Washburn Guitars

Last updated
Washburn Guitars
Type Subsidiary
Industry Musical instruments
Founded1883;138 years ago (1883) in Chicago, Illinois
FounderGeorge Washburn Lyon
Headquarters,
United States
Area served
Worldwide
Products Electric, acoustic & resonator guitars
Bass guitars
Banjos
Mandolins
Ukuleles
Amplifiers
Parent US Music
Website washburn.com

Washburn Guitars is an American manufacturer and importer of guitars, mandolins, and other string instruments. The original company was established in 1883 in Chicago, Illinois. The modern Washburn is a division of US Music Corp., in turn now owned by JAM Industries USA.

Contents

Corporate history

1864-1940

Washburn Banjorine (1892). Wasburn 1892 cat.jpg
Washburn Banjorine (1892).
Washburn Parlor Guitar (1894) and "New Model" (1896), Museum of Making Music.jpg
Parlor guitar (1894) and "New Model" (1896), Museum of Making Music.
Washburn Guitar model 5250 (1928), Kona Hawaiian guitar (1920s), Museum of Making Music.jpg
right: archtop guitar model 5250 (1928), Museum of Making Music.

Lyon & Healy began in 1864 as a partnership of businessmen George W. Lyon and Patrick J. Healy, acting as the Chicago outlet for Boston sheet music publisher Oliver Ditson and Company. By 1865, Lyon & Healy had expanded into reed organs and some small instruments. The company achieved independence by 1880, and around 1888 the company launched fully into fretted and plucked instruments (guitars, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles and zithers) [1] under the George Washburn brand, which was Lyon's first and middle name. [2] Lyon & Healy 1898 catalog listed 28 different styles of "Washburn" guitars, ranging from $15 to $145. [2]

Tracing the history of any particular instrument of this period presents many obstacles. Not only did the Lyon & Healy company often change designs to follow the rapidly evolving consumer demand, but the company also repaired instruments, and offered engraving services, including decorating instruments that it retailed but did not actually manufacture. As well, they built instruments for other retailers and distributors under various house brands, and outsourced construction of some models.

In 1912, Washburn introduced the Lakeside Jumbo guitar, which some consider the first dreadnought-sized guitar. [3] 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 Shrine banjos at the American Banjo Museum.jpg
Washburn Shrine banjos at the American Banjo Museum
Washburn Presentation Banjo (Lyon & Healy) 1894, American Banjo Museum.jpg
Washburn Presentation Banjo, 1894, American Banjo Museum.

George Lyon retired from the company in 1889 (died 1894). Patrick Healy then led the company into a period of major expansion, beginning with a larger new factory and improved mass-production techniques, and soon dominated the domestic market. [4] Their 1892 catalog claimed to manufacture 100,000 instruments annually. Healy died 1905.

By the 1920s, Lyon & Healy faced growing competition from other instrument manufacturers as well as from the rise of other forms of entertainment, particularly film and the gramophone. Lyon & Healy gradually shifted manufacturing chores onto wholesaler Tonk Brothers, to whom they sold the guitar portion of the business in 1928, continuing to produce their own lines of harps, pianos, and organs.

"Washburn guitars, zithers & mandolins manufactured by Lyon & Healy, Chicago Best in the World" ad "Washburn guitars, zithers & mandolins manufactured by Lyon & Healy, Chicago Best in the World" ad- Libby Prison War Museum catalogue and program (IA libbyprisonwarmu02libb) (page 32 crop).jpg
“Washburn guitars, zithers & mandolins manufactured by Lyon & Healy, Chicago Best in the World” ad

Tonk Brothers turned to manufacturer J.R. Stewart Company to purchase and operate the massive factory, but this transition proved problematic and Stewart went bankrupt in 1930. Some of the Stewart assets were acquired by the Regal Musical Instrument Company, which had purchased the "Regal" brand name in 1908 from Lyon & Healy (who acquired it in 1905). Regal was chosen to reopen the Washburn factory (producing Regal instruments as well). Though the Washburn brand was preserved, it never regained its preeminence, and by the early 1940s had declined to nothing.

