beefy low-end and excellent sustain without having to drive the amp’s gain. The guitar has an tight, lively sound that’s easy to manipulate, whether you prefer a crunchy rhythm tone or screaming, over-the-top sustain for solos. The pickup combination fits this guitar’s personality; the Duncan ’59 allowed for that classic Les Paul sound, while the Custom Custom reinforced the guitar’s heavier hard rock low-end in the bridge position.

Washburn D78SW

Washburn D78SW.

To check its clean tones, we ran the PI70 through a Carvin Belair 212 combo. Along with the traditional fat, punchy humbucker clean sounds you’d expect, we were also able to achieve good usable single-coil sounds, with the push/pull coil splitters. In the middle position (both pickups active), the individual coil splitters lets you add single-coil sparkle to either pickup depending on which is split, giving a variety of sounds, from fat and punchy to a thin, slightly acoustic tone.

The D78 (also from Washburn’s custom shop) features solid-wood construction including a Sitka spruce top, mahogany back and sides, and a one-piece mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard. Much of the D78’s visual appeal lies in its understated elegance and well-executed construction with top-shelf materials like flame-maple binding on the body (top and bottom) and neck, rosewood butterfly bridge, 1/8″ rose overlay on the headstock with a mother-of-pearl logo inlay, abalone dot and rosette inlays, and a flame-maple cap on the neck heal. The high-gloss finish and select woods are all the eye candy most need, and there’s an obvious emphasis on fit and finish. The guitar was set up very well, with low action, a nice fret job with no buzz, and perfect intonation via the Buzz Feiten compensated Tusq saddle and nut. The slim neck profile and dressed fret ends make playing effortless.

Whether finger- or flat-picked, the D78 produced a refined dreadnought tone with full, clear, bass and snappy highs, with just enough midrange to keep notes from washing out. The lively spruce top makes notes pop under even a light pick attack. And if you really dig in, the notes get downright jumpy! And using either playing style, the guitar’s natural, round tone never surrenders clarity.

The Pilsen and D78SW prove that Washburn is building affordable, top-quality instruments. Instead of blowing you away with over-the-top aesthetics, both draw you closer, then hook you with their hand-made vibe and top-notch playability and tone.

Washburn Pilsen
Features Mahogany body, carved maple top, set mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard, Seymour Duncan pickups, TonePros Nashville bridge/tailpiece, Grover tuners.
Price $1,695 (list).

Washburn D78SW
Features Solid Sitka spruce top, solid select mahogany back and sides, flame-maple binding, high-gloss finish, rosewood fretboard, butterfly bridge/headstock overlay, Grover tuners with ebony buttons.
Price $1,899.90 (list).
Contact Washburn, Inc.. 444 East Courtland Street, Mundelein, IL 60060; phone (847) 949-8444; washburn.com.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s November 2005 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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