“Once they started doing paint on my guitars, I hated the way they sounded”: Nuno Bettencourt explains why he has always preferred his Washburn N4 guitars to be unfinished

Nuno Bettencourt
(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images)

While many artist signature guitars on the market aim to turn heads through wild designs and eye-catching cosmetics, Nuno Bettencourt adopts an approach that is far more old school, far more straightforward.

That much can be surmised from his own Washburn N4 model – a completely natural, unfinished electric guitar, which the Extreme virtuoso has made his go-to six-string companion for the stage and studio throughout his career.

But while it would be easy to assume the lack of a finish is a wholly aesthetic design choice, the reality is there’s more to it than that. 

Instead, it turns out Bettencourt prefers the sound of his guitars when they skip the paint job, and recently went as far as to say he “hated the way they fucking sounded” when Washburn started experimenting with colors.

The Rise mastermind revealed as much in a recent interview with Kylie Olssen, during which he was quizzed about the origins of his relationship with Washburn – a brand who wanted to sign him when “nobody else did”.

“I went with Washburn because when I was very, very, very young, [the] first album of Extreme was coming,” he reflected. “You know, it was always Gibson [and] Fender pretty much, and everybody else in between [played] Ibanez and Kramer at the time. But they wanted me, nobody else did.”

When Washburn and Bettencourt first began their enduring professional partnership, they did so on Nuno’s insistence that the money he received from the brand would go towards supporting his mother and her livelihood.

Bettencourt went on, “I was the youngest of 10 kids in my family, we were on welfare pretty much. I was like, all I want to do is take care of paying my mom’s rent and making sure she has a home.

“They were like, ‘How much is that?’ I forget how much it was – I don't know, 300 a month, 500 a month, whatever it was – I said, ‘You pay me that and I’ll do it.’ They were like, ‘We can't do that.’ I’m like, ‘Bye.’ They were like, ‘Wait, wait, wait!’”

Payments to his mother aside, Bettencourt had another condition to his business relationship with Washburn: he wouldn’t play any of the brand’s existing guitars, as he’d developed an affinity for his own parts-caster.  

Nuno Bettencourt

(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images)

“I said, ‘You’ll send that to my mom every month – and also I don't want to play any of your guitars,’” Bettencourt recalled. “I want to play mine. Mine was made of parts with no paint.

“The reason there was no paint is because I couldn't afford to buy a proper guitar that was painted. So I went and got the body parts: I got a neck, separate body, and they were raw – they had no paint. It never had paint because I was poor.”

But when paint was brought into the mix, Bettencourt realized he didn’t like how they performed: “Once they started doing paint on my guitars I hated the way they fucking sounded. They don't sound as warm. The paint is really brittle – it adds a really weird sound to it.”

As well as sounding better, guitars with no paint also gave Bettencourt a deeper connection to his axe: “I wanted the sweat and everything that you did through the years… I wanted the guitar to change with you and grow with you.

“So wherever you played hard, wherever you sweat, wherever there was blood on the back of the guitar, it went into the wood. And that was all your personalities on your guitar. So basically... the guitar becomes you.”

Despite his animosity towards his finished N4 models, Bettencourt has been known to make exceptions to his rule on occasion. In February last year, for example, he donned a red N4 on the Super Bowl stage while playing with Rihanna.

At the time, it was theorized that it could indeed be a new Bettencourt signature model. With this new insight, though, that seems highly unlikely…

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.