Revival

An unbroken lineage is often alluded to by Washburn International, in press releases and advertising materials, and on the company website:

Washburn has been building stringed instruments since 1883. … 130 years of history is at the root of our strong foundation building high quality instruments. [5]

However, there is no direct connection between the original Washburn brand and the modern Washburn International.

In the early 1960s, retail store The Chicago Guitar Gallery hired Rudolf "Rudy" Schlacher, a young German violin builder, as a repair technician. A few years later, Schlacher opened The Sound Post [6] [7] in Evanston, Illinois, to focus on guitars. He soon realized the sales potential for quality instruments of modest cost.

Tom Beckmen and his wife Judy Fink Beckmen in 1972 left careers as music salesman and teacher (respectively) to launch a wholesale music business in Los Angeles, Beckmen Musical Instruments. It was Beckmen Music that resurrected the Washburn name, and beginning in 1974 applied it to a series of quality imported acoustic guitars, made in Japan by Terada, as well as a selection of mandolins and banjos.

Fritz Tasch, Rudy Schlacher and Rick Johnstone, as Fretted Industries, Inc., acquired the Washburn name in 1977 (for $13,000) when the Beckmens took their business a different direction, [8] and so the Washburn name was returned to Chicago. With assistance from Ikutaro Kakehashi (founder of Roland Corporation), Schlacher was able to find instrument factories in Japan that could meet the desired standards. [9]

Fretted Industries acquired other lines as well, such as Oscar Schmidt autoharps.

Schlacher bought out Johnstone in 1987, and changed the company name to Washburn International. A stateside manufacturing operation was opened in 1991 for higher-end, short-run, and one-off instruments, as well as development and prototyping. That year, a Chicago Tribune article [10] confidently places Washburn "among the top three guitar manufacturers in the world," behind only Fender and Gibson.

On December 15, 2002, Washburn International announced that it had completed acquisition of U.S. Music Corporation, [11] and would be rolling its assets into that company in a reverse merger. [12] Schlacher remained as CFO, appointing Gary Gryczan to COO; Gryczan had been Washburn's CFO from 1995 through 1998. The new USM's headquarters were in Mundelein (440 E. Courtland Street), which also housed the stateside Washburn luthiery, often referred to as "the USA Custom Shop." The USA Custom Shop was previously located at Elston Ave. and Springfield Ave in the 1990s in an old factory that was used as an icehouse after the great Chicago fire, it was rumored to be haunted by the victims whose bodies had been stored there.

Schlacher announced completion of selling USM to JAM Industries on August 24, 2009, and that he would be stepping away from his company after fully four decades. [13]

We are pleased to join forces with a strategic partner like Jam Industries, that has a long, successful history in the music industry and has been a long-term business partner with U.S. Music for more than 20 years. It has been a thrilling and rewarding 40-year ride that has allowed me to realize my dreams and goals. [14]

As R S Consulting he remained a consultant to the musical-instrument industry [15] and was an executive producer for a small-budget film [16]

The corporate offices of U.S. Music were relocated to Buffalo Grove, Illinois in 2012.

Production

Very few modern Washburn instruments have been built by the company itself. It has relied on outside factories and luthiers to fulfill their designs and meet public demand.

The first modern Washburn instruments were full-size acoustic guitars imported from Japan by Beckmen Music. The 1974 range included one folk-style guitar (W-200) and eight dreadnoughts of increasing quality and decoration: W-240-12, W-250, W-260, W-280, W-300, W-300-12, W-500, W-600.

Under Rudy Schlacher, most Washburn models were ordered in runs of 200 units, rather than ongoing production; if sales went well, a further run might be ordered. This application of just-in-time manufacturing (or lean manufacturing) kept the company from needing to warehouse and liquidate overproduction, improving profitability. As a result, many Washburn instruments (acoustic or electric) are difficult to locate once out of production, and are scarcer than the "limited editions" of other manufacturers.

