Washburn Guitars: Burning For You
Dankberg says, “It’s hard to understand what it is at first, but the difference is like day and night. I get a lot of calls from artists I work with saying, ‘Man, the Buzz Feiten, it really works!’ These are people you trust, the guys who are recording and playing out.”
Washburn acquired Randall amps in the mid Nineties. It was the start of a series of acquisitions that would lead to another name change. These days, Washburn, Randall and a variety of other brands are now subsidiaries of U.S. Music Corporation. The Randall connection brought Washburn a number of important signature artists, including Dimebag, Ian and, more recently Donegan. Current signature artists also include Gregg Tribbett and Joe Trohman.
Dankberg says, “When Joe hooked up with Washburn, Fall Out Boy wasn’t a famous band or anything. They were just a punk band from Chicago. He started playing some of the Washburn Idol Series guitars. A couple of years went by. Fall Out Boy had a hit record and suddenly they’re all over the television. We decided, Hey, we should definitely do a Joe Trohman signature model.”
One of the founding partners of Krank Amplification, Dankberg joined the Washburn fold in 2007. He has concentrated on hooking Washburn into the contemporary metal scene, recruiting players like James Malone of the death metal band Arsis as signature artists. One of Dankberg’s first projects for Washburn was the new HM (heavy metal) Series of guitars: fully tweaked metal machines with original Floyd Rose systems and ultra-fast fingerboards derived from Parker Guitars, another brand now under the U.S. Music umbrella.
“They have carbon-fiber fretboards with stainless-steel frets,” Dankberg explains. “We were thinking, How can we incorporate that into a more traditional electric guitar that doesn’t weigh only five pounds and have an abstract shape like the Parker Fly? So we thought we’d combine that neck with some heavy metal body shapes: super-Strat styles, Flying Vs, pointy reverse headstocks. What better neck to put on there than this technology that makes you play faster, feels great and has a sleek look to it? It was really a good match.”
But while Washburn continues to pursue the outer fringes of extreme metal, the company has never forgotten its roots. Last year, Washburn produced the impressive Vintage Series, comprising exact reproductions of 19th century Washburns and loving tributes that bring together some of the best features of the old guitars. Carefully antiqued to look like they’ve been around for over a century, the Vintage Series guitars, mandolins and banjos are quickly becoming collector’s items in their own right.
At the other end of the acoustic spectrum is the recently introduced Baby Jumbo Series. Dramatically narrow-waisted and more compact than conventional dreads or jumbos, the Baby Jumbos look like acoustic guitars that got caught in some bizarre sci-fi transporter beam and came out a little warped.
Dankberg says, “There are a lot of smaller people out there, and let’s face it, a jumbo is made for a big guy. But a lot of people love the big, booming, jumbo acoustic sound. So how to get that without having a giant guitar? What Rudy was able to come up with is a baby jumbo. It has a slightly smaller neck, ideal for a woman or a child’s hand. The body has the same amount of square inches as a regular jumbo, but the design kind of squooshes the body. In the acoustic guitar market, everybody makes a dreadnought or a jumbo. How do you separate yourself? This guitar looks really different and is immediately identifiable.”
The new product lines and design ideas keep on coming. With a broad range of instruments and markets that span the globe, Washburn is a company that fine-tunes its identity continuously, moving with the changing times and finding just the right balance of tradition and innovation, electric and acoustic, craftsmanship and accessibility.
Dankberg says, “What people don’t always understand is that we have an amazing custom shop here in Chicago. We build state-of-the-art guitars for multi-Platinum artists. Yet our specialty is also importing quality guitars from overseas, so that you get your best value for the money. I think that message has been lost over the years. What I’m trying to do is bring the brand to the younger players—make Washburn more of a pop-culture brand.”
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