The first Washburn electric guitars were the Wing Series models, offered 1978-1984. These instruments featured innovative push-pull split humbuckers, brass hardware and inlays, and neck-through construction. Most of the Wing Series models were produced by Yamaki, a Japanese manufacturer of Washburn acoustic guitars as well as their own Daion brand (late 1970s to early 1980s).

By 1991, production of Washburn instruments had shifted almost entirely to Korea, built by Samick. When Samick opened their Cileungsi, Indonesia, facility in 1992, this factory also began to produce Washburn-branded instruments, generally identifiable by an "SI-" serial number prefix.

From 1992 to 2000 Washburn housed the USA Custom Shop in a factory at Elston Ave. and Springfield Ave. Grover Jackson ran production for the first half of the 90’s and Larry English ran production for the second half of the 90’s. The building was so old it was used as an icehouse after the great Chicago fire and rumored to have been haunted. At least two guitar heists occurred there when thieves backed a box truck through a wall and loaded the truck with guitars getting away cleanly.

Between 1994 and 2001, ten models of acoustic guitar were built for Washburn in the United States, five by Tacoma Guitars (Tacoma, Washington) and five by Bourgeois Guitars (Lewiston, Maine).

Washburn brought out a line of four USA-made dreadnoughts, available from 2002 to 2008. These were the D-78, D-80, D-82, and D-84. (All had the "-SW" suffix, for "solid wood," indicating that no laminate wood was employed.)

In 2012, when JAM Industries declined to renew the lease on the Mundelein facility, the Washburn luthiery closed. At the time, the Washburn facility was the ninth-largest employer in the village (the third-largest business), providing 180 jobs. [17] The stated intent was to reopen at a smaller building in Buffalo Grove (1000 Corporate Grove Drive) [18] but this did not materialize. A few Washburn models (particularly the N4) are produced in Cincinnati.

As of 2017, primary production has largely shifted from Korea to factories in Indonesia and China.

Innovations

Most widely known for its guitars (both electric and acoustic), Washburn also makes electric basses, acoustic basses, banjos, mandolins, travel guitars, ukuleles, and amplifiers, as well as accessories including guitar cases, clothing, tuners, and straps. [19]

In the 1980s, Washburn introduced the Festival Series of acoustic/electric guitars (the EA series, for "electrified acoustic"). They were thinner than standard acoustic guitars and less acoustically resonant by design, thereby reducing susceptibility to feedback, a significant problem using acoustic or electrified acoustic guitars in large-venue performances. The addition in later models of sound slots (rather than the traditional round soundhole), a patented innovation, 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 1990s 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 Washburn's AB Series quickly became popular both for its look and its tone, whether amplified or unplugged.

Headstock of a Washburn RB2802 eight-string bass. Washburn RB2802 8-String Bass headstock with Buzz Feiten tuning system.jpg
Headstock of a Washburn RB2802 eight-string bass.

In recent years, Washburn licensed several guitar construction features:

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 … without the hum normally associated with single coils.
Designed by Trevor Wilkinson, the VCC is no longer in use by Washburn, but is available in various models of Vintage (UK) guitar as the "Roll Control" knob.

Model number suffixes

Over the past 40 years, Washburn has accreted a system of identifying some of the most pertinent features in many of its acoustic instruments and some of the electric. Additional letters may be used to indicate the instrument's finish. While imperfectly applied, and sometimes awkwardly long, this can often be useful in identifying a given guitar.

suffix —

This often combines with the prefix to tell a guitar's story. For example, the WLG110SWCEK indicates that it's part of the Woodline series (WL-), likely top of the line (110), Grand Auditorium (G) size, all solid wood, cutaway, piezo pickup, and originally included a case.

Past and present models

Any given series may have as few as only one model.

Electric guitars

Washburn WG587.jpg
WG587 7-string guitar.
Washburn N4 Special 20 1.jpg
N4 Special
Washburn hb35.jpg
HB35.
Washburn J5 Jazz Guitar.jpg
J5 Jazz guitar.
prefixSeriesa.k.a.typedurationcomments
JJazzhollowbody archtop1989-date
HBHollow Bodysemihollow archtop1981-date
BBantamheadless bass1984-1986no connection to 1990s Bantams
GBBantamheadless bass/guitar1984-1986no connection to 1990s Bantams
GBantamheadless guitar1984-1986no connection to 1990s Bantams
CTCenturiancarved-top1997-2002
PCenturiancarved-top1997-2002
ECenturiancarved-top2001-2002
CPCulprit1998-2000
Dime Dimebag Darrell ML-style1995-2004signature line
GForce1983-1988
CSHard Rock2000-2002
NXNextar2002-2003Stephen's Extended Cutaway
PTPoptop2000-2002
RSHard RockRogue Star2000-2002
WGHard Rock2000-2002
WRHard Rock2000-2002
HM2008-2010Series, not prefix
WIIdol1999-2010
WMHM2008-2010no connection to 1990s WM
WVWavepoint; Vee2008-2010
WINIdol2010-2014
JB Jennifer Batten 2000-2004signature line
KCChicago1989-1991
LSLaredoLegacy; SilveradoS copy1992-1994
LTLaredoLegacy; SilveradoT copy1993-1994
MRMagnum1997-2000
BTMaverickBillyT; Bantam1995-2002all 24.75" scale
WMMaverick1997-2002USA build; no connection to 2008 WM
DDMaya Dan Donegan 2005-2010signature line
MGMercury1992-1996
NC Nick Catanese 2005-2009signature line
N Nuno Bettencourt 1990-dateStephen's Extended Cutaway
PS Paul Stanley 1998-datesignature line
RXRX2011-date
SI Scott Ian 2005-2010signature line
AStage1980-1986
ECExtended Cutaway1988-1991Stephen's Extended Cutaway
SS Steve Stevens 1993-1994
AFTour Ace Frehley 1987-1988signature line
FVTourFlying Vee1984-1985
HMTour1985-1987
RRTour1985-1987
RSTour1987-1988
WPTourPaul copy1987-1991
WTTour1984-1994
Wing1978-1985
SBWing Reissue1991-1995
XX2002-2010
XMXM2011-date
SSonamaster2016-date
PXParallaxe2013-date
PXMParallaxe2013-date
PXSParallaxe2013-date
PXLParallaxeLP shape2013-date
TBTabu2009
WBLyonS copy1994-1995

Basses

Washburn AB-10.jpg
Washburn xb600.jpg
left: AB-10 acoustic bass.
right: XB-600 6-string bass (right).
prefixSeriesa.k.a.typedurationcomments
B1983-1985
B1992
WingScavenger1980-1981
BStage1981-1984
BStage1981-1984
BForceP copy1983-1986
BABT1987-1989
XSAxxess1990-1991
BBBantam2006-2010
XBBantam1994-2006
MBMercury1992-1993
MBMercury2002-2006
RBRB1999-2003
WPShadowP copy1997-1999
WJShadowJ copy1997-1999
SStatus 10001988-1993
SHBStu Hamm2012-2016signature
TTaurus2002-date
AB2004-2006
Bootsy CollinsSpace Bass2002-2006
CB2007-2010
DB2000
Force2002-2010
M2002-2003
WBIdol2007-2010
SBSonamaster2016-date
ABFestivalAcoustic1988-date

Acoustic guitars

Washburn D100DL.jpg
D100DL acoustic.
Washburn.jpg
prefixSeriesshapedurationtypecomments
RW Roger Waters 2004acoustic/electricRW300 signature (USA)
Ddreadnought1978-2010
WDdreadnought2011-date
R125th Anniversaryparlor2008-2009
WSJ125th Anniversarysouthern jumbo2008-2009
Dsouthern jumbo1985-2000
Ffolk1978-2010
WFfolk2012-date
WG
 WG2S OO Dana Bourgois  design hand crafted at   the Eastman factory,  solid woods  2004 to 2008
 WG4S OM Dana Bourgois  design hand crafted at   the Eastman factory,   solid woods  2004 to 2008
grand auditorium2011-date
Jjumbo1991-2010
SJsouthern jumbo2004-2005
WBbaby jumbo2007-2010
WJjumbo2011-date
PSPaul Stanleydreadnought2007
PSPaul Stanleyfolk2007
PRPrairie State1920s2002-2003
DCdreadnought1987-1994Stephen's Extended Cutaway

Endorsers

Washburn uses the mechanism of endorsements, where:

The current list of Washburn Signature endorsers.
Standard Washburn Endorsers.

Product lineup

2017 Signature Lines

N4 XX anniversary edition. Washburn N4XX anniversary 1.jpg
N4 XX anniversary edition.

Previous signature instruments

DIME 333 (Dean ML-style). Washburn Dime 333, a Dean ML-style Dimebag Darrell signature model (clip & rotate).jpg
DIME 333 (Dean ML-style).
CP2003 "Culprit". Washburn Culprit CP2003.jpg
CP2003 "Culprit".
Paul Stanley model. Paul Stanley (KISS) guitar, Hard Rock Cafe Barcelona.jpg
Paul Stanley model.

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References

  1. Hubert Pleijsier (2008). Washburn Prewar Instrument Styles. Anaheim Hills, CA: Hal Leonard. p. 3. ISBN   978-1-57424-227-0.
  2. 1 2 Odell, Jay Scott (2001). "Washburn, George". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.29934.
  3. 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.
  4. Bacon, Tony (1 September 2001). The history of the American guitar: 1833 to the present day (1st ed.). Hal Leonard. ISBN   9781617130335.
  5. http://www.washburn.com/community/ "The History of Washburn Guitars"
  6. , heading of "Rudy Schlacher" video in NAMM Oral History video project.
  7. "Grand Piano Haus: The history of Grand Piano Haus"
  8. :Beckmen Music became Roland's distributor for the western United States in 1976, and in 1978 a 50% partner in founding Roland USA. The Beckmens sold their share back to Roland in 1993 and bought a vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.
  9. Di Perna, Alan (July 2009). "Burning for you" (PDF). Guitar World. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  10. "Guitar-maker Strikes Comeback Chord: Washburn Hits The Top 3 On 15 Years Of Growth", February 17, 1991
  11. Hoovers.com, entry: U.S. MUSIC CORPORATION Company Profile
  12. U.S. Music press release , 12/15/2002
  13. "Schlacher Says Farewell"
  14. U.S. Music press release, 08/24/2009 , in Music Inc Magazine
  15. LinkedIn entry "Rudy Schlacher"
  16. IMDB entry: Steel Panther: The British Invasion
  17. Village of Mundelein 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report
  18. , Guitar maker leaves Mundelein.
  19. "Washburn History". Washburn Guitars / U.S. Music Corp., a division of JAM Industries, LTD.
  20. "Buzz Feiten Tuning System". Washburn Guitars. Archived from the original on 2011-12-21.
  21. "The Washburn Days". Stephen's Extended Cutaway. 2010. Archived from the original on 2012-03-17.
  22. "Washburn Voics Contour Control (VCC)". Washburn Guitars. Archived from the original on 2011-12-29.
  23. "Ola Englund Signs With Washburn Guitars". Guitar Noize. July 1, 2013. Ola Englund recently posted an announcement that he wouldn’t be renewing his contract with S7 Guitars and I also recently mentioned that S7G are no longer manufacturing the Strandberg Boden and Washburn have taken over those duties. Well it seems Washburn are making a big move back into the Metal guitar community as Ola Englund … has just signed with Washburn to create a new Solar Series guitar, which will be part of the new Parallaxe series.
  24. "Washburn WSD5249 Acoustic Guitar". Washburn Guitars.
  25. "Washburn Paul Stanley Series Electric Guitars". Washburn Guitars. Archived from the original on 2014-08-12. PS10BK / PS10WHK / PS12BK / PS12WHK / PS2012B / PS2012WH / PS2014TS
  26. "Washburn Stu Hamm Series Bass Guitars". Washburn Guitars. Archived from the original on 2014-04-19. SHB30B / SHB30SVS / SHB40RS / SHB40TNG / SHB60NM / SHB60TSS / SHBH3N / SHBH3TNG